Friday, 19 May 2017

Duct Hearts - Exclusive Interview + Feathers Review and Song Stream

(Photo Credit: My Name Is Jonas)

2017 is going to be a breakthrough year for German post-hardcore band Duct Hearts, as they set to release their debut album "Feathers" in early June with the help of six labels. Forming in 2009 (originally as a solo project), they've appeared on various split records, with their first solo 7" "If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed" came in 2015. I caught up with Daniel recently to ask him about "Feathers" and the build up to it. 

You formed Duct Hearts in 2009 and you’re about to release your debut full-length record. How do you feel going into its release? What process did you go through when writing it?

We released a lot of songs on splits, compilations and small formats before, so the entire process of recording/releasing isn’t new to us. However making an LP feels a bit more serious. Most things we did before were 7“s, and as this format is basically limited to one song we can contribute and there’s usually one or more other bands on the record the pressure of “delivering” isn’t as bad. Also if you write songs for an LP you can write with less pressure of making each of them representative for the band, you can for instance include a song that’s clean over its entire duration, and experiment a bit more without trying to make each song perfectly presenting the band. So the writing process took less “construction” (something we did a lot for example on the If You Prick Us… 7“, where we “force” a lot of seemingly unfitting parts into one song). On the other hand I’m no friend of the write-10-songs-and-put-them-on-an-LP kind of albums, I like to have a plan and have some sort of golden thread that makes an LP more than just a bunch of songs, which is kind of a big question mark, especially when these songs were written over the span of 3 years. After Shell had been written pretty early and the idea for an LP came up I pretty quickly had the overall topic as well as the record title. We moved into my grandfather’s house 2 years ago, which kind of led me into thinking a lot about families and all the weirdest habits and actions they include, so the topic came naturally. Then again you never know if you have enough to say for an entire LP, but we already had 3 strong songs at that time and we never pressured ourselves to write so the process of writing was more being a trio and making music together and make it an LP when we have enough material. So the biggest question mark was how they would form a nice arc of suspense and work as an LP. We still kind of didn’t pressure ourselves too much on that and always kept ourselves a back door in which we would’ve just left a song off the record if it had turned out not working for it.

I think the biggest actual effort started after the recording was done, our friend Franz mixed and mastered it in his studio called Koenich Sound in Seoul, South Korea. He has a busy schedule,and the different time zones made it difficult to communicate so working on the mixes took a lot more effort than I had expected. Then we had some troubles with the test presses, artwork was a lot of effort as well (I rarely have to do professional print-ready-files so that was a lot of trial and error). Now, shortly before the release date we are working on other things we have never been involved in that much, like doing actual promotion, getting things reviewed in time for the release (that means well before the release), making a video, booking a tour, things like that. It’s not the amount of work that makes it a heavy load, it’s more the fact that everything has to happen at certain times, mostly the same time, which has to happen in parallel to work and family life.

You kindly gave me the opportunity to have an early listen to the record. Having reviewed and taken in some of your previous releases, I’ve noticed a change in your musical approach and a maturity as well. Did that come naturally? Do you think taking your time over the years has helped you to write a better album?

It all came pretty naturally. Most of the older songs were either entirely recorded/written by myself or I had them pretty much sorted out before I took them into practice room. All songs on the LP were written after David (drums) had joined the band, so that of course caused some shift already. The first song we wrote was Shell (which was after our tour with human hands in 2014, you may notice their influence on the ending of the song). After that we decided to make an LP, so everything we wrote since then was meant to be on the LP. I think we also didn’t write every song with the pressure it would have to be a great live song, as we already had a good set to play live. On the other hand these songs were written without a 2nd guitar in mind (more in a trio-practice-room environment), unlike some older songs. To break it down into one sentence I think we felt a lot freer to write songs just as they happened, and less trying to construct them, and less trying to force a lot of ideas into one song. I think the shift we needed to make this LP was rather being a full band than years. Obviously three people provide a lot more ideas than one, also being an actual band creates a lot more momentum that pushes creativity even more.

Can you tell us about the labels that are involved in the release?

The LP will be released by Middle-Man Records in the US, SNCL in the UK, Upwind in Italy, Pundonor in Spain, Friend of Mine in Japan and time as a color in Germany (who is doing the CD version as well), we are stoked and grateful for having it spread over so many countries. Also Broken Silence will take care of distribution, which is a big thing to us, too.

