Heaven interview with Matt Sumrow
Matt, good to finally sit down with you. I’ve been watching you ride shotgun with Dean & Britta for more years now than I think either of us care to consider. What’s it like being in a band where you’re not in the passenger seat?
Thanks Jenell. Good to be here! Yea, its been a blast so far with Heaven. Starting a project is a whole new thing. Nothing wrong with being a sideman, but when it comes down to it, its really nice to get our music out there and be able to guide the ship for a change.
You’re a Multi-instrumentalist, how about the rest of the guys in Heaven, what’s their background?
Heaven is now comprised of Mikey Jones, Ryan Dunlop, Liz Lohse, and myself. We all come from playing in various bands and all of us are multi-instrumental. That being said, we definitely have our roles in the band, on stage and in the studio. Mikey Jones, Heaven’s drummer extrordinare, played bass on our recordings and he and I shared synth duty. Ryan Dunlop played some guitars on the recordings, and now plays keys and bass live, depending. Liz has played guitar in the past with other bands, but now plays the synths live.
Dean & Britta’s live material is very much locked into a time frame, I know, I’ve recorded dozens of their shows … will Heaven feel more free to wonder and expand if a song seems to find a life of it’s own?
I’m guessing by wondering and expanding you mean jamming out a bit? Just like Dean and Britta’s music, the songs in Heaven are very much locked in a “pop” frame work that doesn’t lend itself to too much improvisation. We are very much not a jamming type of band. There are moments in the music where we can expand or contract depending on our mood, but for the most part we are presenting a song live, not an opportunity to solo or whatever.
I should say congrats on the disc [Telepathic Love], it’s very good, hearing it on the road like I did was the ultimate test. Looking back, after it was put to bed, was it tough to resist not going back and tweaking things?
First off thanks for the kind words! We are definitely proud of these initial Heaven tunes. So, yea, the disc that you have, Telepathic Love, is a friends and family collection of our first recordings. We wanted to compile these songs, and get them out there on some level to our friends and fellow musicians, to get the ball rolling. We are not sure if the songs will be released in this grouping again, but it is possible. As of now, we are in the process of releasing material from this batch of songs as singles. Our first release is coming out the end of this month on Goodnight Records, a 7 inch single for the song “Mountains Move,” with the B side of the song “Falling Apple.” We are open to changing the songs and remixing/adding elements for future releases. Mikey and I have both decided that we want to be as open as possible to reworking recordings, and lending them to remixing as much as possible. In this way the songs are never really put to bed.
How much of a perfectionist are you?
I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the music. I think to a certain point I want to make sure everything is in its place and is a representation of the best job we can do. I definitely hear things in a certain way, and want our recordings to represent that idea as much as possible. But, as I touched on a moment ago, it is important for us to keep things open and ready for new interpretation, whether it be a remix, or a re-recording of a song. To a certain extent I will never be fully happy, ha, so being able to let go a bit is healthy.
Let me ask some tech questions here, and you can just run with them. Tell me about the guitars you play? How do they match up with your amp and speakers? Do you have a magic bag of tricks?
In Heaven, I play Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters. I have a Fender Jaguar Baritone Special that I play most of time. It has a deeper sound to it, and sounds great run thru fuzz and compression/sustain pedals. Alot of the Heaven guitar parts are lower, single string parts that sound great with the Baritone. I have been running my guitar set up thru a guitar amp and a bass amp to get a full spectrum of tone live. I guess the magic bag of tricks would be the pedals. Lots of delay and tremolo…..
You’re living in NYC, where and when do you rehearse without people banging on the ceiling?
Living in Brooklyn, there is actually lots of places to practice. Lots of space out here believe it or not! Manhattan is a different story. Unfortunately, you can’t swing a stick without hitting someone in a band around here, so that means lots of practice spaces everywhere. There are industrial areas adjacent to where most people live where practice facilities are 24 hours, and you can go make noise all hours of the night. We have practiced in basements before, but that usually means more restrictive hours for being loud…
Electronics, foot-peddles and such, people either love ‘em or they hate them … what’s your affair been like over the years?
