Birthed from a converted mail van called the Heartschallenger that’s sold imported ice creams, music merchandise and artwork in Los Angeles and New York, Heartsrevolution’s single ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ was a perfectly hip indie electro track, but little more – it was fuzzy and noisy and hit the right spots.
The format (white heart-shaped vinyl) was probably more remarkable than the song, and this dedication to the vinyl record’s position as art in its own right as well as a vessel for music continues across their glow-in-the-dark split with Crystal Castles and their forthcoming Switchblade EP on Kate Moross’ Isomorph label.
As anyone who owns the record or has visited the band’s myspace will attest, Switchblade is special, particularly ‘Digital Suicide’ – which is the most beautiful song I’ve heard since Burial’s Untrue came out last year. Heartsrevolution took the time to speak to FACT while they were in London, and explained what makes the song so good better than I ever could. I’d best hand you over…
Let’s start with the Heartschallenger. What led you down the path of thinking ‘screw whatever job I’m doing right now, I’m gonna go drive this ice cream truck around the country selling imported snacks?’
Leyla: “I guess there was a turning point for me. I was in a really high status job, earning really good money, and I felt like I could get stuck in that rut and ten years could go by just because it seemed so comfortable and then I’d think ‘fuck, this is what I’ve ended up doing with my life’.
“The truck was something that I’d envisioned for a decade, since I was a little kid. I’d wanted to do it and talked about it forever with anyone that would listen, and then came that moment of ‘okay, I’m gonna start working on it for fun’, keeping my job and just doing it on the side, and then literally the day I finished the truck I was like ‘this is fucking amazing! I have to give it one hundred and fifty percent and then at least know that I tried.’
“It wasn’t so much that I wanted to sell candy to club kids or whatever, it was seeing if this crazy, radical dream I had in my mind as a kid could manifest itself into a tangible experience or product, and if that could work then I would know.”
What non-edible items have you sold?
Ben: “We have t-shirts from our own clothing line as well as from other graphic artists, and we have mixtapes, and records, and magazines…”
L: “We had two records that came out; the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ single which was white heart-shaped vinyl, and then a split with Crystal Castles…”
The glow in the dark vinyl, right?
L: “They’re the most beautiful records! And again, it was this principle of wanting to make each product as amazing and wonderful as it could be – we have like ten different types of stickers that were glow in the dark or holographic, we’re in the process of doing branded products so you’ll have Heartschallenger chocolates and ice creams and what not, and then stuff from graffiti artists in LA or New York, or friends that have bands and have badges and sticker packs and things…”
Was the only outlet you had to sell those records through the truck?
L: “Originally we had signed to a label that would help us release them in the UK and Japan. We weren’t really interested in developing a market in the States; we were really excited about the music scenes in London and Japan and wanted help with that.
“At the very last moment we found that they didn’t have distribution – literally, after the vinyl was manufactured, a week before the release date, we had to pull out of the deal and pay for the vinyl ourselves; we hand stamped everything, hand cut all the stickers…
“We called a bunch of record stores and boutiques around the world, because the records are art pieces and we wanted them to be placed in the right shops. We got them in like ten stores in the States, Rough Trade in the UK and Collette – which is more like a lifestyle boutique – in Paris, and a bunch of stores in Japan, and we did it all ourselves. We didn’t have anywhere else to sell them but the truck; we had no distribution deal…”
It all reminds me of the label Boy Better Know in the UK, which has become a brand that’s as famous for the logo and t-shirts as the music. Was there a self-conscious intention for Heartschallenger to be a brand in that way
L: “I think people have a perception of Heartschallenger as a fleet of ice cream trucks, and… We do have a fleet of pastel coloured ice cream trucks, but that was always intended to be part of a way of life – creating your own path; choosing your own adventure, which is where the band took that term from.
“There was always a very distinct vision between the band and the brand, and in our own very tiny way we’re trying to inspire people, whatever their paths may be, and say ‘look, you can do your own thing and it will work’. But they’re separate and we’re always afraid of the band being written off as ice cream truck music, because that’s how the music developed: I came to Ben when he was in another band and was like ‘I need music for the truck – now that I’ve worried about every other little detail I want to make sure we’ve got the right soundtrack for it’, and then that developed into ‘let’s do live shows out of the truck’, and then ‘let’s DJ out of the truck’, and then ‘let’s do a song together’. It’s always been separate; that’s why they have separate names, because they should each have their own path, I guess…”
B: “Their own lifeforce.”
