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Interview with Heartwork (Part Two)

The second part of my interview with the lovely Heartwork is here.  If you missed it, check out yesterday’s post for an in-depth discussion of Dan’s writing process and the construction of his two newest EPs, ‘Coloured Out’ and ‘Five’.

 

Which advice would you give to someone who is perhaps just starting out in music, or who wants to start writing their own songs?
If you’re going to do it then initially, fuck everyone else. Chances are, if my history is anything to go by, you’re going to suck at it. But still do it. Do it for no other reason than the fact that it makes you feel something. You’ll learn from your mistakes, you’ll iron out your creases and you’ll be great at it. The minute it stops being fun then change things up. Figure something new out. Listen to different kinds of music. Start a band with people that are better than you. Challenge yourself. Surround yourself with inspiration. Go to gigs. Go to the big arena ones and small local ones in shitty pubs. Make sure that you learn something from every gig you play and every gig you see. Be envious of people. If there’s someone on the bill and he’s a better musician or singer than you then don’t let it put you off. Let it make you want to be better. Be kind to people. Be polite. Show respect to the other acts. Don’t take any compliment for granted and don’t let any bad review get you down. You’re only as good as what you let yourself be. Go into it thinking you can achieve anything, but don’t take it to heart if you don’t make something of it. But most importantly, don’t do any of it for any other reason than the fact that you believe you can.
How did you come up with the name Heartwork?
When I was going through my problems with anxiety and other things, I was talking to a psychiatrist about panic attacks. I mentioned that when I had suffered from them before, my heart would have these really irregular rhythms and it would worry me, which would then in turn make things a lot worse. She then explained it all to me and said something along the lines of, “That’s just how the brain and heart work”. That phrase rang in my ear for hours. It made perfect sense for me to use that in some way. It also worked so well because it sounds like the name of a project rather than a solo artist’s name like my old one, Dropout Dan.
If you can choose just one, which song that you’ve written are you most proud of?
There’s a lot of songs that ended up not being released. I had a Dropout Dan album written and demoed just before I put an end to that project, so they’re just sat on my hard drive gathering digital dust. If I had to pick just one song out of everything I’ve ever written, then it would be one off that collection called ‘I Was Building An Empire’. I actually released it early last year, but it was kind of a quick decision and I eventually took it down online because the recording I had didn’t do it justice. I started writing it in July 2012 when I was recording the Dropout Dan EP ‘Forever, Instead’, but I didn’t record it for it. The version I like is a full band demo I did. I actually finished it in the December of the same year, and the lyrics for this one song span about 2 years of my life. I do want to bring it back in the future in some way because I personally think that it has the best lyrics I’ve written, and it’s difficult for an outsider to pinpoint exactly what it’s about. Some people have tried to guess, but they’re always wrong. Hopefully it’ll take form as something else in the years to come, as I’d really like to play it live again.
How many guitars do you own, and which is your favourite?  
Out of all my electrics, acoustics and basses I think I have eleven?!?! My favourite electric is my Epiphone Les Paul Standard. I call her Lesley Pauline. She’s a great gal! I got her on April 1st 2006 and I’ve had other electric guitars since then, but I always end up coming back to her. It might be a sentimental thing as it was her that I pretty much started writing rock songs on. I was 15 and experiencing a lot of things for the first time, and there’s some great memories with that guitar.
Can you play any other instruments?
The first instrument I ever tried to learn was drums. My oldest friend Nathan had an electric drum kit that ended up being kept at my house for a long time in about 2003/2004. I would mess around with it and I kind of learnt it from there. But I suppose my “discipline” is the guitar.
What is your favourite music venue?
