FYF Fest is just around the corner (on the corner of “this” and “Saturday,” to be exact) and with its new venue (Los Angeles Historic Park) and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles themed stages, there is no better place to be on Labor Day weekend. With historic bands reuniting, upcoming acts showcased, and the oddities that only comedians and hipsters can provide, one can see that the reasonably priced ticket that grants one access to the FYF Fest is beyond a sound investment. Enjoy our countdown of bands to check out, including interviews and a big review the day after the show.
Mister Heavenly– 1:35-2:10 (Leonardo’s Stage)
There are three phrases one will see associated with the act Mister Heavenly when traversing the internet: “supergroup,” “doom wop,” and “Micheal Cera.” These terms are used by lazy folk that grab the easiest bits of a band to draw attention, when in reality, the men behind Mister Heavenly are so much more than the term “supergroup” could ever encompass. Micheal Cera did play bass a few times with them, but he’s not a permanent or live member, and doom wop is the genre the band is playing with, wrapping songs inside of a Motown burrito before dousing it with surf rock sauerkraut. But, why explain it using measly adjectives when the singer and guitar player Nick Thorburn can explain it himself!
You might know Nick from the bands Islands or The Unicorns, where he played under the moniker Nick Diamonds. His new project adds Man Man’s Ryan Kattner on keys and vocals and Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer on drums. Their debut album Out of Love was just released via SubPop Records and it’s the freshest breathe of air, musically speaking. It reaches back into what made music so great for so many generations and introduces the eccentric songwriting of Thorburn and Kattner. Their label is still streaming the entire album in one swell Youtube package, viewable on the left side of this page.
Enjoy the interview and check this band out on Saturday!
Have you seen your set time for FYF Fest?
I did. We’re on early.
Yeah, it’s kind of a bummer.
Yea it is a bummer. We play San Diego the night before at like 11pm, we play, so we have to drive…we’re not going to sleep, but we have to play…not to downplay our performance!
We will be crazed for that and it’s kinda too bad that we’re playing that early but we’re starting over. Mister Heavenly is like a reset button so it’s part of the deal, you know?
Your set is exactly as long as your album. Does that work for you or would you like it longer?
We do a couple fun covers that would be nice to throw in the mix and maybe we will. Some of the songs on the record are kind of low-key and we might want to swap them out for a more up-beat cover song.
It might be 100 degrees so that might work out. I don’t know how well “Diddy Eyes” will go over in the blazing sun.
We’re going to try and do a 30-minute version of “Reggae Pie” and see how long we can ride that out.
Speaking of “Reggae Pie,” you have a false ending at the end of that song but I cranked it up to see what was going on during the silence and you have a little jam and your drummer has one of the best fills of the whole song right at that moment. What made you do that?
Yea, I did a really cool guitar thing right at the silent part. I like to have an ounce of humor in every musical thing that I do, even when I’m taking myself incredibly serious and everything is as dark and morose and macabre as can possibly be. I like to have an ounce of light shining through. Not that the title isn’t already tongue-and-cheek, but, the lyrics are pretty heavy and the whole record is pretty dark. It seemed like a funny little prank to have a fake out. I feel like I’ve heard that before where you think it’s over, and then it comes back, it just seems like something to kind of mess with the listener a little bit. Make them do a double take where they go “What? I thought this song was over.”
Did anything not make the album?
No. No, that’s all she wrote. “She” being the band, Mister Heavenly.
Is that normal for you, not having any B-sides?
No, it depends. I generally have a surplus of songs in my other projects but we basically had a limited budget going in to make the record, 12 days to do everything except for mastering, and we had to mix and track it within 12 days so we had to have focus. 12 songs was kind of the magic number. We decided to keep it at that and not have any leftovers because we wouldn’t have time to record them and give them any…there’s no variable you know? We just did the 12 we knew would be on the record, and maybe one wouldn’t be, but they all ended up going on. We just didn’t have time for any bonus material, unfortunately, but the way the band operates, we try and make use of every minute we have and put them to good use and make sure they’re album material.
A lot of bands have those extra songs just to make a deluxe album or sell a single on iTunes.
Yea, a way to gouge your fans who have been with you from the beginning.
Could you ever see yourself in a project where you just play guitar?
Hmm, I don’t know if I’m a good enough guitar player to just play guitar but I do love and relish the idea of not singing and stepping away from the microphone for a project. Kinda hang in the back, maybe to write songs for someone else or just be a part of someone else’s song and not sing. I get to do that a little bit in this dynamic where I get to hang back and let Ryan kinda take over sometimes, which is good. I do kinda wanna write songs in the background and I know people that do that. They write songs in the shadows. I came up with a real straight country song called “What An Ass” about a woman with a really beautiful body and a guy who makes a fool of himself trying to flirt with her.
Will that ever see the light of day in any of your projects or does it just not fit?
I might just write it and sell it to a country singer. Like, really good, really authentic. I have a friend from New York who is getting into the country game racket, he’s originally from Nashville, so I might try and pawn it off on him.
I would imagine it would get old to always be the face and be behind the microphone, kind of be a ringleader. When you played Coachella in Islands, there were a lot of people on stage. With your latest iteration of Islands and with Mister Heavenly, you play in a four and sometimes three piece. Do you prefer one over the other? Is there a benefit for having the large ensemble or is it overwhelming?
