Interviews

Published on June 2nd, 2017 | by John J Nicol

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Interview: Heaters

Feet of a Heater. Photo: John J Nicol

The broad label that you’d generally group the Grand Rapids band Heaters under would be psych rock. It’s a loose term and often doesn’t quite add up to something all that original. However, spread across a small and growing discography, this newly reformatted four-piece continues to work in that delightful space between effortless and approachable yet uncompromising and thoroughly original.

Having seen then play live in my hometown a year or so ago, it was a no-brainer to go again this time round. Fresh in my mind was how wonderful, searingly fuzzed-out they had been live.

We literally finished the recording and got in the car and went to the airport…

They were playing in Edinburgh towards the end of an extensive European tour that had taken them to some unusual places and far-flung locations.

A few gigs including playing at festival at a skate park in the Netherlands, and then back home to the U.S., and more touring… It’s clear that “live” is part of the creative process for them.

The venue becomes much more packed as the band make final adjustments. Testing the mikes, checking the guitars and array of pedals, Heaters are ready to rip open a wormhole of flanged echoing droney chugging grooviness once more. As the wobbly bouncing patterns of Dali starts to fill the room, I am instantly, completely sucked in…

Before the show, I had the chance to press the guys for details on their freshly tracked third album.

It’s a nice progression from our last album, because it’s still kinda heavy, it’s got some groovier parts; there’s not really much trace of the surf-rock thing we started out with…

“It’s still being mixed right now, but it’s gonna be eight songs,” Nolan Krebbs tells me.

“I think it’s a nice amalgamation of everything we’ve done up to now. It’s a nice progression from our last album, because it’s still kinda heavy, it’s got some groovier parts; there’s not really much trace of the surf-rock thing we started out with. More influenced by krautrock and lush, psychedelic music.”

BNU: When’s that out, then?

NK: It’s being mixed, and usually once we turn in the masters, it’s like a four- to six-month process to get it pressed to vinyl, so we’re looking at, like, October…

BNU: I was reading about the way you did the last album; it was done basically between tours… did you get more time to work on recording this time?

NK: This one was kinda weird in that we’d been working on a new batch of songs and getting them ready for a tour with our other guitarist, and then he ended up leaving the band with no notice. Ah… so …

Ryan Hagan [RH]: Like a week before we recorded…

NK: Yeah, like a week or two before we started recording, but Ben, who’s my roommate, he’s a master guitar player, he stepped in and helped us flesh-out the sketches we already had for the songs. It worked out. But, it was down to the last minute. We literally finished the recording and then got in the car and went to the airport in Chicago to come on tour. It was like, every second…

Ben Taber [BT]: It was pretty hectic.

NK: It was stressful, but I felt like we had it the whole time. It was good. It was never like, fuck, I really wish we had more time.

BNU: That’s interesting in that the second album—and it’s not a criticism—but it’s very different from that. You know, the first album was late ’60s garage-rock, a lot of miniatures, and the second album was more a sketchbook, a lot of different bits and pieces, a lot of instrumental tracks that could’ve went on for days… there were a couple of longer tracks as well. And I noticed with Garden Eater, which you released as an EU single as well, with the original, I kinda preferred that version, actually…

[Laughter]

NK: Yeah, well, mixing that album was kind of a nightmare, it was just that we were overseas, and the engineer who did it, he’s a great dude and he’s great at what he does, but I don’t think we necessarily had a unified vision of how we wanted the album to sound. I love the demo of that song, it’s like one of the favorite things we’ve done. We re-did it in the studio, but we weren’t there to sort of show them what we wanted.

BNU: I must admit that when I listen to that album at home, I always put on the single version… It’s just the layering in it…

NK: [Laughing] Yep… Yeah, I agree. So, yeah, I think with this album, we don’t have any moments where we feel like we didn’t capture what we wanted to. That’s comforting.

BNU: Are there some longer tracks, then?

That’s always something we wanted to translate onto a record, the long jams. Because it’s fun to play that kind of stuff live…

NK: Yeah, I mean, from our live set, that’s always something we wanted to translate onto a record, the long jams. Because it’s fun to play that kind of stuff live, more than like a three-minute song, or whatever.

RH: With Garden Eater, even, the recording’s like… seven, eight minutes? Live, I think we do a 15-minute-long version…

BNU: So I suppose the other obvious thing to ask is about personnel … you were a four-piece, and now we got some new members, and who are you, you’re new, who’s he, you’re a new member … what are you doing here, what’s your dynamic? 

[Laughter]

BT: I’m just here. [Laughter]

Live in Edinburgh. Photo: John J. Nicol

JK: I started about a year ago for the last American tour.

NK: You’ve been with us a for a while, right after that last European tour…

JK: I started playing just to sort of beef the sound up a little bit for the live performances, and then kinda … just … stayed.

