After a titantic battle of wills, Leeds six piece Heart-Ships emerged triumphant as our next featured act. Here’s what I wrote about them a while back “Wild Beasts, Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel – the influences may be there in the middle distance, but their twisted pop sound is fiercly eccentric… Mumford… and Sons may have defined the sensitive communal singalong for some in the last few years, but with their emotional juxtaposition of sensivity and brutality: Heart-Ships are casting forth to somewhere special we hope in 2012 we’re around to bare witness to it… “
I caught up with their members for a delve behind their beguiling sound that has me slack jawed for the last six months!
Hey Heart-Ships, so firstly where does the name come from do you have an obsession with nautical themed movies? Second how did you meet?!
Ryan: The name comes from a lyric in a Neil Young song, and it conjures up something both weighty and transient which I like… It was also the first that didn’t sound shit after 6 months of trying to settle on one.
Jim: The ” – ” is important
A six piece is quite a collaboration to manage, did you start off with a few members and add or did you just come together in band of brothers style?
Ryan: It started off with Jim, Dave and me playing acoustically – Then Matt joined on Clarinet (and eventually keys). Then Al, then Josh. Quite a few came and went.
Matt: Initially Ryan just asked me along to hang out really, I enjoyed being in the room when all the crazyness was going on and usually just hit whatever was to hand – radiator, industrial drum, beer bottle and sang along. I don’t think a band ever has the conscious idea of “I know.. we need a clarinet player!”
Jim – I bumped into Ryan one day preaching about the end of the world outside WH Smiths, I thought he sounded good so i asked him if he wanted to start a band. Dave turned up shortly after lodged in a horses hoof.
Was there a moment when playing together and it just clicked and you knew this was a project you were going to take forward?
Ryan: There have been a few. For me, the first was when Jim, Dave and I were writing as an acoustic trio, making pretty feral, psyche folk in the basement of Dave’s old house. The music we made at that time felt really euphoric – Less about crafting songs, more about hollering, chanting, making up weird melodies and banging rhythms on whatever was at hand. The second was when we first started playing with bass and drums, and we realised how big our sound could be.
Matt: I remember playing an open mic night with Ry, Jim & Dave and being unbelievably nervous but the people there loved it. Ryan got a bit carried away and put his hand through the back of his guitar if I remember rightly.
With a selection of instrumentation players and vocalists how do you generally flesh out a song idea, does it come from one musical motif or lyric and then gets built on in rehearsals or is it more thought out than that?
Ryan: There is no set method. Sometimes we record sprawling jams in the practice room and when we listen to them back, there’ll be a section or two we’re all buzzing about, and that will act as the foundation for a song. Then sometimes we’ll build something up layer by layer – Could begin with a bassline , a riff, a melody or chord sequence or sometimes someone will have the guts of a song written in advance…
You got alot of praise for your appearance at Leeds last year, was that your favourite live show so far, or do you have another favourite live experience?
Ryan: I thought we were better at Reading, but the Leeds show was special. There’s a tiny bar called The Washington, in Sheffield that was fun… we had to set up half our gear in the crowd as the stage was so small but it made for a good vibe with the crowd.
Matt: Yeah both were great but Reading was amazing as we played at noon on the Friday, we thought noone would really turn up and then ten minutes before we started the crowd just appeared. Hundreds of smiling enthusiastic faces excited by the prospect of a weekend of festivities and they got really into it. I think that gave us a massive confidence boost. The backstage staff were all experienced roadie types and they were great craic before the gig aswell.
The first Heart-ships track I fell in Love with was ‘Heart of a Wrestler (A Young Man’s struggle for strength) where did the idea to write a narrative about a (fictional?) character come from? Was it intentional to build up from a small beginning into something all together grander? Also is it fun to play especially the crushing crescendo when you’re singing, plucking and hitting things at the end?
Ryan: That song is alot of fun to play. With regard to narrative, I don’t think that there is one beyond the first four couplets… They were inspired by an old man I was collecting shopping trolleys with a few years back while temping – I guess you could say he was sort of simple and I didn’t know what he was talking about a lot of the time and he’d repeat himself, but he seemed cheerful and unaffected and that painted a nice contrast with the stressed shoppers in the carpark – It reminded me of a Picasso exhibition I saw (which blew my mind at the time), that focussed on his late period when he was trying to untie all of the layers of his being, and paint the world the way a child might see it, and reclaim that sense of wonder. I don’t know if that’s how the old man saw the world at all, and maybe I’m being gratuitously romantic to think he might have done, but that’s what inspired the beginning of the song. The rest of the lyrics elaborate on the theme of trying to reclaim childlike wonder … whether it was ever there or not.
Songwriting wise did you set out to approach everything from a slightly different angle from the usual straight ahead forms of song structure? What other songwriters/bands/artists do you admire..
Ryan: I don’t think we’ve set out to attack things from a ‘different’ angle regarding structure. If something sounds good we go with it. I like well-crafted pop songs with your standard verse, bridge, middle eight, chorus; but I don’t think any form of structure should shackle you creatively… We use a vibe and passion to direct our songs – When you really think about it a piece of music is just time and noise, so it’s up to you what you fill it with. Music that inspires me at the minute is: Robbie Basho, Animal Collective (esp. Feels), Spencer Krug, Yma Sumac Leonard Cohen, (early) My Morning Jacket, Roy Orbison, lots of Afrobeat stuff…
Dave: For me the songs started off being structured how they are because they came from sprawling jams where we took ourselves off into another world through repetitions of parts that slowly built into natural crescendos as we all got more and more excited and carried away. It felt that the songs seemed more organic and honest in some ways. We like our songs to be a unique entity so they get structured differently depending on lyrics, musical tension etc and like Ryan said if it sounds good we go with it, its all about recognising what sounds good. To stick to rules or set ways of doing things is completely against our ethos as a band we’ll always do our own thing.
Jim: We’re all interested in exploring what the possibilities are within a songs structure. I dont think we’re purposely trying to be different but we are exploring what can work and why. Music is very personal, one persons favorite song is hated by another, we could repeat the word “pillow” for 5 minute over a C tone and someone somewhere would like it. I think what we’re interested in is getting the balance between experimental thought and entertainment.
Your two new tracks ‘Spraypaint’ and ‘A Lake’ hint at an even more epic sound was that your intention to push your sound as much as you can?
Dave: yeah we’ve always wanted to sound big, big but not heavy. even when we were an acoustic trio we tried to sound like an army. We didn’t get the chance to record live on the early recordings and i think it’s what we need to do to put across the full energy and size of our sound. We like to play off each other and the opportunity to look each other in the eye (when recording) and buzz off each others enjoyment of playing the song was amazing. We love playing our songs together, its what we’re all about.
Where did you record those two and who produced them?
Ryan: With James Kenosha, in his studio.
Dave: Yeah we spent a couple of weekends out at his studio in Bridlington. He’s a great guy to work with and he really knows his stuff and how to get the best out of the musicians he works with. We can’t wait to get back into the studio with him.
If you had to choose five albums that perhaps represented an influence upon Heart-Ships at the moment what would they be?
Ryan: Yma Sumac – Greatest hits.
Dave: Estudios Sencillios – Leo Brower – performed by Ricardo Cobo
Matt: At the moment I’m really enjoying Francois & the Atlas Mountains – E Volo Love
Jim: I’m back in a big Sonic Youth phase at the moment, cant stop listening to Murray Street.
Heart-Ships have just announced they will be supporting I Like Trains this May.