Is it important for Duct Hearts that you remain a DIY band and keep working with like-minded labels?

The question is sort of easy and difficult to answer at the same time, because I basically don’t see any alternative. I really doubt we could “deliver” enough professionalism for a non-diy label to release our music, we don’t tour/sell enough for anyone to make profit. That sounds as if DIY was just our plan B, which of course is not the case. I really don’t think too much about “what if a big label approached us about releasing our music“. I’ve been through all these hopes when I started making music. Basically what I learned growing up, starting a band, touring, booking, pressing, releasing, distributing etc is that no one’s gonna do something for you that you haven’t done yourself before. And no time/money invested into a band is as wasted as sending a stupid demo to a bigger label. If you believe your music should be heard, make a recording, make copies of it on the format you think it deserves, try to distribute it (ask shops to take it on consignment or trade with labels or other bands for copies of their releases, which will in the end help out both of you), send some to get reviewed, play shows, put on shows yourself. Repeat. You can’t expect anyone to invest into your band if you don’t invest yourself, into your own band as well as into others, help book a tour, spread contacts, spread stickers of labels you think are cool without expecting to receive something right away. DIY and big label business doesn’t differ too much (both rely on investment of time and money), except in DIY you don’t expect to receive something back except the emotion of doing something valuable. So on that respect it is crucial for us to work with labels who share the same ideas, believe in our work and who find it rewarding just to be part of our music, without excepting fast financial reward, or any at all.

How do you approach writing your music? Do you all write together and contribute ideas or is it a solitary approach?

It’s hard to break down into one or two formulas, because it varies a lot. Some songs take forever to put together (usually if I try too hard to force different ideas together, I am a very stubborn person), some don’t work at first and you put it to rest and pick it back up later with a fresh ear and mind. Feathers, the title track of our LP, has been some sort of a live intro since the very first shows but it got bits added here and there until it became what it is on the record. Usually I present a rough idea of a song to the band when I feel I have enough to make it a song, sometimes even earlier, when I feel it could profit from some ideas from the band, or when I am unsure about how something would sound in reality rather than what I made up in my mind. Usually we work out something pretty quickly from there. Luckily Chris and David are very open to most ideas (possibly the fact that I had recorded some songs before we found each other, so they knew what direction I wanted to go in helped a lot on that respect, as I tend to be a lot less open minded on the music I want to play) but I think (hope?) we have an open way of working together in which everyone can add and drop things. Hide for example initially had a quite sludgy distorted intro which I liked a lot but we eventually dropped it (for the sake of the song) after David and Chris couldn’t really get into it. I think I am pretty lucky that both guys like most my ideas and are very open. David has a hugely widespread taste in music and Chris and I are old and wise enough not to try to force things (unlike many young bands who are very creative and passionate, but also very impatient), so maybe our personal relations are our kind of formula for writing and being a band rather than writing-formulas themselves.

You deal with some quite personal emotions on the record. Was the subject matter something that the whole band agreed on and invested time into?

We are open to everyone in the band contributing both lyrical and musical content into our music, however except for David doing some occasional background vocals live I am the only singer until now, so it goes naturally I have been writing all lyrics so far. We have written some call it socially inspired lyrics before (on the If You Prick Us… 7“ for example), however as we all have different views onto the world I still try to keep my lyrics personal, even if portraying a political statement. As you mention lyrics on feathers are very personally inspired but still presenting general deficiencies without trying to state absolute objective “truths”, because there’s no such thing. We never had a talk where I would ask David and Chris if our lyrical content was ok with them (I doubt I would accept any censorship anyway), on the other hand I am open to explain to them and also try to keep everything personal and cryptic enough to avoid a situation where I would present an opinion as a band that might not represent Chris and David. I try to represent small personal bits and sights onto the world, rather than trying to explain the entire picture.

As a trio, what does Duct Hearts mean to you now? What have you learnt over the years and if you were starting out as a new band again, what advice would you give yourselves?