This is a tough one! I’ve been to some great shows at The Portland Arms in Cambridge. There’s some great memories there. But I may have to say overall, it’s not a venue, it’s a location. I mentioned a festival earlier called the 2000 Trees Festival. It’s held every July in Cheltenham and this year will be my fourth year of attending. The three days me and my friends spend there are what we spend the rest of the year looking forward to. It’s split between 4 proper stages and countless busking stages throughout the fields & forest. I’ve seen some of my favourite bands/artists there – Frank Turner, Frightened Rabbit, Ben Marwood. Oxygen Thief, B-Sydes and InMe, to name but a few – and I’ve also been introduced to some amazing music there too. But all in all, it’s the atmosphere there. There’s always a time in the day when we’re all setting up our tent where we’re at the highest point of the layout, the sun is beaming down on us and we’re all in shorts and vest tops. We have our preferred drink of choice in our hands and we’re surrounded by a couple of thousand other likeminded people and miles and miles of green fields. It’s a feeling like nothing else. No worries or feeling of responsibility at all. It’s immense.
Best show you’ve played to date? 
It would have to be a full band Dropout Dan show in 2013, at a Cambridgeshire rugby club, opening for local heroes Dirty Kirst. There’s so many things about that night that were just, perfect. It’s very dear to me.
Best show you’ve seen to date?
That’s a tough one! I’ve seen a lot of shows. I may have to go with Frightened Rabbit. Again, it was last year at the 2000 Trees Festival. They headlined the main stage on the final night and I remember that during their set, me and my good buddy Ben ended up arm in arm, singing our little hearts out until we could barely speak. That set kind of reaffirmed my faith in a lot of things.
If you could choose a dream line-up for a gig, both to watch and to be a part of, what would you go for and why?
I’d love to open for Blink-182 circa 2003. Before them it would be Frank Turner. Before him it would be Taking Back Sunday circa 2006. Before them The Wonder Years and before them it would be B-Sydes. That’d be a great night.
If you could work with any artists from the music world, who would you choose, and why?
I’d love to be a guest vocalist on an Every Time I Die song. There’s something about the way Keith Buckley writes lyrics that makes me want to just give up forever. Seriously, he’s the most profound and poetic lyricist I’ve ever heard. Maybe not “Hey there girls, I’m a c*nt” but still. It’s funny nonetheless.
Which bands have you been listening to lately?
In the last two years I’ve gotten into a lot of the new wave of American pop-punk/emo. Bands like The Wonder Years, The Story So Far, Into It. Over It, Real Friends, This Wild Life, etc. They’re all really great. Then there’s both the American, British and Scottish bands I’ve loved for a long time, like Reuben, Taking Back Sunday, Every Time I Die, Frightened Rabbit, The Xcerts, Frank Turner, Lonely The Brave, City & Colour, Dashboard Confessional, The Travis Waltons. It’s so difficult to name them all because there are so many.
The best album I’ve listened to in a while is an album called ‘We Don’t Have Each Other’. It’s a concept album by Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years but going by the name of “Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties”. I actually first heard it as soon as he announced it back in May last year which is when all my personal stuff was happening, so it kind of came along at the perfect time. He’s in one of my favourite bands and is one of my favourite lyricists, so I was immediately drawn into it. Described by Dan himself as a “character study”, ‘We Don’t Have Each Other’ is the fictional story of Aaron West. A man in his early thirties who’s having a “very bad year”. His wife has had a miscarriage, his dad has passed away, he’s lost his faith in God and now his wife’s left him. It’s not gone well for him, to be honest. It’s heartbreaking, raw and so emotionally charged that you really feel like you’re living it with him. Even now when I listen to it, I’m still finding new things in the songs that just cut me up!
Which album do you always find yourself coming back to?
Taking Back Sunday’s 2006 effort ‘Louder Now’. For more reasons than I care to mention.
Which song do you wish you had written?
‘Fairytale Of New York’ by The Pogues & Kirsty McColl. That song just moves me.
Any musical guilty pleasures?
I tried so hard to not like Ed Sheeran’s latest album. I failed.
And just because this is primarily a bookish blog, I have to ask what your favourite book(s) is/are.
I’m not a massive reader if I’m being honest. Well, novels anyway. I wish I could read more but I just don’t have the patience but my housemate Chris says that I just haven’t read the right book yet. I’ll try more, I promise! I read a lot of poetry though. When I was 17 I came across ‘Selected Poems’ by T.S Eliot and his work is just stunning.

