HAERTS Talk Their Debut LP, Working With St. Lucia & Their Favorite NYC Hangouts: Interview
HAERTS first grabbed the attention of the music scene back in 2012 with their breakthrough single, “Wings.” Since then, the Brooklyn-based indie-pop quartet dropped their 2013 EP Hemiplegia to much acclaim. Now, they are ready to take on the industry with their refreshingly tender, synth-laden sound with their self-titled debut LP (released on October 27).
I spoke with the band about their experience creating the new record, their love for New York City and their unique sound. Read what they had to say in our Q+A after the jump!
Your music has a soft ’80s vibe to it, is that where you get your influence from? NINI: For the album, we didn’t go with a specific sound, we didn’t try to emulate something. We were born in the ’80s and we listened to our parent’s music. I grew up with Neil Young and Johnny Cash, and also ’80s bands. But I think when we went in to record the album, we wanted to put all of that aside. A lot of those synths, we just wanted to experiment with them and afterwards we realized that was the HAERTS sound.
Why did you choose to come to Brooklyn to get yourself started? NINI: For me, it goes way back. I remember going to New York City with my mom when I was 15. I was originally born in the U.S., so there was always a connection here. It was an experience that really impacted me. Growing up in a quiet city like Munich, NYC was something crazy and I just love it. After Ben and I finished college and it was time to decide where we wanted to go musically, it was clear that was going to be New York.
So how would you describe your sound? BEN: It’s really hard to pin it down, because the way we approached it we didn’t consciously think we were going to make an ’80s-sounding record. GARRETT: There’s definitely a lot of instruments used in the ’80s that are used on this record. They just have a very mysterious, vague sound that lender itself to the music. I think that’s what the music needed. NINI: The record for us is all about the sentiment. It has a sort of melancholy to it. There’s songs that have a lightness, but I think there’s something on the record that has a certain darkness even if you have those synths that make it lighter.
How did you go about choosing the songs for the record? BEN: It was definitely a process. It took about three years to make the album, and it went through a lot of different stages. In the beginning, Nini and I had a lot of snippets. We would meet with John [from St. Lucia] and pick different ideas and start experimenting. I think “Wings” was the first track that felt good, so we thought it was a good direction to go in. In the later stage, we started taking over the production a little more. NINI: At the beginning it was a little bit unknown and maybe difficult, but we felt if it wasn’t going to be that then it wasn’t going to be worth it.
Let’s talk more about the album. My favorite tracks are “Hemiplegia” & “No One Needs To Know”. DEREK: The one I’m most attached to is “Hope.” It’s been through different alterations and versions over the years, and it means a lot to me personally. It links our journey as a group of people and as a band. BEN: Well if I didn’t have a favorite, it wouldn’t be on the album! Every song has its own story and struggle, but if I had to pick it would be “Be The One.” GARRETT: I was going to pick “Be The One” too! It’s a good summation of the album; it was the last one we recorded. NINI: My first favorite is “Wings,” because it’s the beginning of HAERTS. It’s still a song where when we play it at a show, I really feel a connection with the audience. It came out at a moment where people could relate to it. For me, that’s the essence of why we’re putting music out. It was a huge step for us as musicians because it gave us the courage to do what we’re doing now. My second favorite would be “Be The One” as well. It paints the clearest picture of where we are now as a band. It’s my strongest vocal performance on the album, and at the time my most emotional.
I know you work with St. Lucia a lot and he produced “All The Days.” What was it like working with him? BEN: He’s a brilliant guy. He’s very good at detaching himself, and I think that’s what makes him a great producer. NINI: With his production with us, there was something really fearless about him. For me, those are the people I seek out to work with. He’s all about textures and layering a lot of things. It sounds like a 50-piece recording when in reality, we’re a 5-piece band.
How did you met him in the first place? GARRETT: I’ve known John for six years. We used to work together at a production house doing music for TV and commercials, and we became friends. I worked with him on early stuff that would become St. Lucia’s music. NINI: Ben and I met him through a mutual friend in Germany, so it was all meant to be!
Are there any other producers you’d like to work with? BEN: Rick Rubin would be great! I think it’s very important to collaborate and be part of the community.
So I know you guys are based in Brooklyn. Do you have any favorite hangouts in the city? NINI: A bar that we really like is a place called Radio Bar, that’s in the West Village. Garrett lives in the West Village so we’re always there. DEREK: Fat Cat is amazing. NINI: Hakata Tonton has the best Japanese soup, you have to go! It’s ridiculous. GARETT: So you can go to all three places in one night. BEN: And then go to Joe’s Pizza after! It’s good at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Do you feel like true New Yorkers now? NINI: What’s the rule? 7, 10 years? We’re not true New Yorkers yet. But I think now, when we go to Germany and come back to New York, I definitely say that it’s good to be home. This is our place now, and I plan to be here for a very long time. So in a couple of years, it’ll be official!
Your video for “Giving Up” is very sensual, with all the couples kissing. What’s the meaning behind it? NINI: We wanted two things, a black and white visual with a strong aesthetic that we were going for on the album. Something reminiscent of Mapplethorpe images. Contextually, we had this idea of not just giving up but more of giving into something — whether that’s sensual or passive, or maybe even aggressive or violent. We were watching a lot of Andy Warhol, and he has these kissing videos which were definitely an inspiration. What Austin [the director] wanted to capture in the video was showing that people could overcome a distance through kissing. Also with the young kids in a mosh pit, that’s overcoming distance with something more violent. For us, remembering when we were 15 years old, that’s what we would do. We would go to concerts and lose ourselves. That’s what we wanted to show. And the couples were real, and the kids were all real New Yorkers who came dressed how they dressed every day. No one was styled. And with the flowers, Austin called it a “Flower Apocalypse.”
Do you have any favorite artists you’re listening to at the moment? NINI: I think Sam Smith is fantastic. I know it’s not new now, but I’m still loving the Disclosure album. GARRETT: A lot of Cocteau Twins stuff, but I’m still waiting for new music to come out.
When listening to the album, I thought it would be a great soundtrack for a John Hughes movie. So if you could pick a film for the album, what would it be? NINI: It would be a 10-act tragedy! [laughs] GARRETT: It could be something like Ghost, but that sounds cheesy. It is a great movie. NINI: In some ways I think each song could be in a different movie. “Wings” I could see in The Breakfast Club. “Be The One” could be something dark. “Hope” could easily be in Blade Runner and “No One Needs To Know” in The Silence of the Lambs.
The band’s debut album HAERTS was released on October 27 via Columbia Records.
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