“Going back to making my own music, I decided I’m going to do everything I loved listening to in my teenage years,” Hearteyes tells me. The Sydney-based vocalist/producer is sitting on his balcony, enjoying the vibrant sunshine amid the adverse statewide lockdown, cigarette in hand. He’s reflecting on his times playing in bands around the world, and the strenuous sessions of writing for pop artists. They were all paths that didn’t lead to his destination, but lead him on his solo journey to engrossing in his own chaotic world of artistry.
So what did he love listening to in his teenage years? It’s a smorgasbord of styles. Hardcore, metal, noise, and more make up the palette of the Hearteyes flavour, which all culminate in his new mixtape Headbangers 2, the sequel to Even Headbangers GET The Blues. It’s a project that does not conform to the box of genre labeling, crushing them with heavy 808s and the polymerisation of beauty, and pandemonium. The singles themselves are diverse samplers themselves, with ‘DEATHWISH’ being a grimy K.O punch of hip-hop, ‘BUSTDOWN ENTRAILS’ sounding like an underground rave with Brodinski and COUCOU CHLOE, and ‘ELECTROBOY’ soaring as a personal, reverberated ballad with Jordon Alexander. This experimentation signifies evolution and the emergence of an artist that never sonically sits still.
In celebration of the project, Hearteyes talked me through the creation of Headbangers 2, the stories behind metaphoric songwriting, and the rising wave of pop-punk and hyperpop in today’s music scene.
Hey Hearteyes. What’s on your mind today?
Not too much, man. Lockdown here in Sydney, just another day in paradise. I’ve just been chilling with my housemate at home. I’m trying to make music, listening to some beats, that’s it really. Taking it day by day, not trying to put too much pressure on myself.
I feel that. The lockdown in Melbourne really had me going through it.
I had to get my shit together during this lockdown because last year was just so unprecedented. You could kind of get away with anything, like drinking and taking drugs in your room, because no one knew how to act. It takes its toll on you, and then your body gets to a point where it can’t do it anymore. I think a lot of people felt that.
It seems that you’re doing well, with the release of singles like ‘BUSTDOWN ENTRAILS’, and your project Headbangers 2 on the way. How have you been feeling about it so far?
It’s been really good. Initially, the record was supposed to have been out. But we got COUCOU CHLOE’s feature, and Coalesce said that we should put the song out as a single. I also had ‘ELECTROBOY’ with Jordon Alexander just come out as well. I’m trying to get as much different music out as possible because I’m trying to cover a vast array of musical genres. Honestly, when ‘BUSTDOWN ENTRAILS’ was released, I thought it was too abrasive. Like, I love that, but it was going to be a cut on the mixtape, rather than a single. But it’s been getting good numbers, despite not being on playlists or anything, which is trickling into my other stuff as well.
The obscurity of the song is what I love about it because it doesn’t conform to any particular genre. It’s like a beautiful grey area of styles. How do you find those creative destinations that are off the beaten path in music?
I think it’s from years of being exposed to different types of music. I grew up in the hardcore scene, going to shows since I was 13. I’ve been listening to metal all my life. In my late teens, I was listening to a lot more outsider metal, and experimental noise music. When I started doing production, I was really into pop music and songwriting for a lot of pop artists. Doing that so relentlessly for like 3 years, with songs being shelved and sessions not working out, really takes a toll on you. You’re approaching music so formulaically in that world. So going back to making my own music, I decided I’m going to do everything I loved listening to in my teenage years. Everything that was left of centre and not so approachable. The non-palatability of it was so enticing to me. You see a lot of producers and musicians nowadays blurring the boundaries of what genres are, like Teezo Touchdown and Jean Dawson. That’s the direction we’re all going in I think.
The journey you just described kind of mirrors that of Brodinksi, who started in the EDM world and then delved into this unique brand of dark, hard-hitting trap music. How’d you link up with him and COUCOU CHLOE for the song?
