Heaven’s Gateway Drugs interview with Derek Mauger
Indiana keeps popping up on my radar for one reason or another even though I try not to lock myself down geographically speaking when it comes to music too much. There’s just something about the music that’s been coming out of Indiana for the last ten years or so that catches my ear every time, well at least every time it’s done right. I think it might have something to do with the relative sense of isolation and individual creativity that bleeds from the music that’s what flips my switch, or at least I know that’s the case with Fort Wayne’s Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. Utilizing occult, psychedelic and religious imagery and retrofitting it to suit their own twisted needs and desires Heaven’s Gateway Drugs personifies the psychedelic resurgence of garage bands over the past twenty years. They sound like they fell directly out of 1968 and commenced to unleashing music that would have been labelled subversive at the time – the world now ready to finally accept their hypnotic call to arms. Reverb drenched guitars rumble and twang behind tight snapping drums and an absolutely thunderous earthquake of bass. The combination of swirling keyboards and dreamy echoing vocals are undeniably catchy, the composition is just killer. I’m a big fan of the loud-quiet dynamic and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs seem to be masters of it, summoning rave-up after rave-up in a single song bringing the sound to explosive crescendos at will, before retreating again into a comfortable calm groove as if nothing ever happened. After something of a changing of the guard that accompanied a lineup change last year the band has been hard at work again recording more of their own brand of occult psychedelia and making plans for upcoming Midwest and East Coast tours later this year (2015). In the meantime I decided it was high time I tracked the guys down and had a little conversation about stuff. Thanks for all of us singer/guitarist Derek Mauger took time to answer my usual myriad of questions. So kick back with a tall frosty one, put on some music and enjoy a journey into the world of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – I know I will.
– Listen while you read: https://heavensgatewaydrugs.bandcamp.com/
What’s the lineup in Heaven’s Gateway Drugs right now? Is this your original lineup or have you all gone through any lineup changes since the band started?
Our current lineup is Ben Carr on percussion, Brandon Zolman on vocals and bass, James Wadsworth on drums, and myself on vocals and guitar. Brandon and James both joined the group last year when a few of the original guys left for family and work reasons.
Are any of you in any other bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point?
James drums with a couple of his friends’ groups, but this band is everyone’s main focus.
Have you released any music with anyone else in the past? If so, can you tell us a little bit about that here?
Everyone but Ben has played with other bands at some point or another.
How old are you and where are you originally from?
I’m twenty-eight and born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. All the other guys are also from here originally.
What was your home like when you were growing up? Was there a lot of music around? Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?
Growing up there was always music playing in my family’s house. Both of my parents love music and are open minded about listening to new stuff, which was great for me when I was figuring out what kind of music I liked. My dad is a guitar player and taught me everything I know. He’s also a Beatles freak, so that was my introduction to pop and psychedelic music.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in that scene? Do you feel like it played a large role in shaping your musical interests or the way you perform at this point?
Fort Wayne is a working class town so there’s always been a lot of punk and hardcore around. By the time I was old enough to go out to shows I’d already moved to Bloomington for college, so I was absent from the Fort Wayne scene until I moved back. The punk DIY ethos is sort of engrained in everybody here because it’s such a small town. You have to make your own way.
What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?
My parents took me to a lot of concerts when I was a kid. I think the first one was Tom Petty when I was in second grade. He had a dog on stage and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I also remember thinking it was amazing how loud the music was. Between going to shows with them and there always being music on at the house, I was surrounded by it.
If you were to pick a moment where everything seemed to change for you musically and your mind was opened up to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would it be?
That’s tough. I went through a blues phase, which somehow led me to Captain Beefheart. The Safe As Milk album blew my mind. It’s blues, rock, and R&B but he turned all of that upside down, and yet overall, the record is still really accessible and catchy. Up until that point, I erroneously assumed pop music couldn’t get that far out, that it had to be straight forward.
What was your first instrument? When and how did you get it?
Guitar. My Dad has played guitar since he was a kid and when I was growing up he always had a few guitars around. When I was real young, his Les Paul was off limits unless he was there to supervise but I would sneak in his office when he was at work and open the case and just look at it. The inside of the case is this fake pink fur that I thought was so cool. I was in awe of that guitar. My parents got me an acoustic with nylon strings when I was real little but I didn’t play much until I was a bit older and got a Squire Strat.
