Interview: The Hearts, “Sunshine”

The Hearts - "Sunshine"

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I am a sucker for any music hearkening back to the 1970s.  “Sunshine,” the new EP from The Hearts, delivers that nostalgic punch in droves with songs rife with sumptuous harmonies, crunching guitars, and exactly the brand of melodies that drew me to my lifelong love of music as a child.

The Hearts are comprised of Jeff Stuart, Dwayne Martineau, Gavin Dunn, Christopher Quesnel, Brad Tebble, and Alex Vissia, and “Sunshine” was recorded at their home studio in Edmonton, Alberta. It was produced by guitarist Gavin Dunn and mixed by American producer and engineer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Joy Kills Sorrow and many more). Everything you hear was written, arranged and performed by The Hearts.

The album opens with all of those characteristics fully present in the title track, an anthemic tune that gets the project off to a rocking good start.  (It reminds me a bit of Heart, thanks to Alex Vissia’s vocal contributions – the songs of Heart that I liked, before M pipes up that he knows full well that I loathe most of Heart’s discography.)  “Modern Lies” veers slightly into early 1980s pop with its driving beat and slightly synth-based sounds, while “Swallowed By the Morning Sky” is a deceptively gentle ballad that includes some simply gorgeous pedal steel.  The album closes with “You’re Not the First” (perhaps the album’s standout track), which gradually builds from a quiet opening to a simultaneously reserved and ferocious finish.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed “Sunshine” as not only a sonic blast from the past, but also an introduction to yet another terrific Canadian band.  I look forward to hearing more from The Hearts.

We’re so pleased that Jeff Stuart took some time to chat with us about the album.

The first line of your bio reads thus: “The Hearts deliver memorable pop melodies and moody folk harmonies that fit comfortably at soft seat theatres, dive bars, or international folk festivals.” I’m assuming you’ve played in all of the above (and then some) – where do you feel that you fit best, and why?

Yes indeed, we’ve played in all of those environments, and we appreciate each for their own specific reasons, but it is safe to say that overall we fit best in a festival setting. We’ve been told many times by fans and people in the music industry that our music isn’t easily pigeon-holed. At festivals there tends to be a fair bit of diversity among the audience, and we seem to be able to connect well as a result. It’s not uncommon for us to look out at a crowd of people dancing/swaying (sometimes even singing along) during a festival set and see at least a few dedicated 4-year olds, some 20/30-somethings decked out in Canadian tuxedos, some partying grannies and grandpas, a few folks with dreadlocks and seemingly enhanced smiles, and usually a few cool cats in black leather and vintage post-pop band T-shirts. We love those moments. They are nice reminders that music is about people – it draws out our similarities rather than our differences.

The Hearts

I know that Alex has released her own solo material, and I’m guessing you all have other projects/bands – what keeps bringing you back to work together?

Yeah, pretty much all of us are involved in other projects, in many different capacities from writing, performing and recording to producing and scoring, etc… One of the simplest yet most important reasons that we keep coming back together is because we’re friends. It is very fortunate to be able to get to do something you love, but getting to do it with people you love takes it up to another level.  One can easily hire as many technically proficient players as they like, to accompany them, but it is never the same as making music with your friends.

The EP (at least the version I have) contains two versions of “Dead and Gone,” the album version and a radio edit. I’ve always wondered – how hard is it to trim a song down to fit a radio playlist?  (Not technically… I mean, in terms of deciding what to cut.)

We found it to be difficult. We initially had no intention of trimming that song, but a handful of folks advised us that we should have a ‘radio edit’ available just in case. So in the mixing process we essentially just created a version that fades early and ends. We never gave it much thought until we listened back to the final masters and realized that we hacked it off before one of the ‘hookiest’ riffs re-emerges and wraps the whole song up. A passive listener probably wouldn’t notice or miss anything, but we will always notice. In hindsight, we should have re-mixed a version of the ending specifically for the radio edit version of the song. Live and learn! Thankfully the tune has been getting some spins, so having an abbreviated version was good advice either way.

As I’ve listened through the EP several times now, I’ve been trying to identify the musical influences – personally I hear some 70s rock, some Fleetwood Mac, maybe a bit of alt rock. What musicians would you say have inspired The Hearts’ sound?

You’re right – a lot of 60s/70s rock and pop, some alt rock, a bit of classic country, a touch of soul and even a little dash of new wave (we like synth). This is not an exhaustive list by any means, nor is it in any rank or order, but a few things that quickly come to mind include T-Rex, The Stones, The Smiths, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Wilco, Neil Young, Harry Nilsson, Lucinda Williams, The Kinks, Big Star, The Pretenders, Lee Hazlewood, Lou Reed, Glen Campbell, Spoon, Sloan, Sonic Youth, Otis Redding, Pavement, Cyndi Lauper, Bob Dylan, The Stooges, Gillian Welch, etc. The list could go on and on and on. Those are a few of the ‘classics’. There are also plenty of contemporary Canadian artists who we appreciate and respect. We meet more and more of them all the time as we tour and spend time at festivals.

Can you tell us a bit about Arlo, who graces the EP cover?

Arlo was cared for in the household of our singer, Jeff Stuart. He was a beautiful dog (Border Collie/American Eskimo/Collie mix) with a beautiful soul and a complex personality. He could be the most charming, or the most annoying guy in the room. He was a comedian, teacher, tormentor, companion and friend like no other. He was diagnosed with cancer late last year, and had to be put down this January, but he will never be forgotten. A bunch of us were on a camping trip together a few years ago and Arlo was relaxing by the lake after big ball-fetching swim session (two of his favourite activities combined into one – a happy day for the little beast). Our keyboard player Dwayne Martineau (who also happens to be a pro photographer) snapped some shots. We were flipping through them and reminiscing about Arlo just after he passed, and we decided that one would make a fitting cover image for the EP. And a nice way to pay tribute to our friend.

Visit The Hearts’ website.

Preview and buy “Sunshine” on Bandcamp.

Photo credit: Adam Goudreau

Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.

Come find me on Goodreads.

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