Q&A Interview with Heccra: Beginnings, Pizza Is Emo, and Beyond

When people think about the post-hardcore and emo music of today I think, almost universally, a few names come to mind. Specifically names affiliated with the previous decade, that of the saturated bubblegum-variety that is Silverstein, Attack! Attack!, and Asking Alexandria whose style of music botchedly embraced pop, EDM, and dance influences into a most distasteful amalgamation of cliches and then the post-hardcore of more recent times, the likes of which meld a sense of accessibility with a taste for both melody and aggression, bands of the more recent variety, those of which include, most popularly, Touche Amore, La-Dispute, and Title Fight.

Heccra, the enigmatic-one man experimental post-hardcore / emo project fits into neither of those categories, or really any past incarnation of punk music as a whole. Instead, since early 2o12, Heccra has been keeping busy, releasing a full length album and an EP last year as well as two EPs within the first half of 2013 which take from a number of genres, the likes of which are contextually dissected and reconstructed into a unique blend that is all his own.

Pizza Is Emo album artwork.

Pizza Is Emo album artwork.

(Tyler Thompson): Your debut album, ‘White Eagle’ kind of came out of nowhere and just blew up overnight on /mu/ (a music message board on 4chan). What led you to start writing and recording the album?

There was a May night when I was 18 years old, as I was leaving a bonfire with friends I got pulled out of my car at gunpoint by the police; some adolescent neighborhood kids had called the cops saying I was unloading stock piles of automatic weapons, but it was actually firewood for the bonfire. I laid on my stomach with my hands cuffed behind my back, my friend Justin was next to me in the same predicament. The cops searched my car, found no firearms and continued to harass me saying my firewood looked “suspicious.” I ended up getting a ticket anyway for disorderly conduct and had to make a court appearance.

This is what really ignited my rage. In high school I had been skating in the hallways and getting in a lot of trouble, wearing tight black jeans and shoplifting excessively. My friends and I started vandalizing our town late at night as a means to make the best of being high school graduates stuck home. All of my friends went off to college at the end of summer, I stayed behind and worked at a shitty seafood restaurant and went to a community college full of fuck-ups and losers. Loneliness tortured me. I was already in bad shape from 6 years of 4chan in my head. I would go on to have 10 more run ins with the cops that academic year, each one pissed me off more and more. I paid for the tickets with money I made from work.

At Work, there was a coverband that played at the bar every Friday and Saturday night. I heard the same set too many times, and I was frustrated and I said to myself “I’m never going to fucking repeat myself, ever.” I was recording some music under the name Spooky Kid’s Midnight Symphony, I made 5 songs, the later 3 were ‘Brain Damage is my Friend’, ‘Best Dreams Ever’, and ‘1997: There’s no Future!’ When I first said “Heccra” I was awe struck, and it looked good to me too when I wrote it out. I told one of my friends that God named me Heccra. I decided to create an identity that was truly I and my honest feelings, and I would keep my real name off the project entirely. It was great, I could say everything I wanted to and no one judged me. The winter trudged by and my friends came home for Break. They were adjusted to a life of college drinking and I wasn’t. There was still vandalism, pointed out in ‘VHS Porn’, and when they left I was sad again. I burned bridges with most of the people left in town. By April I had 10 songs or so, with nothing to do with them. One evening I posted it on 4chan.

On ‘White Eagle’ the chipmunk-esque pitch-shifted vocals (i.e. chipmunk-core) that appear throughout the album are a characteristic that seems to have become synonymous with your project. I think it’s a production choice that can effectively attract listeners just as quickly as it can detract them.  Was this an entirely conscious decision to include these pitch-shifted sections or was this something you did on a whim?

At the time, I was trying to make something very experimental that wasn’t just noises or in dissonant chords/scales. I had a few different kinds of high-end Waves pitch plugins which I had experimented with in the past. The real inspiration came from Ween’s Pure Guava album, where most of the vocals on the album were recorded tape shifted. Push th’ Little Daisies was the song that really pushed me over the edge to do this. I’ll admit I went overboard with ‘Best Dreams Ever’.

After ‘White Eagle’ you released two EPs, the first of which was ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ (TLWOS), an approach that focused more on the style of midwestern emo while the second EP, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ retained traits heard on ‘The Last Weekend of Summer’ but also featured a bit more of an aggressive edge all around. I remember you mentioned that you had been listening to Algernon Cadwallader a lot and were influenced by them. What else influenced this change in direction?

I tend to think of ‘White Eagle’ as my best album, but that was written and recorded when I was very outwardly angry with society, and still fresh with rage. Even though it’s been a short while, I’ve matured greatly, and during this, the other two EPs were recorded. ‘TLWOS’ is all about the girl I was dating at the time. The name itself is a reference to the last two days of summer before I left for college this year. The theme of the music shifted from anger to hopefulness, that I would have the patience and strength to stay with this girl, even though I was far way.

