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Lost in an ocean of sound
Heaven's Gateway Drugs makes a classic
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Once in a while it happens. Once in a blue moon your favorite local band do good and make a great rock n' roll album. Whether you live in Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, or Indianapolis, sometimes in your own Midwest town that local group of 9 to 5ers you watch on local stages and beyond that you admire(and possibly live through through their glories) happen to put out a record that pushes all your buttons. You listen to it and realize that these songs contained on the CD in your player are as good as anything that's getting ten times as much attention throughout the country; the world even.
Fort Wayne, Indiana is lucky enough to have more than just a handful of bands that have given the world plenty to devour with their ears. One of those band in particular is Heaven's Gateway Drugs. They consist of C. Ray Harvey on guitar, vocals, keys, and arranging duties; Derek Mauger on guitars and vocals; Josh Elias on bass and vocals; Eric Frank on drums and percussion; and Ben Carr on percussion and the band's spiritual center and all around shaman. They've been a band for a little over a year, hitting stages back in the spring of 2012, all of them coming from other local Fort Wayne bands (Carr appeared from purple smoke and mystic chants and has stayed since).
In the summer of 2012 the band put out a cassette-only release CPF Cassettte, something to share with the crowds amassed at the Cincy Psych Fest last summer. Well, after many shows, recording sessions in Detroit, MI with Eric Oppitz at Space Camp Studios, and some serious chowing at Eli's BBQ in Cincinnati, OH, You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs is here and ready to seduce your ears. C. Ray Harvey and Derek Mauger were kind enough to answer a few questions in-between shows.
EAP: It's been a little over a year since Heaven's Gateway Drugs descended upon Fort Wayne and the world. Has it been as wild a ride as it seems?
Derek Mauger: There hasn't been a dull moment yet.
C. Ray Harvey: It's been very busy. What people don't see is that aside from playing a crazy amount of shows, especially out-of-town, we practice twice a week and discuss forward movement within the group on an almost daily basis. It can be difficult to keep a band pushing forward after you check off the initial goals of "write some songs, play a few shows, get out of town, record something" - it's been critical for us to keep posting goals in front of ourselves and moving towards them.
EAP: What have been some of the highlights over the last year?
DM: To name a few; our first show with Night Beats, they're a band we all really like. Setting up a tent city at Off The Cuff Studio with our closest friends — we didn't leave the property the entire weekend, it was like living in a commune. Cincy Psych Fest was amazing, and the pulled pork sandwiches from Eli's were the best food we've ever eaten.
CRH: Hearing kids scream "Get him out of here" while careening through crowds with a guitar. Explaining why I have microphone grill marks on my face to coworkers. Kissing Ben Carr on the mouth. Telling work clients the name of the band and quickly confirming that, yes, it does reference both death cults and illegal substances.
EAP: Talk a little bit about You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs, your new long player? It's a really great album to my ears, as I'm sure every ear it hits. How was the recording process? Did you record in your practice space or did you go back to Off The Cuff and Jason Davis?
DM: We went up to our friends in Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor's studio called Space Camp Studios in Detroit and did all the tracking in one weekend. We completed a few overdubs back home and then C. Ray mixed the whole thing. Once it was mixed, C. Ray flew out to LA and met with Dave Cooley who mastered it. We loved the way Sisters album sound and that's who they used for mastering, he has also worked with BRMC and Black Angels so he was an obvious choice for us.
CRH: I'm a control freak. I learned more from recording at Off the Cuff and Jason Davis than I could have from working on a laptop in a decade. But I was ready to have more time to experiment and control the mixing process. So we talked to Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, whose record sounds great, and found out they did it themselves. I worked out a deal to track drums, bass, and guitars with them. We took what we got back and finished vocals, keys, noises, etc. in my apartment. I mixed it there. Then I dropped it off to Dave Cooley for mastering in LA. He did mastering for some Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Black Angels records, so his finishing touch was nice.
EAP: With two distinct vocalists, are the songs penned by the guy singing any particular song? Or are they a complete group effort regardless of the voice coming through the speakers?