 

‘Five’ is available now on BandcampAmazoniTunes & Spotify.
‘Coloured Out’ is available exclusively from Bandcamp.

Keep in touch with Heartwork here: Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram
Alternatively, you can drop him an email at heartworkmusic@outlook.com

 

Thanks so much to Dan for being a wonderfully open and enthusiastic interviewee!  If anyone has any books which they think might be good for him to start with, do feel free to mention them in the comments section.

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Interview with Heartwork (Part One)

Whilst The Literary Sisters is primarily a literary blog, I have always shown my love of music here, what with curating various playlists and posting music videos twice a week.  I am always struck by those musicians who are passionate about their craft, and who write wonderful, thought-provoking lyrics which really strike a chord within me.  One such musician, Dan O’Dell, formerly known as Dropout Dan and who now writes and performs under the name of Heartwork, has very kindly agreed to be interviewed.

Your newest EP, ‘Coloured Out’, came out at the end of last year.  Every song drips with emotion.  What influenced you to write it?  
Well I was at the back end of getting over the break up of my most “serious” relationship I had been in. So it’s definitely more retrospective of the months that had come and gone, rather than writing from the point of view of a self-loathing mess that’s going through that period of time. The first EP ‘Five’ is coming from that point of view and I like how contradictory they are to each other. Almost like two different people writing about the same things but both have a different standpoint on the situation. On the one hand, ‘Five’ is the heat of the moment, sporadic knee-jerk reaction to a lot of things, whereas ‘Coloured Out’ acts as the more self aware, wiser statesman, so to speak.
It seems a very thematic work – was that deliberate?  
There is definitely a theme to ‘Coloured Out’. What I will say is that even though the starting point to both EPs was essentially… going through some kind of horrible anxiety/panic attack episodes, leaving my job, breaking up, moving out, moving back home with my parents, sleeping on a couch, not understanding where I fit in life, not all the songs on both EPs are about the girl I broke up with. Sure, there’s hints of her throughout it, but I think they’re much more than just break up songs. There’s songs on them about getting in touch with people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in a long time. Making some bad decisions whilst influenced by those pesky critters Whiskey & the occasional Gin. But I think that even though at its darkest most self involved points, ‘Coloured Out’ is the light at the end of the tunnel. The mindset that says ‘OK, enough is enough. This happened. You’re here now. What’s next?”
What was the writing experience of ‘Coloured Out’ like?
The ideas of the songs had been floating around since I started writing ‘Five’ at the end of May last year, but none of them really came to fruition until around September time. I think that as I said before, ‘Five’ is very depressing sounding but it didn’t really give the whole picture and I really didn’t want to come across all “woe, is me” about it all, so ‘Coloured Out’ was my chance to shed some light on the other side of the story, which is essentially, “Yeah. I’ve been a bit of a self absorbed dick about things”. The song ‘I Went To Parts’ for instance is a song that had about six different rewrites, as the subject matter on that is the most revealing song I’ve ever written. To put it bluntly, it’s about this one particular week in October 2013 where I was left alone in the flat whilst ‘the ex’ went on a little holiday with a friend to France and I essentially didn’t go into work and didn’t leave the couch for four days. It was around the time I started getting tired of the whole Dropout Dan thing and there were many other things in my life that just seemed to be missing. I had been getting down since the August time and after taking some advice from select friends and family members, I went to the doctor’s and was prescribed antidepressants, which essentially made things a lot worse in the end.  So that song is set in the doctor’s room, confessing everything to him. I think it might be my favourite song I’ve ever written actually, as on first listen, it sounds quite upbeat and happy. But when you dig into the lyrics it’s pretty much me falling to pieces in the listener’s ear.
What has the reception to the record been?
It’s been incredibly positive and it’s nice to know that some people have found a certain connection with it. I was worried that because of how personal the subject matter is that maybe people might have a hard time identifying themselves within it, but I guess we’re all a little similar inside.
Your first EP as Heartwork too, ‘Five’ is very personal.  Could you take us through what inspired you to write it?
