Check out this great interview that I got to do the other day with Maggie and Dan from London-based rock band Heel!
Tell me a little about how the band originally came together in the beginning.
Dan: I’d started trying to do music and play music about four years ago. I’d been thinking about putting together a band. I’d say that took a year at least of meeting different girls on classified, “musician wanted” ads. After playing with loads of people, and maybe meeting about sixty different girls, I met Maggie. We just got on!
Maggie: It was great. I had never really thought about doing music seriously at the beginning. I just joined the band, and it was the only band that I ever played for, and we’re still here together, so it’s been really, really cool.
Dan: We actually wrote a song that week we got together.
Nice! So that connection was there?
Dan: Definitely. She’s the first person I’ve written lyrics with. We got on really well, and we’re very similar people, so it just worked. Then we met our bass player, Yuta. Then a couple of drummers later, we got our drummer Tom! As you probably know, drummers are the hardest to find.
Drummers are the most difficult to find. (laughs)
Dan: Yeah! Especially when you’re trying to find someone that wants to tour and do stuff like that.
Tell me about the single “Stranger”. Where do the lyrics come from on this particular track?
Dan: We were sitting here, just talking and chatting. I had a relationship awhile back. I broke up with a girl, and she basically said “oh, I don’t know you. I feel like I never even knew you.” I’m sure that loads of people have been there. But I knew this girl and I lived with her for a year. She was really, genuinely, not in an angry way, saying that. The song kind of came from that. It came from us not letting ourselves go and not letting people know who we are. We kind of wrote the song from the other side of someone looking at us.
I think that musically, we thought that it needed to be an upbeat, kind of punk-y song. We thought that’s what work emotionally for the song.
Maggie: We were turning it away from quite sad lyrics to be like a punk-y kind of beat, you know?
Dan: It tough with punk though, since you’re just doing bar chords. That’s why I usually use jazzy chords, and she (Maggie) loves that as well. It sounds punk-y because you’re chugging chords, but you’ve got a different kind of idea going, like a harmony. It makes it more full.
The EP “Stranger Just The Same” will be released on July 28th. About how long did the writing process take for this EP?
Dan: That’s kind of tough since we don’t ever write for a release!
Maggie: Yeah, we just kind of write a song every month, and then we just pick the best ones!
Dan: We love it though, that’s the fun part!
Maggie: Some people play games, I just like to sit down with a notepad and write.
Dan: We’re kind of low tech. One thing that I do a lot, and I know she does this as well, is record little notes in your phone. But that’s the cool thing! The emails, the admin, the booking tours, the videos, that’s all fun, but sitting down with a guitar and just writing, this is why we’re doing it. If we were doing that every day, wouldn’t that just be the dream?
You worked with producer Justin Hill on this EP. What did he bring to the table as a producer?
Maggie: A really great drum sound!
Dan: Yeah, because it’s all live drums. There’s a lot of triggers and studio stuff nowadays. We have friends in bands where the sounds are entirely triggered. We do really want things to be live, but they can’t always be too live because then people hate it and it sounds weird. But for me, I think he makes us more pop. Which might sound weird, but we often try and do things…like we have very short attention spans, so we’re not always thinking “Oh let’s do a catchy chorus and repeat it three times!” This kind of thinking is not really how we write songs. We’ll often write something which is far more interesting structurally, but at the end of the day, he kind of reigns us in and helps us change it around.
Maggie: Yeah, I think he had us change a chorus on the first EP. We had just words after words after words, and he said “no, repeat this, make it a little more poppy!” We thought, “yeah, it might be more catchy when we do that!” (laughs).
Dan: I think when we write something, and we play it for a couple of years, it gets boring to us, so we start messing around with it. Especially before the first and second EP. We’d never been in a studio, and we knew nothing about recording. We wanted to make it more interesting, at the time!
There was much less change in this EP. Things were very set when we wrote them, because we were more focused on sticking with our instincts. Like, just writing it and not second-guessing it. We didn’t really revisit and rework things like we did the first time around. Justin’s really cool as well though because he’s a laid back dude. He’s very relaxed, and I think that’s what you want when you’re with someone in the studio for two weeks.