CRH: Usually somebody brings chords and maybe a melody. The rest gets worked out in practice. Lyrics are usually penned by the one who ends up singing, but there are several examples on the record of Derek or I writing verses, while the other writes choruses or a bridge. Some were a total group effort. Black Lady and Where Were You were written while recording vocals.
DM: Not necessarily the former, most often the latter. It's essentially who ever has the best melody. Or who gets a nod of approval from Ben.
EAP: The sound is very clean on the record. Much poppier than say a song like CPF Cassette's "Highway Hypnosis" and "Missed Connection(Shadow)". Was that more of an intentional thing, or just letting the songs be what they are?
DM: There weren't any preconceived ideas about what style of songs we were writing, ie- poppy or heavy. But we did go into the studio with the goal of capturing a bigger sound.
CRH: I'm not a fan of making records that sound bad on purpose, unless there is a really strong reason for presenting it that way. I don't think the analog recordings we did sounded bad by any stretch, but I wanted something that was more accessible to outsiders. I wanted a record that sounded like a modern record trying to sound like an old record. I'm convinced that despite the clean approach, it still sounds old to the majority of listeners that are unfamiliar with the genre. If it sounds clean to lovers of garage music, then I feel I've done my job.
EAP: Are you guys surprised by the overwhelming positive reaction from Fort Wayne and beyond to the band and their psychedelic circus?
DM: I'm speaking for everyone but we feel really grateful about the response here. We made a point to make the band about more than just the 5 of us but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into or what the response would be.
CRH: I am incredibly surprised every time we play a show that I don't think anybody will show up to. I've never been in a band, and honestly haven't seen but a few other local bands that can pull a crowd of over 100 people on a Wednesday night at a venue that isn't the Brass Rail. It's not by accident: we've obviously put together a presentation that goes beyond setting up amps and playing songs. We strive to make an all-senses, overwhelmingly inclusive experience. We still hear feedback trickle back that some people think it's a bullshit front, but it's really just us putting together the show that we'd want to see. We are not trying to be the band that soundtracks your drinking experience. We are trying to be the reason that you came to the bar.
EAP: Are you guys planning on hitting any festival dates this summer? The band is now mobile as HGD now has a "company" van as it were. Will there be some extensive customizing to the HGDs psych van? Will Anton Newcombe be pimping your ride?
DM: There aren't any festivals on our calendar yet, but we do plan on getting out of town at the minimum of a few weekends a month. It's looking like a busy summer already. The van is pushing 30 but it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line, its a beaut. Since it's technically Eric's van, I'd feel bad letting Anton at it without Eric's permission. But I'm sure he could lend us a few pointers.
CRH: Eric Frank has already overseen some marvelous van modifications. We haven't pursued any festivals this year. Austin Psych Fest is a goal for next year. Right now we are focused on stretching our family beyond Fort Wayne and gaining a foothold in a few other Midwest cities.
EAP: Over a year in and it seems like Heaven's Gateway Drugs are in it for the long haul. What's in store for HGD in 2013? European dates? Jools Holland? A galactic love-in?
DM: 2013 is looking like the year of the weekend warriors for us. We all still have good full time jobs so there's a work/band work balance for the time being. Definitely more recording and hopefully putting some new stuff out there this summer. If things continue at the rate they have been, 2014 is going to be even busier.
CRH: More recording. I feel like the cassette last year was a good benchmark of where we started. The full-length is a similar benchmark for where we ended 2012. The songs we are writing now continue to pay homage to, but also widen the well-tread road of psych music. I also feel that our newer material establishes us more as a unique voice in modern psych. Overall, the goal in my mind will always be to use the psychedelic toolkit to craft irresistible pop songs.
Every band needs a psychedelic toolkit. Unfortunately lots of band have 'em but don't know how to wield those tools. Heaven's Gateway Drugs on the other hand do, and they have the album to prove it. Grab a copy of You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs at Neat Neat Neat Records and at their Bandcamp page. Also, if you're in the area check them out on June 4th at The Tiger Room in Fort Wayne and at the Brass Rail (also in Fort Wayne) on June 30th.