I’ve just always been a big fan of Brodinksi, from his EDM days to his time in Atlanta and nurturing underground rappers over there, to create this unique sound, with the crazy 808s and snares you don’t hear from anyone else. I got in contact with him on social media, and we just started talking one day, and I got the beat. The beat was completely different from what came out. There were like four iterations I made of the track with two different features, and it just wasn’t feeling right. I was going to shelve the song until I revisited it and rearranged the beat, with a few bits of percussion. I took it to the label to brainstorm who should be featured, and the first name that popped up was COUCOU CHLOE. She already has a pre-existing relationship with Brodinski in that underground world, and I feel like it was akin to what she normally does, but not too much on the nose. So it all fell into place.
Headbangers 2 is a sequel to your project Even Headbangers GET The Blues. What does this series represent in the Hearteyes artistic arc?
I was thinking about that today. The Headbangers arc is more abrasive music, that’s tailored to more guitar and heavy percussion. This record follows up in a more seasoned and matured way as opposed to the first project. Some guitars and drums have been recorded in the studio that I’ve worked on with engineers to do the nitty-gritty. The songwriting tropes that I introduced in the first Headbangers spoke on stuff regarding anxiety, bipolar, and depression. On Headbangers 2, I approach those themes more metaphorically. It’s more esoteric, opposed to being more matter of fact, and saying things how they are. I’ve got this guard up of how I want people to see me, so I don’t want to give everything away. A lot of the music is crazy fucking hallucinations and dreams that I’ve had, the sounds accompany that. I wanted the production to take you to a feeling of being haunted or possessed. I think going forward, I have a lot of music ready to go after this, but I don’t know where I see myself. I had to take a step back because making this record was so draining.
With approaching themes like anxiety and depression, how has it been moving into more of a metaphorical space with songwriting, compared to being more matter of fact?
Joyride, Headbangers, and Rock Album were very on the nose with those themes. They were explicit with the ideas that I spoke about. I did it because I needed to get it off my chest and showcase that I was going through these things. I wasn’t writing about mental illness to romanticize it, but to be upfront about it. I was going through it with those records, they were a cry for help. Now, I’m more in control of how I feel. With the mystic stuff I write, it comes from these crazing hallucinations I’ve had the past year, where you start to question your existence. One of the things about having a manic episode is thinking that you’re god and that you control everything. In that state, you are the center of the universe. If you spoke to me a year ago, you couldn’t convince me that you weren’t a set of data that I was controlling through my subconscious. There wouldn’t have been a doubt in my mind. I think now, I understand the deeper meaning of those times, where that’s not me in my mind, but also that there could be some truth to it. Because at the end of the day, we don’t know what’s true and what’s not. It’s my reality at the end of the day, and if something is true to me, it is true. If it’s a falsity to me, it’s a falsity. A lot of the lyrics on the project are really about that, where I get into the dark recesses of my mind, looking at the good and the bad, as well as my actions being a product in the real world.
Is it hard to deal with the duality of exploring your consciousness, while existing in the business side of music? Because on one hand it’s pure expression, and on the other, there’s a record label, algorithms, music politics, and an emphasis on online virality.
I think the key thing is that I don’t make viral music. If my shit sounds way too poppy, or if it would work on TikTok, I just scrap it. That’s not my bag, I’m not that type of person. I’m not some fucking Youtuber trying to expand their streams of revenue by making a TikTok song. I don’t think I’ll ever go viral, and I’m perfectly okay with that. That’s the type of artist I want to be, where I have the foresight to not be dictated by anything. And let’s say one day if I do go viral, I’ll just turn my phone off, go to the park, and kick a ball around until the virality dies. But I am conscious of my music, where I purposely make stuff that isn’t going to be appreciated by a large group. I try to identify what my small base wants to hear, and I keep doing it for them. If it attracts more people, it attracts more people. If it doesn’t, whatever. This is a hobby anyway.
As someone who played in bands and was engrossed in the hardcore scene, how do you feel about this resurgence of emo, pop-punk stylings making its way into hip-hop, with Travis Barker being the new Rick Rubin and MGK being the poster child?