When did you decide to start writing and performing your own music? What led to that decision? Or was it more of a natural progression of being given an opportunity to create something of your own and express yourself?
It was more of a natural progression; I was always making up songs when I was a kid. By the time I got to high school I was actually sitting down and working on songs but didn’t have the desire to perform them, or I was just too insecure about performing. A friend of mine asked me to play guitar in his band and after awhile I got more comfortable with performing songs I’d written.
When and how did the members of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs meet?
The original lineup of the band started out at work. C. Ray Harvey and myself were working at the same place and I met Eric Frank, the original drummer through C. Ray and it went from there. After we played our first show, Ben approached us about joining the band as an opportunity to express himself and his ideas. That was early in 2012. The new guys, Brandon and James, we knew through the music scene here.
What led to the formation of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs? When would that have been?
The last band I was in left me feeling a bit jaded about playing with a group, but I missed performing and the creative process of working on songs with a group. Eric and C. Ray were in a band that had just broken up and Eric wanted to start a psych band and he knew I was really into the 60’s stuff, so he kept saying we needed to get together and play. I caved and started working on material and eventually we started jamming and it went from there.
What does the name Heaven’s Gateway Drugs mean or refer to in the context of your band name? Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it? Are there any close runners up that you almost went with you can recall?
We wanted something memorable and tongue-in-cheek. There were a lot of names tossed around but Heaven’s Gateway Drugs seemed to carry more weight than the others. The name marries cults and drugs, which are both things that fascinate me. Led Bundy was a contender; it’s funny, but I’m glad we skipped that one.
Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares, spoken or unspoken?
The overriding mantra of our group is “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.” At shows, only Ben speaks between songs and that’s all he says. We want our shows to be as inclusive as possible, meaning the audience is a part of what we’re doing and vice versa. Nothing can kill the energy at shows as much as someone’s stupid banter between songs. It also plays into the cult aspect of our band name; Ben becomes the obvious figurehead of our group, he’s the focal point and the mouthpiece.
Where’s the band located at? How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?
We’re based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s about two hours north east of Indianapolis and three hours east of Chicago, just two hours south of Detroit – the crossroads of America. The music scene here is strong in the sense that any night of the week there’s a show going on somewhere and for being such a small town, there’s a large concentration of talent. The Brass Rail’s a venue here and it’s a favorite stop for touring bands and we’ve been really lucky to play with some amazing bands there like Night Beats, Corners, Holy Wave, Holydrug Couple, Electric Citizen, Radio Moscow, the list goes on and on…
Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene where you are? Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or anything like that?
We’re the only psych band in the scene here, so we end up being the de facto opening band for psych touring bands. But we also go to plenty shows around town when our friends are playing or to just hang out. It’s amazing getting to open for some of our favorite bands, but sometimes it’s just as fun to play an all locals show with our friends.
Has the local scene played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, or do you feel like you all would be doing what you’re doing and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were at or surrounded by?
That’s hard to say. No one was really playing psychedelic music in our town before we started, save for a Grateful Dead tribute act, so we were looking outside of Fort Wayne for those influences. I’m sure that the geography of where we are does have an impact on our sound. There are a lot of wide-open spaces around. Maybe that’s why I love reverb so much, who knows?
Are you involved in recording or releasing any music besides your own/Heaven’s Gateway Drugs? If so, can you talk about that briefly here?
Our friend Jason Davis owns Off The Cuff Sound, an all analog recording studio here in town that we’ve used frequently. Sometimes I help press buttons in the control room for other bands’ sessions but that’s it. Heaven’s Gateway Drugs is my only musical outlet.
Whenever I talk to bands in interviews I inevitably have to describe how they sound to a growing number of people who’ve never heard them before. It’s a sometimes extremely daunting task and I always feel like I’m screwing something up and putting too many of my own perceptions of stuff in there. Rather than feeding to this growing neurosis, how would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before?
At our most basic level we’re a pop band. Beyond that our sound pulls from a variety of places, from paisley pop to stoner desert rock, The Beach Boys to Black Sabbath.