L: “Lifeforce! That’s the word I was gonna use…”
Lifeforce, I like that. You said you did live shows out of the truck…
L: “Yeah, we would pull up to clubs and DJ out of the back of the truck, and then when it came to actual live shows we would bring the truck to the venue and have it be this interactive experience where you go in, see the band and come out and get some free items. We would do giveaways where we’d have an ice cream sponsor for the night… It was similar to an open bar; that’s the best way I can describe it.”
I’ve been listening to the tracks from the Switchblade EP a lot over the last month, and it’s a real varied bunch of songs. And then they all sound different to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. What’s the process behind your music – how do you guys make what you make?
L: “I’ll pass you over to Ben about the music, but that’s so exciting for us because the safest thing to do would have been a follow up to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, keeping everything in the same rhythm and the same vein.
“Putting a song like ‘Digital Suicide’ out, whether it’s the lullaby version or the ‘Sonic Youth with Suicidal Tendencies’ version – which was the original name that we’re not allowed to use – both of those songs are just so different from everything that’s happening in music, and people have befriended us on myspace and have been like ‘wow, this song captures the feeling of a generation where everyone’s on pills and everybody’s self-medicating’… And it’s so different to the bands that we get compared to, who are electronic music and dance music…”
B: “As far as our process goes, it can happen a lot of different ways. Sometimes Leyla will have an idea for the outline of the song or its lyrical content, and then I’ll go in and do the music and we’ll decide together which direction we want to take it in.
“Part of the whole thing with this second EP was trying to figure out how we can work together. The first one happened really haphazardly; I made the music and Leyla sung over it and it just worked. The second time around it wasn’t that easy; it was about finding out how we could do this and not kill each other…”
L: “It was very much of a journey – or my journey at least, and where I was. It was so hard; even now when I sing ‘Digital Suicide’… It’s like an exposure of your soul, and the things that you were going through at that point in your life.”
I love the song. I gushed about it on our website this week; it’s really great…
L: “It sounds silly, because everybody compares us to Crystal Castles, and I don’t know if it’s because we did the split or because we’re boy/girl, and we weren’t sure about that song when we put it on the myspace – we weren’t sure if it would go on the record. We played a show at UCLA a month ago, and the song hadn’t been available for download, it hadn’t really been blogged, and there was a room full of kids between fifteen and twenty five – I can’t even tell you how moving it was to see them singing along with it. I look out into the crowd and there’s three people crying, then I start fucking crying because I’m like ‘why are you crying?’ It’s like, this is my own battle.
“Everyone thinks about ice cream trucks and unicorns and hearts and how it’s just light-hearted, but it’s very intense and very trying to fucking be your own boss and be your own motivation, and trying to financially support these types of endeavours and ship trucks around the world. And all of it is so crazy and such an internal conflict and battle against the dark side. Because, you know, I want to take pills and drink a bottle of whiskey, and I dunno… Not while driving the truck though.”
That’s true; that would be highly immoral.
L: “Yeah, highly immoral.”
Aesthetics are important to both the band and the brand, I think that’s obvious. Tell us about working with Kate Moross and Isomorph.
L: “Kate is… Say it Ben, say what I say all the time.”
B: “Kate is amazing. That’s all I’ve gotta say.”
L: “We’re doing so many different projects together, and we asked her to join the band on tour to do all of the live visuals. I think what she does as an artist is amazing, and I love the principle of Isomorph: to bring a visual element to records that compliments the music.
“Obviously there’s not a lot of money in the music industry through selling records, but her background of not really worrying about the dollar amount and just creating a beautiful piece of art sits hand in hand with what we do, because literally every penny that we’ve made has gone back into making heart-shaped vinyl and glowing vinyl, and it didn’t even matter. I just wanted kids to find them in a store or outside a club in an ice cream shop and think ‘this is fucking amazing – nobody’s doing anything like this’.
“I think a lot of times when people put a lot of money or attention into something like that it’s written off as a gimmick, and having a partnership with Kate on so many different levels – whether it’s her doing the artwork for the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ remixes or putting out the Switchblade EP… She’s the first person I’ve met in the music or art industry that really takes from everything, and she is an equal player on our team. I can’t even tell you how much I adore her.
B: “We have the same premise as far as the packaging and art is concerned, so when we met her it was really exciting because there aren’t many people like that.”
L: “I can’t stand anyone, seriously. I fucking fight with everyone, but I love this girl. It’s nice to have a third member who you don’t have to explain yourself to, and who doesn’t want to talk you out of things…”