Yea, the pros and cons are there for both. I mean, when Islands first started, the first couple of shows, we had eight people on stage. That was a little excessive and there are a lot of sounds that can be achieved with that many people. And I’ve read reports that say after about four basic elements, the human ear just tunes out. After you get your rhythm, your melody, your vocal, the bass…like after that, especially in a live setting, the details don’t matter as much. It’s nice to have the ensemble because it’s freed me up to put the guitar down and just sing. Especially if like I made a little mistake or missed a spot, it’s easily patched up by the amount of stuff going on. I definitely love whittling things down to their essence and that’s what this is about and Unicorns was a power trio. It feels good to get back because any false move is apparent. It’s good to be sharp and on your game.
Any chance you guys will play Coachella again, either in this or Islands?
Yea, if it was up to me I’d play it every year.
That’s good to hear. I’ve heard from other artists that they have a “You can’t play twice” mentality.
There’s a lot of music out there, too. They probably don’t want to have what looks like a recycled kind of line-up. I don’t know, I don’t book the show, but I know it’s a fun time and people have fun. I like playing festivals, especially the idea of playing to people who don’t know you, and trying to win over crowds, I find it exhilarating to play shows like that.
If you decide to record again, would you like to take longer than 12 days or would you like to try it again?
It’s a little too early to tell what the next step will be, if there’s even going to be a next step, but I think I like having those kind of restrictions because it made us get those songs down and know the material. We were able to do it live and get it all in one take. Sometimes it’s nice to have some mistakes shine through and there’s a beauty to that. We’d like to make a record with this guy in San Francisco named Nick Waterhouse, sort of an up-and-coming performer. If there is any justice in the world, he will be huge. He also produces records and he’s starting to get big, he just signed a deal with an SF label, I think. He’s got a really good old-fashioned aesthetic and sensibility which is to do everything live to tape and minimal dubs and having the buffing of the tracks reduces the quality of the sound, but it also gives it that old quality sound that you can’t really find. His records really sound old and natural and roomy and vibey and a lot of people try to chase that sound, but don’t really get it.
We talked about going to the Philippines. Ryan’s (Kattner, vocals) family is from there, we talked about going there and making a record. Just doing something different by putting ourselves in a different environment to see where it takes us.
It’d be like Hangover II.
I wanted to ask you about the art of the love song. It’s something you focus on a lot and do a really good job at. I have to say that “Tendure Torture” is probably the most romantic song I’ve heard in a really long time. Do you think the art of the love song is lost these days?
I haven’t thought about a straight-up love song in awhile. I’m in heartbreak mode, so all my new shit is all about love lost. I’m glad you feel that way, you know it’s a really earnest song and it really came right from the heart. It was a true blue feeling that came out of me to make that happen. I don’t know if I hear a lot of genuine love songs, but kind of lately I’ve been latching onto the heartbreak stuff, I guess?
Do you have a favorite heartbreak album?
I don’t know if I have an all-time fave, but the old folks do it well. Smokey Robinson knew how to sing it, I don’t know, there are countless. Roy Orbison, of course, whose family and wife died in a plane crash or something, so, he gets it.
When you’re at home and you have some time with just you and your guitar, do you have some warm-up or jam songs you play just to warm-up?
Not really, no, I like to just start fresh when I’m sitting down with a guitar. I like to move forward and think only about what I’m working on at that moment, wether it’s a melody that spurred the writing session. Even if it’s more casual, and not a writing session. I like to have a really fresh start when I sit down and there aren’t any “go-to’s” either in popular song or my own, personal unpopular discography.
Since you are from Vancouver, and if so, are you a hockey fan and/or a Canucks fan?
No, but my dad is and my dad is a fan of the Canucks. He was pretty crestfallen when the riots happened. I know nothing about hockey, I skated a little bit as a kid, but I have no interest in hockey.
What about the riots? How did that feel as a Vancouverite?
That was kind of dark. On record, I’m not a terribly large fan of the city itself and it was kind of the city showing its darker side. Just pointless violent male aggression, drunken nastiness. I just don’t really relate to it.
Do you do all of the art on the Howie Do tumblr site?
Yea, I do. That’s my project, my other little side project is doing a comic book called “This is Howie Do.” Those are some random little sketches and sampling pages from the book.
Can people buy the book?
I’m down with it, but I’m trying to find a publisher. I have a guy in LA that is helping me publish it, haven’t got any bites. I did get published in a fanographic anthology called “Mome” and it was one of my highlights because it’s a very legitimate anthology. I’m taking it slow, I’m going to self-release the first book and I’m already working on a second book that hopefully I’ll get someone to put out. There are a lot of headaches in having to self-release. That’s kind of the stress relieving side of my outlets. It’s nice to just sit and draw and zone out. I can do that for hours and hours.
I read in an interview you did a week ago that you can’t talk about the new Islands album, but can you talk about the new Islands album?
I can’t! My label boss said “shut up.” I have a big mouth and I think it’s going to be a good one. All I’ll say is that it’s my best work and if I die before I do anything else, I’ll die a fulfilled man. I think it’s my best work. Aside from that, I can’t say too much. It’ll be out before too long.
Are you going to tell your fans not to get their hopes up, like you did for your solo album?
No, I have higher hopes for this one than the solo record. That was really just an impulsive decision to just release it met with crippling fear with how it will be received. I never had that feeling before, but for some reason it felt really personal and I was a little scared. But, people seem to not hate it too much so I got off lucky, I guess.