I think the 35 year old me wouldn’t start a band again, the process of finding like-minded people, especially at my age and the genre I am writing music within is difficult. It still means the world to me and I am glad David showed up right when I needed a drummer. I am far over the age where you can tour 50 days a year (although I would love to do that), but there’s still so many things I want to do with the band, make another LP, tour the weirdest places most bands don’t go (would love to play Japan, the US, a small Italian island, south/east Europe etc). If I could talk to my 18 years old (or even younger) me I would probably want to hint myself into taking interest in the diy emo scene and generally this music that influenced me earlier, and put my own music on vinyl way earlier. On the other hand, the years it took until I finally released my first music on vinyl possibly created some sort of passion and endurance that can’t be replaced, and who knows, if I had gotten into all that earlier I might’ve lost interest already. So I would probably just try to give my mini me a bit more self consciousness. I’ve always had some good self esteem, I’ve just never been aware of that :-D

What are your touring plans for the album? Are you going to be coming to the UK at all?

Yeah we are playing a weekender with Dym in mid august! Can't wait to finally tour the UK! After that we will do a EU tour September 1st-10th with ISTMO from Italy, including playing our first shows in Italy. Very exciting year for us. 


Tracklist:-

1. Feathers
2. Spinae
3. Cera
4. Hide
5. Piuma
6. Shell

Having featured Duct Hearts on this blog on few occasions over the last two years, getting the opportunity to have an early listen to "Feathers" and review it was more than I was expecting. 

It’s been fascinating hearing and tracking the evolution of Duct Hearts over the last couple of years. “Feathers” feels very much like the beginning of a new chapter for them. Opening with the title-track, the band eschews it’s earlier sound in favour of something more ethereal and cinematic. Flowing instrumental passages and clean vocals show a new maturity within the band while heavier. angular sections ensure that their earlier post-hardcore still holds influence. There are no natural breaks in these early songs (at least not in the pre-release version I’m listening to) so I’ve had to do a little guess work with regards to where one ends and the other starts. Spinae appears out of the fading closing riff of the opener and builds in doom-like fashion. There’s restraint and incredible solace within the song, with vocals backed up by quiet solo-guitar melodies for most of it. It almost seems like the song is split into two as there’s an extended instrumental in the middle before the second verse. Cera begins instantly and is the heaviest song so far in terms of riffs. More metal at times than hardcore but that is only brief, though it’s subtle technicality does remind me of Deftones. It’s a relatively brief song in terms of the album but it’s impact can not be overlooked. The off-kilter, jazz-like textures of Hide make it a really enjoyable listen. Again, it’s brief but it was clearly written that way. The great thing about this record is the fact that it isn’t overly complex. The lyrics of Piuma are very poignant indeed and are backed up by musical sensitivity that’s often mislaid when a band tries to create atmosphere like this. It does tug at your heartstrings. Shell was the earliest song written for the album but it retains a lot of what has made “Feathers” such a pleasurable album to listen to. It’s mix of orchestral-like melodies and discordance is hard to ignore. In little over half-an-hour of music Duct Hearts has managed to take you on a journey through their emotions and feeling, as well as your own. Every once in a while, an inconspicuous band comes along and releases something that really touches you. This year that someone is Duct Hearts. 

Spinae is available for early streaming below:-



Duct Hearts - https://www.facebook.com/ducthearts/

"Feathers" is pencilled for release on both CD/LP on June 9th. Head to the links below for pre-orders or to pick up a copy when it's on general sale:-

strictly no capital letters (UK) - http://sncl.collective-zine.co.uk
Upwind Produzioni (Italy) - https://itsupwindproductions.tumblr.com/releases
Pundonor Records (Spain) - https://pundonorrecords.bandcamp.com/merch
Friend Of Mine Records (Japan) - http://www.friendofminerecords.com
Middle-Man Records (USA) - http://middlemanrecords.storenvy.com/
Time As A Color (Germany) - http://timeasacolor.com/shop

strictly no capital letters - https://www.facebook.com/strictlynocapitalletters/
Upwind Produzioni - https://www.facebook.com/upwindproduzioni/
Pundonor Records - https://www.facebook.com/pundonorecords/
Friend Of Mine Records - https://www.facebook.com/FriendOfMineRecords/
Middle-Man Records - https://www.facebook.com/middlemanrecords/
Time As A Color - https://www.facebook.com/timeasacolor/

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