Yea, as I was saying, I am definitely on the love ’em side of things when it comes to pedals and effects. They have to used in the right places for the music, not over-used, but I couldn’t do what I do in Heaven without them. In the past, like with Dean and Britta for instance, I have used little or no pedals, where it really is about how you are playing the guitar, not effecting the sound. But, with Heaven, its important for me to effect the guitar and drug up the sound as much as possible. A lot of the guitar parts are just droning strings, so having delay, etc. is important to have the sounds blend together.
I was pleased that you liked my review for Telepathic Love, I know I’m asking you to speak for the rest of the band, and perhaps that’s not fair, but how would HeaveN describe their sound?
Yea, Jenell, you used some really great imagery for that review! It is hard, personally, for me to describe what we are doing, but i’ll give it a shot. Heaven’s sound is a mix between new wave/pop music that came out of the 80’s, and dream/shoegaze psychedelia that came out of the early 90s. Mixing songs that have a strong back beat and a simple structure with droning synths, noisy guitars, and two part harmony. Our bio presently says we are “a romantic clash between your Dad’s long lost favorite psych record and the soundtrack to a John Hughes film.” Whether or not that accurately portrays us or not i’m not sure, but at least it has a nice ring to it.
“Mountains Move” just blew me away. The song is so restrained, it sits there building like it’s going to break right out of the box, then you all mange to reach in and calm things down, holding it in check. Some people rely on the ‘less is more’ approach, but HeaveN seems to endorse the philosophy of ‘more, but control it.’
Ah thanks….Yea, we like to keep the elements simple, but loud and controlled.
I don’t want to sound like a producer, but ‘Falling Apple’ opens with a great driving guitar line that just walks through the song. Did anyone consider using a twelve sting there to expand the sound?
No twelve strings for the Heaven stuff at this point. We were very formulaic for these first recordings. One acoustic guitar holding down the rythm, one electric guitar, as many synths as necessary, and bass guitar only when necessary. Giving ourselves a framework helped us not go overboard, and try to serve the song as we were tracking. Falling Apple to me is all about the bass line and the synths.
It’s easy to sight people and groups who’ve influenced you … specifically, what aspects of your influences do you draw from?
Well, I kinda touched on the influence of the sound we are going for before. 80’s meets early 90s nineties. We love bands like the Stone Roses and the Cure and Spacemen 3 and New Order and My Bloody Valentine and Suicide.
Are there any songs you’d like to cover with HeaveN’s stamp on them?
We have been doing a version of “See my Friends” by the Kinks live. Mikey adds a huge “Tomorrow Never Knows”-like drum beat to the song while we drone in E. We are really happy about how that one has turned out, and the crowds seem to like it. Also for a few shows we covered “Julie Don’t Go Down” by our friends Cheval Sombre. We need to bring that one back. I’m sure there will be lots more covers to come…
And finally, “Southern Rain” just makes we want to get high … has self-medication supported or influenced HeaveN’s sound?
Ha, yea, thats a fun tune. Super mellow. The guitar and synth on that track was recorded in my bedroom. It definitely has the rainy day afternoon, lets get high vibe. Lets just say we are definitely influenced by music that has come from that kinda place.
Where can people score a copy of Telepathic Love?
Well, like I said before, the Telepathic Love disc was meant for friends and family. We will be releasing the songs from it in one capacity or another very soon. The first two tracks, “Mountains Move” and “Falling Apple,” are coming out as a 7 inch single August 30th on Goodnight Records. Keep your eyes peeled for the 45, or you can get the digital download online.
Thanks for sitting down with me Matt, is there anything you’d like to say that I may have overlooked?
Nothing I can think of, seems like we touched on almost everything. Thanks for the love and interest in the music Jenell!
Interview made by Jenell Kesler / 2011
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