Local Artist Spotlight: Heiress

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Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, a Northwest regionally focused festival with over 300 acts, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features metal outfit Heiress, performing Thursday, May 11 at 10:30 p.m on KEXP’s Seek & Destroy stage.

Since 2006, Seattle’s Heiress has been a standard bearer for local metal. It’s not just for their precision and consistently heavy riffs, but their ingenuity to think outside the boundaries of the genre and pull in elements from post-rock and punk. As the band puts it, it’s not all about subverting expectations – it’s about keeping themselves interested. It’s a method that’s paid off throughout their career, all the way through to 2016’s Made Wrong. We chatted with founding guitarist Wes Reed about how the band balances all their contrasting influences, beard metal, and how they’ve remained so prolific for over a decade.

It’s tempting to call you a supergroup with the impressive resume of bands you’ve all played in. When you first started out in 2006, what vision did you have for the band in respect to your various backgrounds?

I had originally planned to just play all the instruments and record some songs in my basement back around 2005. I was talking to some of my vocalist chums to see if they’d want to sing on individual tracks, but Adam Paysse convinced me to do a proper band with him instead. He and I got some people together and almost immediately we had to get a new drummer, then a guitarist after that, and so on until 11 years later we have more former members than current. But this lineup feels more solid than any in recent memory, and we all appreciate being able to write music that still interests us and to have the opportunity to play on so many diverse stages after all these years. And I’m sure the dudes who’ve been in bigger bands appreciate that this isn’t a high pressure situation where we’re trying to tour constantly or make a living off merch sales or anything like that.

You guys mix together such a diverse blend of genres; everything from metal to post-rock. How do you balance such diverse genres in your music?

I guess the way we think about it is that we are a process band rather than a result band. There isn’t a target in mind when we arrange something or a strict blueprint to follow in regards to song length, verse/chorus/verse type stuff. Clearly we aren’t avant-garde prog or anything, but there’s just no requirement to always be heavy in a minor key at a moshable tempo with all tension resolved by the end. Likewise, we don’t feel like we constantly need to be throwing the audience curveballs, as subverting expectations becomes it’s own trope after a while. We just talk it out in the practice room and let each of our influences bubble to the surface as long as it benefits the song and doesn’t sound terrible to anyone else there. We’ve all been in bands where suggestions are mocked and ridiculed, and apart from making people feel cruddy, it makes the band worse because people only bring ideas they think won’t be goofed on, which ultimately results in only bringing variations of established riffs/beats/etc.

Last month you released a compilation called Restless Aim, collecting tracks you’ve done for splits with other artists. What was the idea behind collecting these songs together and why did you want to release them now?

We’re just about to release three split 7″s, all linked together with art done by one of our favorite collaborators– Demian Johnston. The cd compilation of Restless Aim came about when our label The Mylene Sheath started thinking about putting out some of our earlier material on compact disk for the first time, so we combined the two projects to give everyone the most bang for the least bucks. We got the ok from Deathwish to include the Naysayer EP as well as our songs from the split with Narrows, and I kindly gave myself permission to use all five songs from our self-titled 7″ we self-released back in 2009. So adding all that to the brand new split material plus an unused song from the Of Great Sorrow sessions (and a secret song from the future) got it to 15 tracks and a run time of 50 minutes. Everything we’ve ever recorded that isn’t on one of our three full length albums is on this cd.

Your last proper full-length, Made Wrong, was recorded with Matt Bayles whose also worked with Mastodon, Botch, and Pearl Jam. What was that experience like? What did he bring to the table that you were looking for with the record?

A couple members of Heiress have known Matt Bayles for decades at this point, so he’s pretty much a buddy who happens to be very good at recording bands. We’ve worked with a lot of great recording engineers over the years (Jack Endino, Tad, Chris Common, etc) and each one has specific strengths based on their talents. Jack whipped my tuning into shape and had a ear for layering sounds; Chris is a great drummer who focused us on the flow of each take; and Tad is a multi-instrumentalist so he could draw on a ton of personal experience for all of our tones and individual choices about drum fills, vocal placement, riffs, etc. Matt is a whiz on the computer and gets great sounds, but he also had great tweaks for the melodies and harmonies Mark Holcomb (our other guitarist at the time) and I were playing together. For example, there are multiple sections of the song “Lasts” which were written by all three of us batting around ideas while Mark and I were tracking overdubs onto the live take of just drums and one guitar.

In your bios, you refer to yourselves as “older Seattle gentlemen making loud beard metal”. For those unfamiliar, how would you describe “beard metal” and what is Heiress’ take on the style?

That’s just us goofing around with genre labels. We don’t really fit into one traditional metal “sound” so referring to our age and our tendency to grow bushy beards was a way to avoid using a list of musical genres to draw a defining line between what we can and can’t sound like, while also showing that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Between your albums, EPs, and singles, you’re a pretty prolific band. How do you maintain such an intense level of output while also maintaining such high quality songwriting and performance?

Performing live is rarely stressful for Mat and myself knowing that John, Justin and Nate are sturdy old workhorses with tons of experience so they can always hold their own on stage no matter what. And we all write and learn new material pretty quickly so even as prolific as we are there’s always at least an album worth of material in the pipeline waiting to be recorded. The Mylene Sheath is absolutely great to us and they always support pretty much anything we throw at them for new releases. Restless Aim is a good example: the idea of doing three splits came up in band conversations and when we ran it by them as a possibility they not only said yes, but a couple weeks later they asked if we wanted to record a new song for an unrelated fourth split, even as we made plans for recording our next LP.


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