BT: Got involved in the writing part of it…

JK: Yeah, I want to do some of the writing, and just, guitar… and then right when we started the recording, Ben joined.

We all love surf rock and shit, but when you’re watching a live band, it’s the ones that are really punchy and visceral which are like, alright, I got the goosebumps, this is sick…

BT: It wasn’t really a conscious thing, just… [Laughs]

JK: We went to a bar and had a meeting, and it was like, this is what we need to do.

Joshua Korf [JK]: “We Need You!” [Laughs] Take off work; you’re coming on tour, bud. Hope you don’t lose your job!

BT: I was in two other bands too, so I had to find some replacements for a couple of shows, expedite passport, take all the time off work…

NK: Yeah, we’re gonna need you for the next six months. We’re going to Europe. You can’t say no, your plane ticket’s already bought. Pack your bags. So, it all worked out.

BNU: And you’re louder now, so it’ll be five days before I can hear. Actually I brought my wife along with me tonight, and she was sort of saying, should I bring some earmuffs with me, or…

[Laughter]

NK: Yeah, I don’t know. I recommend that for most live shows, actually, if you’re watching, and you want to continue listening to music for the rest of your life…

JK: It’s a good idea, yeah.

BNU: Well there’s definitely a physicality, if you’re familiar with your music and you see Heaters live, there’s a sort of difference, like, “Oh, that’s how that sound was made”. There are times when vocals sound like guitar, and guitar sounds like a vocal, it’s really interesting with the vocals how they’re in the mix, it’s in the soup…

NK: That’s cool to hear, because that’s how we’ve always approached vocals…

BT: That’s perfect, “in the soup,” not completely buried…

BNU: So I suppose in that way, who would you say are your influences? I mean, there’s the surf-rock we talked about that you’ve kind of moved away from, but to me, there’s Ash Ra Tempel, Spacemen 3, Ty Segal, White Fence…

NK: Sure, yep.

BNU: Is that kind of accurate at all, or…

NK: I mean, it’s weird when we’re writing music and stuff, we never really think about like a particular influence, it’s just like it’s just everything you’ve absorbed, and the bands that have really motivated us and inspired us in the last couple of years touring, and least recently, have been the heavier kind of bands?

We all love surf rock and shit, but when you’re watching a live band, it’s the ones that are really punchy and visceral which are like, alright, I got the goosebumps, this is sick…

So, I think we may be tapping into some riff-heavy in-your-face kinda shit. Specifically, when Josh and I went on tour alongside a three-piece band called WAND, from Los Angeles. I think that was a turning point; these guys are really heavy, but weird and original.

[In a brief chat later with Nolan, he also enthuses about their wonderful label-mates on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Kikagaku Moyo, and Tim Presley’s staggeringly good The Wink]

JK: Melodic…

NK: And they’re in the same circle of musicians, and are involved with Ty Segal, you’d probably really like it. They’re great…


But it’s Nolan’s tantalizing framing of the new album as “More influenced by krautrock and lush, psychedelic music” that’s in my mind as the concert unfolds.

Of course, playing new tracks that few in the audience is familiar with can sometimes be a gamble. The kraut influence is apparent early on in the show.

The music sounds more blocky and droney and perhaps a bit darker. If the bands early surf-infused material was a rolling sine wave, this has more of an angular sawtooth structure. I’ve always sensed the shadow of Ash Ra Tempel or A.R and Machines in the band’s work. The sound feels denser than before.

The new dynamic offered by Ryan and Rob has added to this thicker drone sound. The soup has more ingredients now, and it’s thick enough to stand your spoon up in.

I’ve always loved Heaters’ ability to rub out and confuse what sound is doing what. Two-thirds of the way through the set, the band drops what is clearly a significant glimpse into the new album, a new track called Seance.

Heaters

🔮 2017 🔮

Clearly, it’s a song that lends itself particularly well to a space saturated in sound waves… This time, the sound has meshed and overlapped in a new and unexpected way, and I swear I can almost hear a saxophone (there is no saxophone!). The structure switches back and forth between two distinct parts and I cannot wait to hear the studio version of this monster.

Continually the band surges forward, leaving fractions of seconds between songs. The show ends in frenzied strobe-lit dials-in-the red squall, an acid-fried Centennial and Aca Pacis that effectively blows the roof of the venue, visually and sonically.

At the merchandise stand I pick up a t-shirt. I ask Nolan if the new black-and-white distressed and somehow monolith artwork appearing in the tour flyers and across the shirt is a teaser to the new album’s artwork. He smiles in agreement. I can’t wait to hear it come October.

Check out more Heaters music on Bandcamp and follow on Facebook for tour information. 


About the Author

Graphic Design for IC. Words for BNU. Love nature, seldom visited places, mountain biking, music and not eating or being unmellow to animals. YA HO WHA



One Response to Interview: Heaters

  1. Bill Wabura says:

    Heaters are boring psych-by-numbers.

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