I’m not going to describe what Houses of Heaven sound like. I won’t tell you how they sound like band X and band Y were melded together in some lofty, rapturous lust. No simile, no metaphor or adjective climax, no syllogism for why you have to get on the train. If you’ve made it this far then I will offer you one prescription: start with Black Waves, off the Bay Area trio’s debut EP, Remnant, and turn it up.
Houses of Heaven are Keven Tecon, Adam Beck, and Nick Ott. Remnant will be released May 19th, on Felte and you can hear exclusive, unreleased material here at Impose until then.
Where did you meet and how was Houses of Heaven formed?
Keven: We’ve known each other from various projects over the years. The Bay Area is deceptively small so people tend to play in several bands and mix and match members quite often. I remember asking Nick to play with me years ago not realizing he was already in three other bands. I was always fascinated by Adam’s guitar playing because of how unusual it is but he’s so quiet that we never spoke more than a few words to each other until years later. It took quite a while for us all to finally work on something together.
Describe Houses of Heaven’s sound and the influences that have informed it.
K: Walking around San Francisco you’ll notice the frames of new housing projects that seemingly crop up overnight. On some days you can see fog passing through the open tops of these massive unfinished structures and I wanted the songs to be a representation of this in a way – a strong, rhythmic foundation covered in a soft haze of synths and guitar. The vocals are purposefully buried and sparse to blend with the sound and it takes a few listens to pick out the words. The music can be repetitive but we didn’t want it to feel too stiff or noticeably grid-based. I like music that’s simple and repetitive but still has a lot of textural changes, like Adrian Sherwood’s productions, MBV, and even Basic Channel.
Your first release, a four song EP entitled, Remnant,h will be released by Felte on May 19th. Tell me about the making of the record and your songwriting process for Remnant.
Adam: It was recorded at Ruminator Audio by Monte Vallier. Monte’s great to work with – very calm and he makes you feel comfortable through the whole process. We’d been making demos for about a year prior and recorded 5 or 6 more songs than are on the EP, which may appear on the full-length album that we’re currently working on. You can hear some of these songs in our live set. Generally the songs would start with Keven making demos in Logic, and then the rest of the band would get together, mess with the arrangements, add some parts, and fleshing them out. We do most of our writing at the computer, but we’ll start playing them live after things get more settled because it can give you a lot of insight into how the songs really work.
K: Even though the tracks originated on the computer we recorded everything using hardware (sampler, drum machines and analog keyboards, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with doing things in the box but I just find it easier to physically play the instruments through pedals and print the effects. You have to commit to the sound because you’ll never be able to recreate it exactly as it was. For this reason we kept a lot of the initial demo takes and sometimes re-amped them through some of Monte’s old amplifiers and effects units at his studio. Adam also builds some of his own pedals, which can be interestingly inconsistent. We layered Nick’s live drums over this to give it a looser feel. I think we’ve become so used to hearing things perfectly in time and in tune that it’s exciting when things don’t quite line up or are slightly off.
Nick: The process for me is a bit different. Because we mix acoustic and electronic percussion we have to decide how much of each we really want in the final product. Sometimes we use mostly what we’ve done on the demo, but sometimes I have to recreate the drum machine track in the studio on a drum kit. Often we record this piecemeal – I’ll record the tom track then record the snare track, then the cymbal track, etc. I had to re-learn how to play a few of the songs this way in the studio.
Are there any sacrifices you have to make when playing these songs live versus recording?
A: There are definitely a couple of songs that I feel we’re still working out the live versions of. Some of our songs are a bit slower and more stripped down on the record, but live they need a little more momentum, so we’re making subtle changes here and there as the set evolves.
K: I don’t think songs need to sound exactly the same live as they do on record. It’s fine to have slightly different versions if it means they are more engaging in a live setting. Since we are mixing live and electronic elements there are so many different ways to approach the songs live that it takes some time to find out what works best.
N: It’s a bit of a struggle sometimes to play the electronic rhythms live. It takes us a while to figure out what to play with our instruments and what to sequence, especially in regards to percussion. Hopefully we find a balance so that the live show is exciting and dynamic enough without sacrificing too many of the sounds from the record.
K: We can get pretty obsessive about it so it becomes a never-ending process.
You recently finished a short tour with label mates, Chasms, among others. How did the tour go and what were the highlights/lowlights?
A: It was a blast playing with them! They’re genuinely sweet people and delivered great, emotionally charged performances every night. Can’t really ask for more.
In terms of lows, I think the last night of our tour was sort of a struggle for us. For what we’re doing, where there are a lot of electronic elements but also live guitars and drums, you really need a loud, good quality sound system so that the electronic parts match the intensity of the amps and drums. We were playing in a garage, with a small PA that’s more meant for vocals and so it maxed out and distorted through the whole set. We’ve realized we have to be more careful about where we try to play these songs. It’s sort of unfortunate, I grew up going to underground shows in basements and garages, and love playing in that atmosphere, but we just want to make sure that no matter where we’re playing people are going to get the right experience.
N: In addition to playing with the wonderful Chasms, the highlight for me was playing with Screature in Sacramento. What a great band. The lowlights were the mosquitoes the size of B-2 bombers at the last show. There were multiple pools of standing water scattered around and the place was like a mosquito terrarium.
Describe the current bay area music scene and where your music fits in.
A: The bay area’s been a little weird because I feel like a lot of bands bounce in and out of living here. Wax Idols, Miserable/King Woman, Chasms, Some Ember, etc. – are all bands I still consider “Bay Area bands” but half the time they aren’t living here.
K: There’s definitely a lot of moving around between cities. In a way I’m not sure if anyone truly feels like they fit into a particular scene but that’s what makes things interesting. There’s a lot of cross-pollination between genres so you’ll see the same people at techno parties, indie nights, noise shows etc.… It’s hard not to be influenced by this so everyone creates his or her own spin on these varied experiences. I think people are used to quickly jumping between genres thanks in part to streaming so I don’t think scenes coalesce around a specific style of music as much as they used to. It’s more groups of like-minded people who happen to share some of the same eccentricities. You’ll often see bills with very different types of music but everyone are friends and share a mutual admiration so it works.
Photos & Interview by: Ben C. Pegram