While I was at college, my recording equipment was inaccessible so I had to learn to adapt to not being able to record everything I came up with. I started by getting a notepad and wrote down every little bit of lyrical inspiration that came to me. When I got back for Christmas break, I tried to balance family, friends, a girlfriend, and an album all at the same time. My girlfriend and I decided to break up 2 weeks into my 4 week break, and shockingly, I didn’t find it very inspirational musically. I had always figured I would have an entire emo album just from that alone, but it didn’t cut me the way I had expected. All of this went into ‘Heccra-Kazooie’, which was by far the most awkward for me to record. I had intended to go back to my aggressive ‘White Eagle’ roots.

When you released ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ it was also accompanied with a statement in which you mentioned your disappointment with the album. What exactly was it that you were disappointed with?

It has basically nothing to do with Banjo Kazooie whatsoever, that’s a big one. But even bigger is how shitty I mixed it. It’s exhausting to listen to, it’s over focused. My good friend Bye./Aches was telling me how the lack of clarity of my first two albums (compared to ‘Heccra-Kazooie’) made it better, the obscuration adds depth and dimension. ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ is two dimensional all the way.

That being said, I really like ‘Banjo Kazooie’, ‘Homemade Halloween Costume’, ‘Pissed Off Kid’s in the 90’s’, and ‘I Wanna Go On a Ski Trip with The Beach Boys’, they’re just really bright and it hurts my ears to listen to them. Also, ‘Heccra-Kazooie’ flopped and got almost no attention from the internet.

Are there any plans for a follow up to ‘Heccra-Kazooie’?

I’ve thought about a ‘Heccra-Tooie’, to redeem myself. But if I do, it has to be a “Quick! Get on the toad there’s no time to explain” kind of album, and I want it to grab you by the hand and rip you though a life or death adventure with Heccra though a Nintendo64 Banjo Kazooie world.

In terms of production, the albums you’ve recorded sound pretty professional.  When I first heard ‘White Eagle’ I thought it was the work of an entire band so, needless to say, I was a bit surprised to learn that the project is solely that of one person. Getting down to the bare skeleton of Heccra, what kind of gear do you use when recording?

I’m a bedroom artist. I only own one microphone, and it’s a Shure sm57. That runs into a MOTU 8pre firewire interface, and then into an unreliable joke of a workstation, 5 year old HP Pavilion laptop that shits out on me and blue screens at least twice per session. I honestly spend close to 6 hours per cumulative sum of album recording time troubleshooting my computer.

My guitar amp is a Marshall MG HDFX100, I also have a boss C1S1 compressor sustainer pedal that I use to get more punch out of the amp, because by itself the distortion sounds really cheesy. I use a big mountain of pillows as isolation.

I have two main guitars, one is a blue quilted maple BC Rich Bich, which alludes to my adolescent obsession with 80’s hair metal, and the other guitar is a stock black Greg Bennett Interceptor. They were both stock pickups, until Heccra-Kazooie, I bought EMG active pickups. I also own a BC Rich Bass guitar, an Oscar Schmidt ukulele, and a 5 dollar vuvuzela that appears in ‘A.M’. and ‘I Only Wanted To Heelflip’.

Could you briefly run me through the writing and recording process?

Briefly is not easy, since this process is dear to me. I generally go on long bike rides or walks by the river, through local forests, urban decay and whatnot. I pick up a sense of adventure and a sense of loneliness, as well as some imagined sense of fraternity with my foliaged surroundings for being the only kid ballsy enough to folly around in it. Together it’s like a deep yearning, a desperation for a life of more adventure; ‘White Eagle’. I get very bittersweet things, taking in the “what once was,” and imagine the history of the place or thing. I’d like to believe this bittersweetness carries over into my music.

I write down every little bit of lyrical inspiration I get in a journal. It comes to me sentence by sentence, and eventually I string them all together. If any has noticed the stich marks in my music, it’s because it’s sewn together, take shitty water for example. I play guitar in the hours east of midnight, and experiment with different tunings and time signatures. I often find riffs and chords during this time that my lyrics fit over. Most of the time, they’re I-IV riffs.

My music is guitar driven, that is the instrument I have the most prowess in (eventually I’ll upload a shred video to YouTube) I set my microphone position up and do a few tests, and then bury it in pillows and blankets so I can record it loud. I usually lay down some drums, really basic kick snare stuff with a metronome, and then record guitars for the entire song. I remind myself while recording to really play it, not just play it, but to have my emotions in it and my entire soul behind it. Even so, there are lots of songs I wish I recorded faster than I did. When I play live, it’s going to be a blisteringly fast. I go back after the guitars are all finalized and match the drum tracks to the rhythm and swing of the guitar. After that I usually do all the screaming vocal takes, and next the singing. I often lose my voice after the backing vocals are done. I record bass strangely last, and then mix.

Although accessible, Heccra is a project that is at once overtly experimental, uniting a wide variety of outside styles from a multitude of genres, seamlessly weaving hazy of shoegaze, EDM, pop, ambient guitar interludes, triggered drums, colorful glitched out electronics, and even dabs of 80’s new-wave-esque synthesizers within the contexts of post-hardcore music. Are there any particular influences beyond the umbrella of hardcore music that you take inspiration from?

