Interview with vocalist/guitarist Justin Glatt | By Zackary Miller
Over the past several years, Heavy Hearts have consistently pumped out moody alt-rock tunes from their home base in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. But, as vocalist and guitarist Justin Glatt puts it, the band’s new EP, On a Chain—released Oct. 27 on New Damage Records and Failure By Design in the U.K.—is the first step on a longer journey, one that the band were not sure their hobby could ever afford them.
As Glatt has learned, sometimes opportunity comes to those most willing to be themselves. On a Chain represents the exorcism of temporary aimlessness and, according to Glatt, is also a collection of the songs the band is most proud of.
How does it feel knowing your audience—and new fans—are about to hear this EP for the first time?
These are definitely our favorite songs that we’ve written so far. We are pretty excited for everyone to hear them.
Looking through your discography, in the last two to three years, you’ve put out a pretty consistent stream of music. What was different about this one? Is there anything that stood out to you as being different from your creative thinking in the past?
Yeah, I know for a lot of the songs we’ve written in the past, we would, like, normally just practice them over and over again until someone had a new idea, and we would just keep playing ‘til we hit a wall or the song was finished. With these, our drummer has a studio attached to where we practice, and we record demos with him, so if anyone had an idea, we would just go into his studio and start recording it and just build on the song that way. And like, we all came up with some newer ideas doing it that way. It was a lot easier to communicate with each other.
Do all of you contribute both musically and lyrically when writing? What is the balance of creative powers within the band?
I do the lyrics, and then, with guitar ideas in the band, it’ll start off with a riff from [bassist] Jamie [Gorman], [guitarist] Riley [Jensen], or me. We will write and bring it in, and then, we build on it that way. Once we have an idea, everyone just sort of adds in their part, and we all just sort of mold the song until everyone is happy with it.
What does On a Chain—taken from the lyric, “We’re all bound together on a chain,” from “Unravel (Your Love)”—mean, and how did it come to represent the project as a whole?
For a lot of the songs, it wasn’t intended to be like this, but they kind of ended up being about where the band is at this point in time. Like, where we are all at. On a Chain means being attached to something without passion, just stuck where you are and having to work your way into being comfortable with where you are. On a Chain is just, like, figuring out where you are at that point of time and basing your life off of that. If that makes any sense.
If you approached the creation of this EP differently, as you say, does that reflect on the changing outlook of the band?
Yeah, I remember back when we were first starting out—or even when we put out our first EP, [2013’s Jacoba], and then, the second one, [2015’s Somewhere, A While Ago]—we were playing shows, but also, there was this weird innocent feeling where we didn’t totally know what we were doing and we didn’t really feel like there was too much riding on what we were doing. It was kind of easier, like, to not really care. We cared, but there just wasn’t that much riding on any one decision we made. But now, we kind of have to make sure we are doing the right thing for the band and make sure everyone in the band is happy with where we are at. Whereas, before, we would just write songs whenever we wanted and put them out. There wasn’t really any sort of timeline we had to fit ourselves into.
Things tend to get a whole lot more real when record labels and heavy touring schedules get involved.
If you want to make it as a band, you have to be grinding it out touring constantly, and if you are doing that, it definitely detaches you from something you have going on at home. It’s hard to keep both sides going at the same time. And some bands can’t do it, and that’s why they end up breaking up. Before, we were just playing one-off shows, and it was more of a hobby then. Now, it’s more of a job.
After looking over the Spotify list of songs you were listening to during the creation of On a Chain—is anyone on that list a dream collaborator or tourmate?
Oh, wow, it would be different for all four of us. [Laughs] Uh, Thrice has been a band I’ve been listening to since I was, like, 12, and they really got me into playing guitar and helped me get into this kind of music and branch off into different stuff. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Marilyn Manson. It would be pretty crazy to tour with him, considering all the crazy things going on right now.
What kind of things do you try to take away from the artists you look up to? Whether it’s onstage or in the studio. How are you able to translate the things that inspire you into something new and personal?
Anytime I try to find new bands or I find myself listening to [something new] a lot, it just inspires me to at least play guitar and create something, especially if it will make me want to play guitar or learn something that wouldn’t be typical for our band. Especially for these songs now, we really tried to push ourselves out of what the writing formula would have been for [the 2016 LP], Bliss, or anything prior to that.
Is there anything that stands out to you as pushing you into that creative zone?
We all were listening to a lot of Elliott Smith during the recording, and even now. Those really minimal-sounding songs were really big for all of us. […] Same thing with the new Citizen record. It’s all just—everything seems really thought out, and they spent a lot of time on those parts. Especially, just—any record that you can come back to and hear something different every time you listen to it: that’s something that I’ve always wanted to come true in our music.
Is there a song off On a Chain that you were specifically excited for people to hear? Maybe one you think could push you closer to that goal?
I was definitely excited for people to hear “Unravel (Your Love),” because that one was definitely a little darker than anything we’ve put out before. There’s a song called “Headroom” on there [on which] we really tried out some new stuff we’ve never done before, so I’m really excited for people to hear that one as well.
Where do you see Heavy Hearts a year from now? Usually, every band has a different idea of what the next step is, and—as you said before—sometimes the planning that goes into that can be difficult.
Next step is, well—we will definitely be recording another full-length [in 2018], and then, we did our first full U.S. tour this summer, and we are definitely planning on getting back out again. With this EP, we also signed with Failure By Design records in the U.K., so we will definitely be out there at some point in 2018: U.K. and Europe, which we’ve never done before. And just pushing ourselves to do weirder things in our songwriting. Pretty much just build on what we started with this EP and keep pushing forward.