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INTERVIEW: Heart-Ships

Leeds based collective Heart-Ships are one of the MOST exciting emerging UK groups in 2013! There I said it, bombast out of the way. You’ve probably heard it all twenty times this week about other bands in carefully selected quotes and the latest tips to do the rounds through mainstream music channels! But the difference is I really mean it, these guys are undeniably brilliant and let me explain why.

Releasing their awe inspiring long awaited debut EP simply entitled ‘EP 1’ on Manchester’s newest independent label this week entitled well ‘Label’ it is a vital document of three years work. Making a splash at Leeds festival in 2010 with a series of carefully balanced set of songs ripe with heart bursting crescendos and epic relevance. With the aid of producer Tim Hampton in Sheffield they have crafted their first release, Heart-Ships sonic nuggets build through pulsing percussion, instrumental waves and chanted backing bursts: these are intense raucous anthems for our uncertain times. Shivering at the eye of the storm are vocalist Ryan Cooke’s powerful narratives that switch from personal and intimate into rattling rousing chorus’ that capture emotive snapshots in time, in short they are staggeringly devotional.

As Cooke puts it his ‘lyrics imbue pursuing a sense of wonder, a will to explore the tension between transcendental or meditative type experiences and being confined to a body’.Compared to other left-field alternative bands such as The National, Modest Mouse, Nick Cave and Wild Beasts the sound of ‘EP1’s five songs depict Heart-Ships full sonic textures and individuality, it’s a heartening document of their live raw sound and confirmation of what those in the know have been aware of for some time: Heart-Ships are possess of a burgeoning talent that is about to shake you to the core. We caught up with their lead vocalist Ryan for a chinwag about their new EP and movements….

Hi how are you Heart-Ships?
RYAN: Great thanks, just back from a holiday and feeling very refreshed.

How would you describe your sound to someone who has yet to encounter it yet?

RYAN: People normally use words like Epic/Raucous/Fragile/Rousing and that’s about right for me!

‘Heart Of A Wrestler’ was my first epic taste of Heart-Ships will there be a new recording of this song in the future or are you keen to only look forward to writing and recording ‘new’ material?
RYAN: We have a recording of it which will feature on the next release after this – It’s very raw… Interesting actually as there are several different ways we could have taken in approaching the production of that song as it’s so epic in structure and diversity of parts. While I think it could also shine with a very polished approach, perhaps even using orchestral instrumentation, this one definitely captures the energy of how we play it live. Recording a song turns it into an artefact and makes it permanent, when the reality of HoaW is that it has been (and will probably continue) morphing over time with whole parts coming and going… That said, I am pretty excited for people to hear this recording as it hits hard!

EP 1 has been a long time coming was it important for you to release something fully realized rather than something that wasn’t fully ‘there yet’?
RYAN: Yeah it’s good to keep trying to make the songs better and keep them sounding exciting for us. To be honest, on a personal level, that for me is what the entity ‘Heart-Ships’ is; a live experience to be shared by performer and listener. That and hours of practicing and writing with the guys. I see recordings as snapshots of this experience, and a commodification of it, which is also a great thing and I’m 100% behind, but for me, the fully realised vision is in the evolving live act, it is not something concrete with an end goal – The vision is just to keep going!

There appears to be a balancing act throughout the EP, musically see sawing from intimate and quiet to crashing crescendos, is this kind of balance important to understanding the Heart-Ships sound? Spraypaint’s brittle narrative and snaking guitar shimmers, in particular seem to sum this idea up best….
RYAN: I guess that is a fair reflection of the sound, yeah. That’s just how they come out… We’re quite a firey and passionate group of people so it could come from that part of our personalities. Also, there’s definitely no ‘cool filter’ in making our music and it is fuelled by raw emotion rather than trying to create or meld various styles. We would rather level you than charm you.
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Lyrically too you talk of trying to ‘imbue pursuing a sense of wonder, a will to explore the tension between transcendental or meditative type experiences and being confined to a body’ how do these words emerge? Are they scrawled on a notepad or appear in dreams or are they poured over in a sweaty recording studio?
RYAN: I keep notebooks and fill them with reams of drivel, but then occasionally something really chimes for me and it ends up in a song. I’ve definitely not figured out the formula for what works yet. They mostly begin as streams of consciousness, or half finished poems and then when something connects with the music I run with it and begin chiselling either the words or the progressions of the music to make it work. This generally happens rapturously, joyfully and quickly or goes on for AGES and is quite torturous.

