Keepsake is out on 31 March on limited edition red vinyl via I Can & I Will.
In January 2016, London based dream pop/alternative rock quintet Heavy Heart committed themselves to writing and recording a song a month for a year. This was bound to go terribly well or horrifically bad. Luckily for both the band and us, the results are rather remarkable. They’ve gifted us twelve tracks of melodically rich, dream-like songs that ebb and flow between moments of urgency and reflection. Our personal favourite is ‘Fever Dream’, with its simple, repetitive but trance-like drum beat, immediately arresting guitar arpeggios, and how the song somehow seems to feel weightless and effortless but also slightly melancholic.
The band have compiled the tracks as Keepsake, their de facto debut album. It is out on 31 March via I Can & I Will. 300 LPs will be hand-numbered, with the first 100 bundled with a pack of specially designed postcards featuring artwork and lyrics from each song. Sweet, eh?
The band have been good enough to take us through each track and explain the songs musically and thematically.
Heavy Heart – Keepsake
In 2016, we set out on a project to write, record and release a new song every month. We hadn’t really planned to do a whole year at first, but once we’d started we felt compelled to keep going. Pulling a brand new song, fully formed, out of the ether every four weeks sometimes posed a challenge, but I think it gave us a sense of discipline and focus, and thematically, the songs really mark out a year in our lives. Writing in the moment meant that they were real reflections of things as they happened. As we went along, I made collage artwork which was meant to illustrate the story or characters in each song.
We’re now releasing all twelve songs as a collection entitled ‘Keepsake’, which will be released through I Can & I Will on limited-edition red vinyl on 31st March 2017 (pre-order), and can be streamed online now.
1. Time Will Stand Still
This was the first thing we released in 2016 and the start of our song-a-month project. It was partly for that reason that we chose to put it at the start of the record but it also has a driving energy to it which felt like a good way to kick things off. Lyrically too, it sums up what this collection of songs is about. Trying to capture a moment, crystallising it into something tangible rather than letting time just go by. The whole thing about being a musician is just that really – fighting against your own laziness, hopelessness and inertia, trying to distill unwieldy ideas and feelings into small, perfectly-formed miniatures, each one a concentrated hit, a pill.
2. Teenage Witch
We wanted to do something with a big, swaggering drum beat and a kind of hypnotic groove to it. This is one of the most fun to play live. I love the relentless fuzz bass, and the eerie, modal guitar line in the breaks, it really complements the dark weirdness of the lyrics. It’s a story from my teenage years about an unrequited love triangle, an adolescent love hex. Music is magic and writing songs is a bit like casting spells. I think I got into doing both at about the same age, maybe 14 or 15, and I liked the feeling of having this secret power which could change someone’s mind or make them feel what I wanted them to feel. In the song, the thing I want is immaterial, I just want it so no one else can have it. That can be a dangerous tendency, but I think it’s better, at least, to recognise that in yourself. Witchcraft seems to be a recurring theme in my lyrics – I’m interested in this idea of a feminine power, and I’m still trying to get it by the reins in myself, because it can be overwhelming. I don’t cast spells any more but I still write songs…
3. High Dive
The central idea of this song actually predates the band, although it has changed a lot since then. We’d had the melody and rhythm floating around for a while but we only started to work with it again in the middle of last year. It’s a love song, a siren song. When you’re falling for someone, there’s excitement but also a stomach knot of uncertainty, the feeling of diving with them into the unknown. That kind of fear can be exhilarating too, standing on the edge, the moment before you jump, feeling something pulling at you. I read a J. G. Ballard story called ‘Memories of the Space Age’ where he describes a man is suspended in time, eternally diving towards a pool. That image stuck with me: the moment just before. Before you jump, before you hit the pool, before your hands brush or your lips touch. I got obsessed with the David Hockney swimming pool paintings too – there’s some thing so dreamlike about them, and something so defined about the contrast between the cool, luxurious blue of the water and the parched, dry colours outside – so those were really in my mind when I was writing this. The song tries to mirror those two textures with the verses starting sparse and close and thirsty, and then the chorus plunging into this lush blue-green underwater world. You don’t really know until you dive in how deep it goes; if you’ll be able to swim or if you’ll drown.
4. Pretty Thing
This is maybe my favourite song on the LP, musically and lyrically. It’s got this weird almost 60s feel to it at first; it starts out really pretty and gentle, and then it just tears open halfway through. It came from a really raw and true place and I got down to the bones of what I wanted to say. It’s about someone who has become obsessed with appearance whilst letting everything under the surface wither and die. I’m sick of the way beauty and youth are championed now as if they’re talents, as if they’re achievements to be prized, and I’m angry that I’ve let myself become caught up in this too. You’re encouraged to turn yourself into some bizarre living doll with a perfect pout and airbrushed skin, and you’re a failure if you don’t live up to those impossible standards. I wanted to kick against the superficial and write a song reminding girls, and everyone, that they can show their teeth too, even if they look ugly doing it. Actually it’s okay to look ugly. Ugly is the new pretty.