Well just barely outside that umbrella, crust punk and grindcore are two things I really enjoy and value. I love the snarl and scoop of the guitar, firecracker snare, and the vocal texture. The overall sonic texture is delicious. Together it’s an energy that’s amazing. I have particularly taken influences from Wormrot, Dropdead, and Insect Warfare. I enjoy sludge metal, but I’m a real pleb there, I never ventured much further than Electric Wizard, Sleep, and SunnO))). I’m a big fan of Ween’s music, particularly the ‘Mollusks’, ‘Quebec’ and ‘Pure Guava’. Wavves is obviously an influence of mine, Life Sux! Best Coast is also worth mentioning. The Beach Boys are too legendary of a group to put in the same sentence as Best Coast, but they are an eternal influence on me. I spent the first 4 years of my recording career chasing the 80’s. I love the Shooga Dooga toms, the snare, the gated reverb, shiny spandex and unaccompanied dragged on guitar solos. I can’t forget emo, god do I love me some twinkle daddy. Of emo, Algernon Cadwallader, Cap’n Jazz, American Football, and Bye./Aches are my biggest influences.

Is the inclusion of all of these different styles intentional or is it more the work of your subconscious acting?

I do try to consciously incorporate them into my music, but whether I like it or not some of it gets incorporated into the song writing, that’s when I notice the Beach Boys the most. I never try to make a certain kind of music. I try to convert visual images and feelings in my head into sounds. I think I can only make one kind of music, and these influences just twist and pull it all in different ways.

The infamous album artwork for 'White Eagle"

The infamous album artwork for ‘White Eagle”

There seems to be a lot of focus, from fans and admittedly myself, on the artwork used as the album cover for ‘White Eagle’, the iconic and surreal image of a nude woman holding a rabbit, centered in front of a grassy background. Care to comment on the nature of this photo?

I was mesmerized by it. I posted my soundcloud on /mu/ exactly a year ago asking for criticism and used that as the picture just to get attention. It got a pretty good reception and posters were asking for a mediafire link, so on a whim I put that picture as the album artwork, because I couldn’t send White Eagle out without something as its artwork.

I get a decent amount of crap for having stolen the photograph and using it without permission, but maybe one day I’ll apologize to the photographer and get to meet the model. I know that without the cover, White Eagle wouldn’t have gotten noticed anywhere as near as much as it did.

Some of the track titles, lyrics, artwork and the overall image that you present with Heccra have these occasional moments of subtle humor. Would you say that, when writing, this humor is intentional or am I just an asshole?

Not taking yourself seriously is one of the best things you can do as an emo band. I can understand it being seen as subtle humor, but I never tried to be funny. It’s more of nostalgia for me, back to my childhood, and back to the melodrama of highschool, and familiarity and comfort of sadness and teenage heartbreak/hopelessness. I felt trapped in my town growing up, and if you couldn’t laugh at yourself then you’d best be fucked because there was nowhere else to go.

What do you do in your free time, when you aren’t writing music as Heccra?

I’m a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate in college, which takes up most of my free time. I shred on the guitar daily. Heccra skates, skates skateboards that is. I am a bodybuilder, living for squats and oats and spending all my college tuition money on food and eating everything in sight. I have a kind of Flylo knock off side project that I don’t take very seriously, gives me something to do when I’m feeling musical. About once a month I get a weekend open enough that I go out to house parties and dance my ass off in the basement to Top 40 crap. It’s important to smile the whole time.

The one-year birthday of Heccra is coming up and you’ve got a new EP coming out entitled ‘Pizza Is Emo’, what can listeners expect to hear?

There are only two tracks on it, but that’s amazing for spring break. Listeners can expect to hear Heccra-in-a-box. It’s got flanged synths, overdriven chords, group vocals, screams, a breakdown, experimental guitar tones, REAL DRUMS, bubbles, Sweeps, a vuvuzela cameo, 7/4th timing, spooky tritones, ominous breathing, distorted sludge bass, ukulele, surfer blood ripoff song, pitch shifted vocals, lush harmonies, tempo changes, Emo sing alongs, Rick Astley’s Shooga-Dooga Toms, and a bunch of wrists getting cut around a pizza.

What do plans look like for the future, specifically for 2013?

This summer I’m going to New Jersey to record with Aches, we will be making an Emo EP or something like it, and I think that’s going to be one of the most fun times of my life. Once School is out, I’ll be able to focus more on promoting myself and interacting on /mu/ and soundcloud, to connect with other musicians and establish my identity as a helpful musician and not just a samefagger.  Ideally, a bunch of fantastic musicians could come my way and we would all get dressed up in Halloween costumes and play a few shows.

I had plans to record another album this summer, whether it be Heccra-tooie or just something else, I’m not sure. I’m going to keep experimenting with music, I don’t really see any other option. I either keep experimenting, or grow stagnant and die.

Listen to the new EP, Pizza Is Emo

You can download Heccra’s current discography on bandcamp

All inquiries can be email here: Heccra@gmail.com

Stream content from Heccra via Soundcloud

Follow Heccra on Twitter

-Tyler Thompson

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