You guys have a really interesting sound that pulls from a bunch of different places while obviously remaining firmly rooted in others. Who would you cite as your major musical influences? What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?
Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, 13th Floor Elevators and contemporaries like Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thee Oh Sees and White Fence. Almost without fail we end up listening to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood in the van when we’re on the road. Outside of the psych genre though, each of us has our own unique set of wide ranging influences that come play into our sound.
What’s the songwriting process like for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs? Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea for a song to work out and compose with the rest of you, or do you all get together and just kind of kick ideas back and forth until you hit on an idea that you’re interested in working on and refining?
Usually I come to practice with some sort of idea in mind to show the other guys and we go from there. Brandon is starting to bring some of his songs to the table and its exciting getting his perspective. There have been a few times where we’ve been warming up and something interesting happens that later turns into a song too. That’s always fun.
What about recording? Recording has been the death of many great bands over the years, and while I think that most musicians can appreciate the end result of all the time and effort that goes into recording an album when they’re finally holding that finished product in their hands, getting to that point can be extremely difficult to say the least. Getting things to sound the way you want them to, even down to getting things mixed and mastered properly can be difficult, especially with a full band. What’s it like recording for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?
Recording is typically a sprint for us. Since we usually go somewhere to record, and time is money, we typically try and knock as much stuff out as we can in a weekend. To help stay on track and move things along, we all keep lists of additional things we want to try and do on each song.
Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle things mostly on your own time and turn so that you don’t have to work with or compromise on the sound with anyone else, or do you like to head into a studio and let someone else worry about that headache so you can concentrate on the music and getting things to sound the way you want them to?
We put recording into other people’s capable hands. When you record yourself, and don’t constrain yourself to a budget or timeframe, you run the risk of tinkering with the record ad infinitum. It’s nice to just focus on my parts and not be worrying about the levels or what pre-amps are going on the vocals, etcetera. We’ve been really fortunate to work with some great people who can take our descriptions of what we want things to sound like and make that a reality.
Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out exactly how a song’s going to sound before you record it with the arrangement and composition locked down and airtight before you record, or do you like to get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some change, evolution and variation during the recording process where you feel necessary?
Before we record, we always get drums/bass/guitar/vocals locked in and then we talk through what overdubs we want to hear on the track. Once in the studio the mantra is “less is more.” There are always ideas that happen organically in the studio that we never considered beforehand, but for the most part the songs are pretty much written in stone by the time we hit record.
Despite the, at least in my opinion, ass backwards drug laws across the globe right now people have been tapping into the altered states that drugs produce for the means of creating art for thousands of years. Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs? I’m always curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally consume and enjoy and I think a lot of people may misconstrue your band name in that sense as well.
Nobody gets high before practice, or before shows or during recording. Maybe that’s surprising because of our name but in those situations we have a job at hand and we want to be on top of our game. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never written a song as the direct result of a drug experience. There’s potential danger in relying on alcohol or drugs as a method for creation that could lead one down a dark path. We’ve all personally had positive experiences with psychedelics but we don’t see ourselves as “drug evangelicals”.
The first thing that I know of you all released was back in 2012, the self-released digital single “Come Summer” b/w “Psychic Sidearm”. Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of those tracks? When and where were they recorded? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you or more of a nerve-racking proposition at that point? Who recorded those songs? What kind of equipment was used?
Those songs were recorded at Off The Cuff here in Fort Wayne. It was a pretty loose affair because at that time we weren’t actively playing shows and outside of our close friends, no one really knew we had a band. Jason Davis owns the studio and is a good friend of ours and he’s great to work with. Everything at his place is analog, tape, echo chambers, tubes… It’s like stepping back in time, especially because it’s an old farmhouse.
Later in 2012 you followed up the digital single with your self-titled cassette tape on Chain Smoking Records. Was the recording of the material for the Chain Smoking Records tape very different than the session(s) that resulted in “Come Summer” and “Psychic Sidearm”? Can you tell us a little bit about recording that material? When and where was it recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used? Is that an open ended release or are the tapes limited at all?