Well, the Sunday after said break up, I went and stayed at my sister’s house in Milton Keynes for the week, simply to get away from home for a bit. She was on holiday but my niece and nephew were there; they had college during the daytime so I pretty much had the house to myself. I watched a lot of Friends, American Dad, Family Guy, etc., and ate a lot of cereal. Then by the Wednesday, it dawned on me that I had the first official Heartwork show in Cambridge that Friday and I had to write some songs. I already had a couple of new songs to play, but they weren’t really anything special. They were just things I had written in the transition from Dropout Dan to Heartwork.  So I borrowed my niece’s guitar and it was really out of tune, but there was something about the way it sounded. I plugged it in to a tuner and tuned each string to its nearest note, and the sound was just lovely. From low string to high string, standard tuning on a guitar is E A D G B E but I was playing around with D G D F# A D. Despite playing guitar for about 11 years before that, this tuning meant essentially re-learning the instrument. None of the chord shapes I had grown so used to were relevant anymore. I had to start from scratch. Plus, there were no plectrums in the house that I could find, so I started finger picking, which is something I had dabbled with before but never really taken too seriously. All of a sudden the main riff for ‘Midnight Calls’ was there, so 50% of the battle to writing new material was won. The next morning at around 3am, I wrote some lyrics on the notepad app on my phone about a conversation with someone that I hadn’t spoken to in a long time a couple of hours prior, and it just fit with what I had been playing the day before. From then on, the music/lyrics just came pouring out of me. The gig that Friday was awesome too. I did some drinking and had two kebab wraps. It was fun.
Which is your favourite track on the EP?
That’s a difficult question because ‘Midnight Calls’ kind of got this whole project off the ground and ‘She’ is the most fun to play live but, I guess I’d have to go with the final track ‘With Regards (These Letters)’. It’s a really horribly sad song to be honest, but I remember the day I wrote it. I was out in my garden with my Dad cutting the branches of the trees back. It was boiling hot and I was coming down from a few days of escapism with some of my best friends at 2000 Trees festival in Cheltenham, and I was starting to feel good about things again. Then I just started humming the verse melody for that song and came up with the words, “Where to begin, where do I start?” and the song kind of wrote itself from there. It was after I wrote/recorded that song the same day that I had finished the EP, and could draw a line under that sinking feeling that I had felt for a while. It was definitely a new beginning for me.
What was the writing experience of ‘Five’ like?
Looking back, it was incredibly therapeutic. There’s a great phrase that Justin Vernon of Bon Iver uses when he talks about the writing process of the debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ where he says that writing those songs was a way to excavate his emotions around a particular timeframe and let them come up to the air and breathe. I certainly feel that way about ‘Five’. Even though the only song on that E.P. about the break up itself is the final track, there’s a lot of referencing certain things that had been going on in my life around the songs that I wasn’t really sure how I felt about until I listened back to them. I surprised myself a few times and really got to understand myself a little better because of it. I also feel that way about ‘Coloured Out’. For instance, ‘The Apple Tree’ sounds like it’s about someone else, and when I started writing it, it was; but in hindsight, the main protagonist of the song is me.
Was ‘Coloured Out’ a natural transition from ‘Five’ for you?
I think so. I could’ve easily recorded another EP that sounds just like ‘Five’ but I wanted to add a bit more colour to it. Again, the song ‘I Went To Parts’ has more of a full band feel and I like the contrast between the really personal, self-involved lyrics and the wholeness of the musical arrangement. There’s also a song on there called ‘Cold Coffee’ which is about a subject I never thought I’d write about. It’s a confession about a few things that are probably best left unsaid, but after a particular night in November last year, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer.
You’ve just moved to Cardiff.  Are you finding that your new surroundings and transition in life are influencing your music?  How?
Funnily enough, I am. I don’t know what it is really. It might have something to do with the fact that nobody here knows me. There’s no preconception about me. Literally everything here is new. I was talking to my housemate about this a week or two ago over some rum & cokes and I said that “I’ve never felt so content before in my life”. It kind of shocked me as I said because it just kind of came out, but I definitely meant it. He grinned and said how happy he was to hear that.