It’s just history repeating itself. When I was 15, that was like 2009, everyone was frothing Nirvana. There were the Nirvana shirts, everyone was fucking with grunge, and then you had soft grunge in the realm of Tumblr. It’s no different from kids now, who are 15-20, idolising Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance. If you have Travis Barker offering to make songs that have the propensity to be a nostalgic hit in 5 years, why wouldn’t pop labels accept that? I feel like I called this pop-punk revival years ago when I saw Lil Peep and Gothboiclique doing their thing. I knew then, that this would only go full circle, with all of the instruments returning, and it did. As much as I have to say about the Travis Barker thing, without him I don’t think it would be any different. Say if Kurt Cobain was still alive, and he offered to make The Arctic Monkeys a song in 2009, they would have blown up 10 times faster. I can’t hate on it. It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than Australia. It’s definitely a machine, who knows how long it’ll last. It doesn’t matter, because they’ll move onto the next thing anyway.
One of the next big things seems to be the hyperpop, which also seems to create a lot of nostalgia within its sound, with odes to the scene kids, crunkcore days, and even dubstep. Do you think we’ll ever see a moment where Brokencyde makes a comeback?
The thing with hyperpop that I like, and what drew me to it in 2019, was the fact that it was going to be bigger than what it was meant to be. It would transcend culture. Someone like Dylan Brady can know what’s going to hit and what’s not. But almost in a tongue-in-cheek way, not like a “let’s get Travis Barker” label type of way. Look at that 100 Gecs and 3OH3! collaboration, that’s a pure tongue-in-cheek thing, because no one would think of having them on a song. Or even the fucking Rebecca Black come back, where she’s now a cool pop star. That wouldn’t have been without the nuanced, tongue-in-cheek humour of the hyperpop community, putting it on a pedestal to the point that it transcends irony. With the question of Brokencyde, I think maybe they’re a bit too on the nose. It was way more Punk Goes Crunk than the chiptune, emo autotune stuff, which I think is more akin to hyperpop. I think if they were to come back, there couldn’t be anything serious about it. It would be fun though. I think the successful way of doing it would be for them to embrace their age, but dress how they used to, taking the piss out of themselves.
I remember listening to Dylan Brady’s records in 2015. I feel like it took so much time for his sound to blow because it took a while for people to get it.
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I have some records with people over in the states who are starting to pop off on the internet. They’re releasing so much music, and you’ve most likely seen them floating around. I’ve been producing for them, and they’re people who are embedded in the trap community but understand the whole dance crossover thing. They’re not afraid to experiment with different beats, and the music is also tongue-in-cheek in its own way. Look at a lot of the stuff in Michigan, with a lot of beats being based on dance music, soul, and new jack swing almost. You’re getting dance producers making beats for like Babyface Ray and stuff. We’re seeing hip-hop dance stuff beginning to come together again.
The Flint sound is especially fascinating and forward-thinking to me, because it’s so hard-hitting, yet it feels like a lot of the sound choices are stock ones you’d find in your DAW. So simple, but so boundary-pushing.
Another group I’ve been listening to, who are my favourite producers at the moment, is the whole Surf Gang movement.
Same! Polo Perks’ Punk Goes Drill is most likely my album of the year.
Mine as well! They’re just so fucking good.
Just lastly from me, man, how do you want to spend the rest of 2021 after Headbangers 2 drops?
I haven’t made any music for myself in the last 6 months. I haven’t wanted to burn myself out. I’ve been working with daine a lot over the past 3 months, doing stuff for a mixtape she has coming out, and for some other music in the future. She’s an artist I like. She and Posseshot are probably my favourite in Australia right now. I’ve been working with miniskrt a lot as well, who makes great beats. I’ve also got some stuff with Darcy Baylis. I’ve really just been figuring out what I want to do next. I want to do something different from Headbangers after this, I’m just not sure exactly what it is yet. I know it’s going to be something to do with folk and psychedelia, with 808s in it. I’ll maybe just spend the rest of the year experimenting with sounds, and have something ready for 2022. I’ve noticed that I rush releases, so this time I’m going to let the project ride out the rest of the year while I develop my artistry. After that, I can start firing from the hip.