It was exactly the same! We went right back to Off The Cuff and recorded the rest of those songs. It was great. We recorded that during the summer and even though the studio is in the same town we all live in, we camped in the backyard the entire weekend. None of us left the studio for more than an hour at a time, but it felt like a giant party. We invited a bunch of friends over to cookout at the end of the day and some people even ended up doing some group backing vocals on a track. We did a limited run of the tapes in time for Cincy Psych Fest that fall.
You unleashed your first full-length album in 2013 in the form of the You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs CD. Was the recording of the material for You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug very different than your earlier session(s) for those first two tracks or the Chain Smoking Records tape? Do you feel like you all had learned a lot since then? When and where was the material for You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used? Was that CD self-released and is that still in-print at this point at all?
You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug was recorded in Detroit with the guys from Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor. We played with them a few months before and really hit it off and they invited us up and we couldn’t refuse. It was a ton of fun, maybe too much fun. They record to tape like the first few things we had done, but that time we bounced to a computer to do the mixing. Doing so allowed us to use patches for mellotrons and church bells and other fun sounds we would never normally be able to use. We released the CD ourselves and there are still a handful of copies in our *merch case.
[*Editor’s Note: merch case/stand – a table, stand or often suitcase a band puts merchandise that is for sale in or on while at a live show or performance.]
You self-released your sophomore album last year (2014) on CD. Entitled Apropos did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Apropos? What can our readers expect from the new album? Can you tell us about the recording of the material for Apropos? Who recorded that and when would that have been? Where was that at? What kind of equipment was used?
Apropos was a result of our natural progression as a band. This time around we were less concerned with capturing our live sound and experimented more with swapping out guitar lines for keys or strings for the record. We recorded Apropos at Tempel in Fort Wayne and mixed the record ourselves.
Does Heaven’s Gateways Drugs have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a demo or a single that I don’t know about?
We might have something up our sleeves but you’ll just have to wait and see.
With the release of Apropos not too long ago at this point are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs at this point?
About a month after Apropos was released we headed back to Off The Cuff to record some new songs. Having a new line-up we felt like it was important to document our new sound, especially with so many new ideas happening. The new songs are mixed and we’re plotting our next move as far as how we want to release them.
Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up your music at?
There are copies of our CDs at Neat Neat Neat Records here in Fort Wayne. We have copies with us at all of our shows so come introduce yourself to us and we’ll get you a CD. There’s always the online method, like Bandcamp or iTunes, etcetera.
What about our poor international and overseas readers? With shipping the way it is I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up imports as I can!
Do the download method if you can live without a physical copy for now.
Are there any major plans or goals that Heaven’s Gateways Drugs is looking to accomplish in 2015?
More touring, more recording, more new songs, more growth. More, more, more.
What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring goes at this point?
We’ve got some stuff shaping up for the Midwest this spring. Hopefully late summer we can make it out East.
Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring? Do you enjoy being out on the road? What’s life like on tour for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs?
We try to get out of town as much as possible. All of us really enjoy it. We’ve made a lot of great friends and gotten to visit a ton of amazing places. Fortunately we all get along well, so the time spent in the van seems to go by quickly. There’s an old TV in the van and we have a bunch of old NASA VHS tapes to help kill time.
What was the first song that Heaven’s Gateways Drugs ever played live, do you remember? When and where would that have been at?
My memory is failing me. Our first show was opening for Night Beats, that night is a blur at this point. The adrenaline erased my memory.
© David Federspiel
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with over the past few years?
There are so many… Holy Wave, Night Beats, Elephant Stone, Paperhead, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Electric Citizen, Acid Baby Jesus, Holydrug Couple, Spirits and the Melchizedek Children, Dead Leaf Echo, I could go on and on… We’ve been really lucky to play with a ton of amazing bands.
© Drew Allegre
Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent? Stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing? Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re attempting to convey with the visual side of Heaven’s Gateways Drugs?
There are certainly a lot of occult or psychedelic themes that are reoccurring visual elements for us, but overall we just want striking images that catch people’s attentions. The albums have all had more significance, usually relating to the title or the themes on the record.
Is there anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to the visual side of things for Heaven’s Gateways Drugs? If so, who is that and how did you get hooked up with them?
