Interview: Unique & Spiriting The DIY Ethos: HEELS

Interview with Brennan Whalen and Joshua McLane | By Danielle Torrence

“You know, I did the douchey little contrarian thing when I was a kid, so I didn’t know anything about Sun Studio and Elvis until I was in my early 20s,” HEELS vocalist and guitarist Brennan Whalen says from his Memphis, Tennessee, digs. “I’m kind of glad I was like that, though, because now, I appreciate all those artists more.”

Regardless of whether or not the city that gave birth to the dynamic, tough-to-classify—punk-folk-country, maybe?—duo played a part in their upbringing or simply was an absentee father always lurking on the periphery is kind of beside the point. Memphis is in their blood, seeping out of their pores and on to the stage during the band’s jaw-dropping, energy-exorcistic live shows, which seem to conjure the ghosts of Jay Reatard, Johnny Cash, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

“Goner [Records] is solid and helps a lot of great musicians,” drummer Joshua McLane admits, referring to the regional garage rock imprint and its yearly festival, Gonerfest.

Still, when it came time to release their fantastic new album, Good People Even Do Bad Things, on July 12, the band chose to sign with New York- and Austin, Texas-based Altercation Records, an outfit known primarily as a punk label with eclectic taste.

“I think we’re mostly a good fit at Altercation because of our overall ethos,” Whalen explains. “We’re not really that punk, but we’ve got a DIY drive and a knack for yelling into microphones. We’re a bit more pop-influenced than hardcore, so I think that sets us apart.”

Featuring 10 tracks that range from impossibly anthemic, like “I’ll Have a Name Someday,” to Townes-Van-Zandt-worthy, like “Compost,” Good People Even Do Bad Things is a scorcher from start to finish, highlighted by eyeball-bulging cover art that combines line-drawn mythology with—well, we’re not exactly sure.

“That’s all Nathan Parten, the artist behind it,” laughs McLane, who cut his teeth playing big stages in the 1990s in metalcore outfit Primer 55. “The smartest decision we made was hiring him. We commissioned him to do one cover knowing only the title of the album, and the cover is what he drew after he listened to the album. We were just blown away. In keeping with the cover, all the art has Easter eggs from the songs hidden in it. His work is also featured in the first video, for the song ‘King Drunk,’ which [came] out in July to coincide with the album release.”

With a recent support slot for Lucero’s Ben Nichols in the band’s back pocket and a slew of tour dates in support of the fresh album on the horizon, Whalen is taking a few rare days off to concentrate on the current matter at hand—some Memphis BBQ. 

“Never use propane if you can help it,” he offers. “Stick to charcoal.”

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