Q&A with Jonnie Baker of Relic Hearts
PA alt-rock quartet Relic Hearts are no strangers to the hard work it takes to be in a band, and their debut full-length, Volatile is a direct reflection of that. Set to release on July 11th, Volatile marks a special release for the band. Not only is it their first full-length, and one that has been a long time in the making, but the band is also crowdfunding the release. Volatile documents the struggles that Relic Hearts have been through over the years, especially in their new song, "Halfway To Paradise," which is about longing for something better. Vocalist Jonnie Baker talks with us about the new album, crowdfunding, pop covers and much more!
Interview by Dom Vigil
Can you tell us a little bit about Relic Hearts for any readers who may not be familiar?
Relic Hearts is myself (Jonnie), Aaron (Boss), Nick, and Dirk. We're based out of the Pittsburgh region of PA, and we have all been bred to be the people we are by the music that we grew up listening to, just like everybody else. I think that's the cool thing about us as a whole, is that we all listen to pretty much every genre collectively, and can appreciate different music and share our different tastes not only with each other, but through our music.
You’re getting ready to release your new album, Volatile on July 11th. What inspired this release?
Everything we are is what inspired this album. We had been wanting to do a full length album for a long time, but were adamant about waiting until the time was right. We wanted to have some material collected before rushing into the studio to just track a bunch of ideas we had come up with, so we spent a good amount of time writing for this record, both prior to going into the studio, and once we were there. Volatile is then the culmination of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, as we were all going through some pretty turbulent times in our personal lives. And while that made for great songwriting, it was a lot to endure both separately and as a band. Volatile became this collection of songs that embodied how we melded all of our individual lives and problems and sorrows and triumphs into one cohesive record.
Were there any struggles you faced during the writing and recording process? What has been the most rewarding experience?
Obviously being a DIY band, it was a struggle funding an entire record by ourselves, from the producers involved, the actual recording time, flights to Salt Lake City, keeping ourselves fed and taken care of, as well as keeping our mental health in tact -- a month is a really long time to lock yourself in one location and ONLY be creating music. It's exhausting in a very interesting way, and Jesse (Lawson) actually kind of hit the nail on the head in on of our "Volatile Chronicles" videos where he likened it to being like putting all of your energy into studying for a test, and then going in and nailing it. The entire process up until completion is so very soul demanding, so it seems obvious as to how it could be draining, but it's one of those things I don't think you understand until you've done it. Our most rewarding experiences throughout it were being there with our production team while we were recording and just really letting all of the best themes and ideas and structures consume and become what ended up becoming "Volatile". And then listening to your record once it's completely finished, really, really, loud.
How do you feel you’ve grown with the writing of Volatile?
I think we had a pretty strong element and understanding of strong songwriting just at the foundation of everything, so with Volatile, it was an exercise in letting each song evolve as it could and as we heard it. We never really treated anything as a bad song direction or choice of chords, or arrangement or anything like that -- it was always about letting the right thing sit where it belonged and was best felt, and doing whatever served the song the best in our eyes. The idea of being a band is a process, not a stagnant moment in time, and recording is an amazing experience through and through that we've enjoyed doing for years. We're always anxious to write more and see what comes from it -- but where we began with Volatile and where we ended up at its completion, feels great, feels genuine, and feels right.
You launched an indiegogo campaign to help fund the album, as many artists seem to be doing recently. What drew you to the crowdfunding route?
Crowdfunding is just a great way to get your true fans involved with you early on in the process of an album or series or whathaveyou. In our case, we were completely done with the record, we just want to make sure we get it out there to as many people as possible, and want to work with our fans to make sure we do a good job in getting our fans involved with spreading the word and posting about us, and sharing us in general.
What advice would you give artists who want to fund recording or touring through indiegogo or any other crowdfunding campaign?
Be diligent. You shouldn't be bothering your fans to support you, but you can genuinely reach out and ask each and every person whom you'd like to see support from and love to be able to give back to -- and let them know personally that you appreciate them even just taking the time to hear you out. Also, learn to be responsible for yourself/yourselves -- you can't expect anyone to give a shit about you if you don't give a shit about yourselves. Being confident in what you're doing is a great way to get people behind you, because that kind of energy is contagious.
You also recently released a music video for “Halfway To Paradise” - can you tell us a little bit about the song?
"Halfway To Paradise" could have been the album name, if we were an 80's glam rock band, opening for Skid Row. This song is a cowrite that Boss and I sat down and collectively mulled over while we were in the studio, and truly described where we were at at that particular moment. We had a lot of pressure on ourselves with this record, and it was placed there by ourselves -- but only because we wanted to push ourselves to the best of our abilities as musicians. It's a song about not being where you feel you should be. Everyone knows that that Zen thing to say here is to not want to be anywhere but in the present moment, but sometimes you get lost along the way. Sometimes that clarity isn't there, so the selfishness and idea of deserving something more than what you have, is what fills it place. We've come from nothing, and been beaten about as low as any band can be beaten (save for having a band member pass away) -- so we know what it's like to sink your head into your hands and ask, "When is it going to be my time? When am I going to catch a break?" That's what the bridge in that song is about -- not wanting to want for once in your life. Not having to worry about food, clothing, and shelter. Not having to worry about where your future is headed, because maybe you can get a little light to show you the way. It's definitely a song about longing in life. Short answer, haha!
Over the years, you’ve covered many pop songs and made them your own - what about these songs and artists made you want to create your own version? What is the most fun part about doing these covers?
Sometimes we choose a song because of it maybe standing out to one of us in particular, but we try to only follow through on songs that we all collectively want to do, so we're all enjoying the rearranging process of altering the covers. The best part of doing the covers is picking them apart, and really analyzing them. There's so much that goes into some music, and as we learn things we really enjoy production wise in record, we hope to strengthen our own record-making abilities.
Could listeners expect any other cover songs in the future?
We've actually got a few covers in the pipeline right now, and are definitely always up for making more, so definitely look forward to it!
After the release of Volatile, do you have any other big plans for 2016?
Officially, as of today, we own our own van again, so the rest of the year you can expect to see us out on the road, and putting out new music videos, cover songs, and all kinds of new videos.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Make sure you pick up Volatile on July 11th, or head over to our IndieGoGo at http://igg.me/at/rhlaunch , and come out and see us legitimately every time we are ever within 100 miles of you, because we want to meet you and thank you for the support personally.