Adam Meyer is a friend of ours who has done quite a bit of artwork for us. He did the cover of Apropos as well as countless flyers and band photos. His aesthetic lines up with ours, so we can just give him something to work on with very little direction and he’ll come up with something we’ll love. There’s also BrainTwins in Indianapolis who did our newest t-shirt with a creepy Marshall Applewhite on it. They’re fantastic. I kept seeing flyers they’d done online and emailed them out of the blue, they have been awesome to work with. Another Adam, Adam Garland lives with our drummer and he’s an amazing photographer. He gets to hear our songs as we’re working them out and understands what we’re going for better than most people.
With all of the various forms of release that are available to musicians today I’m always various why they choose and prefer the various methods that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music? If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why that is?
Digital is ubiquitous now. It’s the easiest and fastest way to get your music heard by the most people. But that also makes it easy for music to get lost in the ether of the internet. I think people still like holding something in their hands, especially people who want to support an artist. There’s more meaning in having a tangible object to show support rather than a file on a computer or in a cloud somewhere. That said, we’d love to do a vinyl release someday because the fidelity is so great, but at this point the cost has been prohibitive without having the support of a label.
I grew up around this enormous collection of music and both of my parents really encouraged me to listen to just about anything that interested me from a pretty young age. I think it was my dad taking me out to the local shops on the weekend and picking me up random stuff that really sparked my obsession with physical music products though. I developed this whole ritual or listening to music where I would rush home, grab a set of headphones, read the liner notes over and over again, staring at the cover art and just let the whole experience carry me off on a whole other trip. Having something physical to hold and experience along with the music that I was hearing, having a concrete connection to it somehow, has always made for a much more complete listening experience for me. Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Absolutely, I love listening to vinyl. I work in a record shop, so I’m surrounded by it. Outside of becoming friends with an artist you like, I think owning a record gives the listener a connection to the artist that doesn’t exist with any other medium.
Like it or not right now digital is here in a big way. I think it mostly depends on how you deal with things, as there’s always going to be upsides and downsides to anything. I mean, on one hand, you have people being exposed to all this really amazing music for the first time and not only from around the globe, but even their own hometowns. On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to all this amazing new music they’re really not that interested in paying for it at this point. A lot of people have begun to view music as a disposable form of entertainment to be used and forgotten, a kind of free soundtrack to their lives that will always be there regardless of whether they pay for it or not. And while I think that people’s interaction and relationship with music is constantly changing and evolving, I’m pretty unconvinced that digital music has done anyone any big favors in that regard. As a musician during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
The internet helps to level the playing field in terms of exposure for bands like us who are from small towns. Outside of touring, broadcasting our music out on the internet is the best way for us to get heard. As much as I loathe services like Spotify for paying artists so little, I’m guilty of using them to discover bands.
I try to keep up with as much good music as I can but to say it’s a little overwhelming sometimes would be a complete understatement. With all the access that we have to music these days it’s hard to even know where to start sometimes. Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?
Metavari are a great band from Fort Wayne that is really doing some interesting things. They’ve got a weird and unique electronic sound, yet still super catchy, and live they have an amazing stage set up with lights they’ve built. The Snarks are an awesome 70’s proto punk band, they’ve got a 7-inch out and just recorded some new stuff that I can’t wait to hear.
What about nationally and internationally?
Sisters of Your Sunshinve Vapor from Detroit are amazing, and total dudes. Heaters, also from Michigan, are really, really good and we’re excited to be playing some dates with them this May, Moss Folk from Milwaukee, Thee Open Sex from Bloomington, Indiana… I could go on and on.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me so in-depth about the band and your histories, it was awesome getting to learn so much about you all! Since you were so kind and generous with your time I’d like to open the floor up to you for a moment here. Is there anything that I could have possible missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?
Thank you, Roman. Here’s to a weird and wonderful 2015.
© Adam Garland
(2012) Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – “Come Summer” b/w “Psychic Sidearm” – Digital – Self-Released
(2012) Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Digital, Cassette Tape – Chain Smoking Records
(2013) Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug – Digital, CD – Self-Released
(2014) Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Apropos – Digital, CD – River Water Native
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2015
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