“Five Forks of Lightning” particularly swells gloriously vocally and instrumentally in to a communal anthem yet on the face of it the lyrics are intense and personal, is this the kind of dichotomy what you were reaching for?
RYAN: I honestly can’t remember… I think it may have been as simple as the fact that I liked the sound of the words and rhymes over the building of the music. So while I don’t think that was the intent in creating it, in retrospect I agree with you that that dichotomy works. Also, the whole part from the build up through to chorus is written partly from the perspective of when I was a child, in a garden and without going into to much detail about the narrative, about how intensely overwhelming the world could be. The gauntlet of youth and growing up can seem pretty epic at times! There is definitely an autobiographical quality to all of my words as I don’t really feel qualified to sing about anything else… or have much to say about it. What I do enjoy is exploring the boundary between the outside world and my own being which is where I usually end up when trying to get into something – That’s probably why my lyrics end up sounding so ambiguous.

What is Pinhole of Light about? Its tribal, chanting feel seems to me like its encapsulating the sound of clinging onto any small shards of hope and wonder amongst a time of struggle?Or have I completely misinterpreted it?!

RYAN: That’s pretty much spot on. It refers to my own life and a couple of other people to have entered into it at various stages, one being my great aunt. I wrote a substantial part of the words in her house in Northern Ireland a couple of days after she died and was learning alot about her life from her family and my mother. She was an intensely religious woman and I remember feeling very moved sitting in her house. There was a real humble beauty to her faith, and everybody talked admiringly of how unwavering it was. I went to visit her quite frequently as a child and she always told my mother that she thought I would grow up to be a priest, which was the biggest compliment she could possibly give! The lyrics ‘The holiness that’s locked in my chest, and the wonder you taught me to express, was the priest you saw in me…’ (etc.) all refer to sitting in that room feeling a sense of wonder for this amazing woman and the long life that she had lived and I was contemplating my own faith, which was at the time, and sometimes still is inanimate. She also experienced quite a tough life, and religion was a source of strength and hope for her and saw her through to the end which is what the lyrics ‘the brass bodies of Christ, you knelt before every night, are golden – And the pinhole of light, your prayers helped you find has swollen’ refer to. It was intensely moving seeing these brass crucifixes and the bible in her room which offered her a ‘pinhole of light’ in life, and thinking how the pinhole of light had swollen and opened wide with the light of death/entrance to heaven.

Three of these tracks have been around for a while was there any thought of releasing a single or do you feel an EP gives a more rounded picture of Heart-ships as an outfit?

RYAN: We are sitting on loads of material and we want to get as much of it out as soon as possible!

For this EP you worked with producer Tim Hampton in Sheffield how was this experience and what fresh eyes do you feel he cast upon your work?
RYAN: He was big on recording us as we sound live, and trying to capture that as honestly as possible.

Instrumentally the EP sounds like another step up generally how do the songs emerge are they from a singular motif or vocal melody and then everyone clambers on board? Or are the bare bones written before you ever enter the studio and sharpened on stage?Or does it vary….
RYAN: Probably best to ask the instrumentalists this one… But seeing as they aren’t at hand, yes things generally evolve from a motif or are built around a chord progression and vocal melody. Then follows a period of adding and subtracting parts, and rearranging when necessary. Everything that has been recorded on the EP is exactly as we play it live too, so was written entirely in advance.
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The Artwork is very interesting it appears to have an abstract feel, who created it and what do you think it says about the EP?
RYAN: The art work is by a guy called Peter Healy, who is based in California – check him out. I worked with him in a bar in Northern Ireland as a teenager, and haven’t seen him in the fifteen years since! I googled his name a couple of years back and found a link to his art and took a liking to quite a few of them so got back in touch and here we are. I don’t know what the intended meaning of the painting is, but there is definitely a self portrait quality about it (of him, obviously), and also some kind of crazed interaction between his eyes and the external world… There is a manic intensity to whatever that vision is… Is it something he is projecting or sensing? I dunno… But that ambiguity connects with the music for me. I also like the colours.


What could one expect from a Heart-Ships show?I note you are playing Dot to Dot this year are you looking forward to that?

RYAN: Can’t wait to play all of our live shows – They’re gonna be great. We give it everything when we play, so expect that.


When can we expect EP 2? Will there be a debut album on the Horizon?

RYAN: EP2 is finished, and gets pretty dark at times… Will leave it at that for now

Heart-Ships play live at the following:

4th May – Live at Leeds – Leeds Met Backroom 7pm
24th May – Dot to Dot Manchester
25th May – Dot to Dot Bristol
26th – Dot to Dot Nottingham

http://www.heart-ships.com/

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