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Heart Attack Alley

Heart Attack Alley

Tuesday 19th April, 2011 2:10PM

Heart Attack Alley are have just released their first 7", called The Way to a Mans Heart is through His Chest. We caught up with Karl Steven to discuss the recording, how Heart Attack Alley came to be, and the importance of blues.

How did Heart Attack Alley form?

It started with Kristal the guitarist and I playing on her front steps once a week. People would come around and have some beers and we’d just sort of jam, really. Different players sort of came and went; just joining in for an evening or for a couple of weeks in a row. That was in the beginning of 2008, and then we thought wouldn’t it be cool to work with a singer - obviously it adds quite a massive dimension to songs with words - and Caoimhe Macfehin’s was a natural choice who I had already worked with in the Drab Doo Riffs, and she’s worked with Kristal. So she started coming over when we’d play just to listen and she was a fantastic fit.

How does the songwriting process within Heart Attack Alley go down?

Often Kristal comes up with some stuff it depends on the song to be honest. One of us will bring something, and then Kristal and Caoimhe write the lyrics and then we work it all out and comment on what we think sounds good. After that we usually come up with our own parts around this base.

Your live performances are so energetic. What gets you pumped about playing live in this band?

We care about the music – we’re all huge blues enthusiasts and for us I think for us that music makes a very strong emotional connection. It’s quite intense music and I think in some ways that sense of intensity of blues and its emotional impact was lost in the eighties; it went out of focus a little bit and blues became this thing only ‘muso’ types would do to show what hot players they were. But trends change and I guess when we write the songs and perform them it’s just about getting that emotional engagement with the songs for the listeners and it’s kind of electric music, so we’re just trying to put that across really.

Heart Attack Alley have just released a seven inch. Tell me a little bit about that:

Well, we’re big vinyl fans and we also think it’s a nice way to listen to that kind of music. It’s not just checking out a YouTube link on your computer, again it’s about trying to create an experience that gives some context to the music and helps inform the music. Actually putting the record on – finding a record player and making sure it’s the right speed is all part of it and from our end of it we went the extra mile. We recorded it live so we don’t play one at a time we do a bunch of takes of us playing together, and then we mastered that up and sent it to Nashville to get press at United Record Pressing - where Jack Whites presses all The Dead Weather, The White Stripes and Third Man Records records – and then we hand cut them out and folded them and glued them and coloured the red on the cover and did all the labels by hand and stuff. Side One is a slow instrumental that we’ve been playing for a while and Side Two is a Gary Davis cover called ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’. They’re both quite dark songs I guess and that’s sort of how we wanted this little object to be and so it’s called The Way to a Man’s Heart is Through His Chest.

You talked before about experience physical forms of music recordings. How do you feel about the new platform of the music industry?

I mean as with any change in the infrastructure, there’s going to be good things about it and bad things about it. The good thing with the digital age is that many more people can record and release their music, it’s really easy and it can be thrown out into this great ocean of music . I guess the downside of it is that it becomes more disposable so it becomes like a fashion accessory; like there’s that t-shirt you wore for that summer and it’s gone. And when there’s no physical object it’s hard to even thing about it long term. It can also just become a soundtrack bubbling away in the background. For me, discovering music through record collections and seeing the covers of these strange musicians and putting them on and listening to them is an incredible process. I like the idea of making musical objects that in twenty five years time can be found under a bed and thrown on and listened to. That’s exciting to me, whereas the digital thing is useful and convenient but there comes a point when convenient is too convenient and, as Shakespeare said “light winning makes the prize light.” Easy come, easy go. If you have to order something from England and it arrives and you’ve waited six weeks for it that’s a precious thing and I think music is a precious thing and the technology makes it so easy that we can forget how precious it is, and how much work goes into it. People are spending weeks and months and years and hundreds of thousands of dollars making these recordings and we just kind of whack them on out of our computer speakers.


Tell me about the different things you take away from both the projects you’re in: Heart Attack Alley and Drab Doo Riffs.

In Heart Attack Alley I get to sit down on stage and also get to play harmonica. I don’t know why but ever since I was in my early teens playing harmonica has been a very important thing to me and I love Heart Attack Alley because I can play harmonica for like an hour and that’s really cool. Also blues is one of the music forms I really responded to in an irrationally huge way and so it’s great just doing some “blues” in inverted commas. We do our own take on that music obviously. Then I guess the Drab Doo Riffs allows me to do my own singing - or whatever you call what I do - and the Drab Doo Riff’s has much more of my lyrical content in there. It’s just a wonderful group of people and it’s a band type band which is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of camaraderie and the music’s really fast and intense, wheeas Heart Attack Alley goes to those darker places.


What are the future plans for each band?

Well, Heart Attack Alley are working on an album. We’re going to start recording really soon because we’ve pretty much got enough songs. We’d like to do a 12” vinyl with that too, just to keep the project ongoing in the same sort of fashion. That will be a huge thrill to do a vinyl album and so that’s our main goal. We’d also like to play some blues festivals - we haven’t done much of that. I mean we played the Waiheke Blues Festival but it would be fun to play with some bands that have their different takes on that same sort of music, although maybe our take is too different? With the Drab Doo Riff’s we are just finishing up our third EP which is called A Fist Full of Doo Riffs.


By Courtney Sanders

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