So the next two questions I ask to every artist that I interview. The first: what kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Dan: I’d like to think that our music is introspectively thought provoking. I’d like for people to hear some of it and think about how certain things might relate to themselves. We frame everything in quite a relationship-y way. But if you want to dig into it, there’s a lot more there in terms of personal relationships and looking at patterns. I could say that a lot of the songs are about patterns in our relationships.
Maggie: They talk a lot about the standard problems we have in relationships.
Dan: If there’s anything that I’d like people to take away from that, it’s that feeling of “oh maybe I do that sometime!”
Maggie: Have them think “oh maybe I’m that stranger sometimes, too!”
Dan: All the things that we fuck up in our relationships are generally the same thing.
Second: and this is kind of a big question, but –
Dan: Wait, that wasn’t the big question? (both laugh)
Nope (laughs). What does music mean to you?
Maggie: Everything. (laughs)
Dan: I really feel like music saved my happiness. I won’t say my life, but my happiness.
Maggie: Without music, I’d just be like doing my office job. I wouldn’t have anything else to look forward to. It’s just like “oh, we’re going to have a tour and then go record the EP, and look! That’s my CD right there!” I don’t know, it’s something to be proud of!
Dan: I was in a band from, like, just before the end of high school until I finished university. I was about a year and a half into a Ph.D. when I decided to stop doing music. I always played the guitar, but I was deeply, deeply depressed. I hated my life. It was horrible. I was doing computer science, mobile phone kind of stuff. Honestly, it was hard to get out of bed. It was just bad times. This was the thing that made me go “Fuck, I need to change my life. I need to do something. Gotta stop thinking about making money and do something real.” And it was music. I was never happy, I’d say, throughout my whole life, until I started doing music in a band, writing songs.
Maggie: I was in that point of my life as well. I would just literally sit there, doing absolutely nothing, watching TV, thinking “what can I do with my life?” And then music came along.
Dan: I think we were both very lost before we started this band, emotionally.
Maggie: It’s so depressing! (laughs)
Dan: It is depressing! I’ve said it all the time, but I think if you’re a creative musician or a creative soul, there isn’t really anything else that you can do. When you do something else, you feel awful.
You have to have some sort of creative outlet, or else everything sucks. (laughs)
Dan: For me, sitting down and writing poetry and things like that weren’t interactive. It didn’t work for me. It has to be something that, and maybe this speaks to my insecurity, but something where people will hear it. You know what I mean? I think the feedback is so important, to what we do artistically. If I was just doing a painting and then sixty years after I died, someone would love it, that would just be soul destroying. (both laugh).
Maggie: It’s just a great experience, really, when you go on a stage and people are just loving it. They’re going crazy and you’re like “Ah! This is so awesome!” Then people come up to you and ask if you’ll sign their CD, and you’re just like “whoa! Yes! Let’s take a picture!” (laughs)
Last question I have: what are the future plans for Heel? Obviously the EP is coming out soon, but if there are any tour dates, videos that you want fans to know about, go for it!
Maggie: Well we’re doing a video. We’re starting shooting in about two or three weeks.
Dan: That should be out in early August. It’s the same director that did our last video, which is the other singer in Sick that Justin introduced us to. His name is Mikey, he’s amazing. Right after that, we’re going on tour the fifteenth of August until the twenty-second, and we’ll be all over the UK. We’re in Birmingham, Glasgow, Sheffield, Brighton, London, we’re literally going everywhere. And then we’re going back to Japan in November. Late October or November.
Maggie: That’s going to be so exciting.
Dan: And then as soon as this EP comes out, we’re going to start figuring out how to record the next EP. There were a couple of years between the first one and the second one, because we were figuring out how the music industry kind of works. We didn’t know any bands. We didn’t know anyone at all! So we just made this EP, and just then had to figure out “Okay, how do we make shows? How do we make videos?” It was six months between the EP and our first video because we didn’t know anyone. We had to try to find someone that did videos. But now we’re a bit more streamlined. We’ll probably record again at the end of this year, and put something out early next year.
Heel's new album 'Stranger Just The Same' will be available on July 28th.
This has been another shameless promotion.