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"What it's like to die"
The return of Heaven's Gateway Drugs
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Way back in April of 2013 Fort Wayne, Indiana's Heaven's Gateway Drugs dropped their full-length debut called You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs. It was a psych-pop menagerie of both late 60s psych and garage rock and British Invasion pop with a modern twist. HGD hit the road and played a few festival dates and countless other shows promoting the record, as well as making new fans and friends along the way. Becoming weekend road warriors hitting pavement and stages as close as Muncie, IN and as far as Austin, Texas, the guys honed their chops and dug in to make album number two. By December of 2013 they had completed what would be their sophomore record.
Then, things got a little quiet.
Fast forward to October of 2014, and the boys in Heaven's Gateway Drugs have finally released their sophomore record into the universe. Apropos is every bit the record you'd imagine it to be; tripped-out psych pop, desert death trip rock, and heavy, gritty garage rock done up all acid-burnt and sundazed. But the band didn't get to this point without a few scratches, bruises, and even an existential crisis or two.
"It's been a weird year", says Derek Mauger as we discuss Heaven's Gateway Drugs' long road to Apropos. "Our original bassist Josh Elias and his wife had a baby and he understandably wanted to devote his time to being a family man. Eric Frank and C. Ray Harvey left separately over the course of the next few months to focus on their jobs. When C. Ray officially announced he was moving, I asked him what he thought we should do. Ben answered immediately by saying, 'I think it's obvious that we have to keep going.' Had he said it was time to stop, it would have broken my heart, but I would have pulled the plug. The silver lining to losing all three of those guys was that all of them were supportive and encouraged the rest of us to keep the project going. So when it came time to find a new drummer, Eric played a part in teaching James the songs and the same was true with C. Ray helping Brandon out. So the transition between the original members and the two new guys ended up being pretty seamless."
I asked Mauger about the making of Apropos and how the loss of three original members of the band affected that creative process. "We went into the studio in December of 2013 to record all the songs that would be on Apropos. At that time we knew Josh would be leaving but we felt it was important for him to be on the record since he was instrumental in developing that batch of songs. The songs were then mixed by C. Ray and sent out to a few labels to see if we got any bites. Around the same time some heavy personal drama came up outside the band, the mix was played around with some more but never quite finalized. Weeks and months went by, Eric announced he'd be leaving to focus on school and his job and it was looking ever more apparent that C. Ray would be moving and we still didn't have a final mix of the album. Enter Jason Davis (owner/operator of Off The Cuff Sound, as well as being guitarist/singer for Streetlamps for Spotlights) to save the day. He recorded and mixed the first EP we did and offered to clean up and finish what we had. We agreed that what we left his studio with would be the final mix and from there it would be sent out to be mastered. By this point it was now Summer of 2014, I looked up open dates for the Brass Rail and picked Oct. 18th and worked backwards from that to line up artwork and the printing process so we could finally have a tangible finished copy of the album."
So what are some differences between You Are Heaven's Gateway Drugs and Apropos? "The biggest difference between the first full length album and "Apropos" was with this record we were more comfortable with the fact that some of the things we wanted to do in the studio we wouldn't be able to pull off live. For example, a lot of my guitar parts ended being overdubbed by strings or keys on the record."
I immediately asked Mauger how the transition was for the new guys in the band. "Transitioning James and Brandon in to the band was incredibly easy, almost too easy. They are both fantastic musicians and really have a great understanding of what we are trying to do musically. Both of them palled around with us to out of town shows before they joined and those trips were initiations/interviews of sorts to see how they handle being on the road. They passed with flying colors. James first show with us was the end of June and Brandon's first show was early on in August. So the majority of this summer was spent rehearsing our back catalog and getting the new guys up to speed on enough songs to have a solid set for shows. From August to October we really focused on hammering out all the songs from Apropos that would be regulars in our set with Brandon picking up the vocals on songs C. Ray sang. Along the way we wrote a few songs new songs but since the release show that's been are sole focus." Has the band's sound changed at all with the new guys? "I would describe the new sound as a natural progression of what came before it. While every song is written it goes through Ben for processing and that gives everything a certain cohesion. The wheels roll on."
I asked Derek how the songwriting process worked before with C. Ray Harvey and himself, and how it's working now with the new line-up. "For the most part, our songwriting process has been that I bring some idea to the table- whether it be a riff or a fleshed out song, and the rest of the guys help fill the song out", said Mauger. "C. Ray excelled at presenting possibilities. If I showed up to practice with a riff, in a few minutes he would have 3 different options for what we could do with it. He was also a huge asset in the studio when it came time to arranging keys or strings on the songs. So the original communal aspect remains unchanged. I still show up with some kind of idea and let the other guys make their mark on the song. As we work more and more on new material, James and Brandon are putting more of themselves into the songs and it is really starting to show with some of the new songs we've written."
On October 18th Heaven's Gateway Drugs had their official album release show at the Brass Rail in Fort Wayne and it was an amazing experience for all involved. Derek went into a little more detail about the show. " I don't think I can adequately articulate what the release show meant to me. Apropos was my Moby Dick this last year. It seemed like the universe was conspiring against us for reasons we still don't understand. We had this album that all of us, past members and present, were incredibly proud of that was just collecting dust. On some level, the release show was like getting the proverbial monkey off of my back. It would have felt that way if 5 people showed up, but the fact that the Brass Rail was packed with people who were there to celebrate with us completely overwhelmed me. And to add an additional emotional punch, our friends in Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor from Detroit showed up unannounced to celebrate with us. Now that we've released the album, it finally feels like we can move forward."
I asked Derek what the band has planned for the remainder of 2014 and beyond. "We are crazy busy from now until the end of the year. This week besides the Wunderkammer show, we will be at the Brass Rail on Thursday night playing with the Paperhead from Nashville who are on Trouble in Mind records. Saturday we head down to Muncie to one of our favorite venues, Be Here Now for a show. November we're also going up to Grand Rapids and Detroit for Echo Fest." And what about new material with the new band members? "Yes. We're recording new material starting the first weekend in December at Off The Cuff with Jason Davis. Apropos was a real learning experience, so expect the new stuff to be out early in 2015."
Get out there and grab a copy of Apropos at either Neat Neat Neat Records on South Calhoun St in Fort Wayne, or order a copy at http://heavensgatewaydrugs.bandcamp.com.
Keep up with all things HGD at https://www.facebook.com/HeavensGatewayDrugs, and if you can make the trip, head up to Ferndale, Michigan on November 15th and see HGD at Echo Fest. It should be a hell of a show. Check out the line-up at https://www.facebook.com/EchofestDetroit.