You’re now writing your first full-length.  How does the process differ to writing an EP?
So far it’s differing in a big way. I’ve already thought of most of the titles to the songs and am kind of writing words and music to go with the titles rather than the way I normally do it, which is the other way round. I have about 3 and a half full songs written, and so far the demos I have are sounding like a good progression from the last two EPs.
What has inspired you this time around?  
Well it’s safe to say that the catalyst to this whole new life is all the things I went through in 2014. It wasn’t my best year by any means, but it got me to a point where I was ready to leave everything I’ve ever known behind. It brought me here and already I’m looking at things differently. It most certainly isn’t going to be a break up record, however!
Does the music you’re working on now come from a good or bad place?
I think that to have the good, you’ve always got to have a little bit of the bad. I’m probably a pessimist when it comes to most things in life, so the way I view the world is a little tainted by that and my stupid brain, but what I’ve got so far is quite cleansing. The first song I’ve written for the album, for instance, is a song called ‘Water’ and it’s about how easy it is to choose to self-medicate, or how quick I’ve been to slip back into old routines and put myself in similar situations, but at then end of the day something as simple as a glass of water can refresh your outlook and make you think “enough is enough”.
Will we see your lyrics moving away from the heartbreak of ‘Coloured Out’?
I think so. Just before I moved out here, I took the opportunity to clean the air with my ex. She’s not a bad person by any means, and I didn’t want to leave with a bitter taste in my mouth about anything back home. In all honesty, yeah, it wasn’t the best of situations, but we’re adults and can move on. She’s still a fan of mine it would seem, and I know that she’d want nothing more than for me to continue making music and finding happiness in whatever way I can. I think that there will always be a hint of her in some of my lyrics though, as this project wouldn’t be in existence if it wasn’t for what we went through.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time, music wise?  
10 years ago I was still learning guitar but also still trying to write a rap album under the name DODELL. I wish I was joking. I am not. So who knows? In 10 years time I could be repairing people’s hover boards in what used to be Argos before the self-serve machines gained human emotions and started an army of self-serve robots that enslave the human race who now travel exclusively by hover board. Ask me again in 10 years.
Are there any projects in the pipeline which you can tell us about?
Myself and my housemate Chris used to play in bands together back in the day. He was also my bassist whenever I did a full band show as Dropout Dan, so since we moved in, there’s already been a few nights where we’ve just set up the guitars, had a few drinks and recorded some ideas. Nothing’s really set in stone, but we will be looking for a drummer at some point and look at booking some shows. Completely separate to Heartwork though, by the way. Something a little more technical and a lot more noisy. I’m also still working on a technical, instrumental metal album under the name Glitterskin, but that’s really taken a backseat at the moment what with everything that’s been going on recently. Whenever I have a spare five minutes, I’ll try to get something written for that, but it’s just not a priority at the moment. When the time comes, there’ll be more news on that!
When did you first start writing songs?  
I had always toyed with the idea of writing songs from a very early age. There’s footage of me in my living room growing up with an old Casio keyboard just banging the keys and singing things horribly out of tune. It wasn’t until I was about 11 and I got into Eminem that I started forming full songs. Rap songs however. I’m probably the least gangster person you could ever meet, so I had absolutely no business whatsoever dying my hair blonde and writing songs about things that literally make no sense whatsoever, but I did! On the one song that I actually recorded properly called ‘DODELL IS ME’, I somehow managed to come up with the lyric “Spitting rhyme lyrics through bullet holes. I’m not in royalty but I’m Prince Charles”. To this day I still have no idea what I meant by that, or how I had the audacity to rhyme “Holes” with “Charles”. I like to think I’ve come a long way since then.
Looking back, are you happy with your first efforts?
No. I’m absolutely mortified.

 

‘Five’ is available now on Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes & Spotify.
‘Coloured Out’ is available exclusively from Bandcamp.

Keep in touch with Heartwork here: Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram
Alternatively, you can drop him an email at heartworkmusic@outlook.com

Watch out for part two of the interview, plus a special making of the ‘Coloured Out’ EP video, tomorrow.