Musically, this song is a super sweet sugar rush, but that’s in contrast to the lyrics which are darker and more bitter to the taste. When I wrote this, I was reading a lot about cults and about the nature of mass control; in particular about the Jonestown massacre. It’s a horrifying but also fascinating moment in history – this person and this idea that was powerful enough to cause people to give up everything, and ultimately to feed poison to their own children and then take it themselves. That was something extremely outside the norm, but I guess I saw parallels with mainstream society today. In a different way I could be brainwashed and compliant too, obediently following and liking, safe within my social group, soaking up feeds of poisonous news. Like so many things which are bad for you, it can be very enticing and exciting once it’s coated in sugar, and we all buzz around it like flies.
This was one of the earliest songs we wrote and it’s probably one of the more melancholy, gentle songs on the record. It’s another one which has an underlying theme about witchcraft, although in this case, it’s perhaps about being the victim rather than the perpetrator of a curse. The yellow bird represents my worst self – a spirit made flesh by sadness, loneliness, fear and anger – each of its feathers earned by some act of negativity. My own pet demon. I read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible when I was in school, and it really haunted me. Abigail claims to see a malevolent yellow bird in the rafters, but she’s playing a dangerous game which ends up having horrible consequences. I got so tired of winding up in the same fights, and I wanted to write a song reminding myself not to feed this bird by giving into those feelings. Sometimes giving that thing a name and a shape can make it easier to manage, or at least to recognise the next time it comes around.
7. What Became of Laura R?
This is another story from school. It’s a place I go back to again and again, because I guess a lot of what made me happened then. But I feel like those playground politics and cliques never really went away. It’s the same old anxiety; are you inside the circle or outside it? It either crushes you or it turns you into something stronger, but it scars either way. That whole experience set a fire in me and made me want to prove those people wrong, made me start a band, made me start writing songs. So this was a way of calling into the past, to my gloomy little teenage self, to say “keep going…”
8. Fever Dream
This was written in late summer, a time when I always feel an especially acute sense nostalgia and melancholy as the year shades into autumn. Patrick came up with this song, and we wrote the lyrics together in a really intense session where the ideas just kind of fell out of our mouths. We were thinking about people we’d known, noticing we’d drifted a bit further, seeing passion and intensity replaced by passing niceties, adventure and possibility by routine and obligation. Things we always meant to say gone unsaid for too long, just talking at cross purposes, like a dream where the words form but then come out all wrong. Sometimes it seems like everyone’s sleepwalking, but some of us are too restless, wide awake, bleakly hopeful that something good will happen. World-weary and definitely alone.
9. Late to the Party
This one was based around a chord sequence James had been playing around with for a few years. We built the song into something more driving but the fragments of that original idea run through the song. I love the production on this one – Patrick really nailed the dry, 70s drum sound, and we’ve got real (backwards) strings on it too, so it feels like a proper piece of music. James said the lyric is about how sometimes it takes a while to find your voice – whether that be within music making or more generally – but that once you do, it’s important to stay true to that voice. I feel like it’s also a downbeat love song, or at least a tribute to that one person who knows you well enough to help you see past your worries and hang-ups. Still feeling world-weary, but maybe not so alone after all…
10. The World Is a Gumball
I used to write a lot about disappointment, and I haven’t so much lately, but I relapsed with this song. They’re probably some of my favourite lyrics, even if they are a bit downbeat. I came up with the entire first verse in one go and that set the tone – “the world is a gumball, put it in your mouth, always seems so sweet until the taste wears out”. I think they’re fairly self-explanatory and direct – it’s about things not turning out to be as good as you hoped, or as good as you were promised. When I wrote the song, I had this idea of a fairground in my head, but dark and at night, just the neon and bulbs to illuminate, and something dangerous lurking in the dark beyond. In the song, you go through the arcades and slots, the prizes you didn’t want, through the hall of mirrors where you don’t recognise your own reflection, past the whirling carousel and into the sideshow where you can throw things at the freaks who won’t conform. I like to give the prettiest songs the darkest lyrics.
11. The Way Home
This was the penultimate song we wrote in 2016, and I guess I wanted to reflect on what had been a very strange and troubling year in many ways. I just felt so much anger and disbelief at the way things were turning out, with the referendum in the UK, the election in the US, in-fighting between people who should have been allies, our own country shamefully turning away refugees, and so much corruption and dishonesty in politics. It felt as though the future was suddenly very small and I was struggling to find anything positive to say, but I kept coming back to this image of the evening sun covering the road in gold light; something beautiful at the end of a long and difficult day. I guess you do have to look for small sparks of beauty and kindness; things to hold on to which stop the dark from closing in. This song is just a relentless, churning, searing riff, designed to turn the anger outwards, burn everything away, drown out the noise and transcend it all. I think that’s the idea of rock music anyway.
After a year of relentless writing, we were almost full circle, and really ready to complete the project; I think you can hear that in ‘Keepsake’ – it’s kind of final, and a bit broken. I barely had any voice left and we were recording it in the small hours in December before the year ended. But I like that it’s a true reflection of how we were then, and it’s one of the most emotionally raw songs we’ve written. This is the only song where I wrote the lyrics before the melody, so it has a much more linear feel to it, much less melodic repetition, and the song blossoms and builds in sympathy with the music. The process of writing and recording a new song a month was much harder than we’d expected, and I think by the end, we were a bit bruised and battered. But I love this song, it felt like a ritual, an exhalation, blowing out the candles to make way for the new year. A keepsake, from our hearts to yours.
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