We are very pleased to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world an exclusive interview with Pittsburgh’s leading sons of punk-infused grind, Heartless. With the release of 2011’s Hell Is Other People on Southern Lord Recordings, Heartless sparked an underground buzz that has only been punctuated by a live show that is devastatingly heavy. Word of mouth is growing as the band continues to fuse elements of grindcore, punk, and powerviolence into an unrelenting barrage of irate executions through live performance that can hang with the heaviest of the heavy. Blow The Scene‘s Joshua T. Cohen recently caught up with Heartless guitarist Rick Mauck, as the band prepares for a European tour in October and November. In this exclusive Hearltess interview, Mauck touches on the formation of the band, the writing and recording processes behind both of the band’s releases, a run down of band gear, planning for the band’s European tour, and much more.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Rick..
Joshua BTS: Thank you very much for taking a few minute with readers from around the world today. Lets kick things off by having you declare your on-stage weapon of choice with Pittsburgh’s unrelenting grind punks, Heartless.
Rick: I’m Rick and I play guitar.
Joshua BTS: Your most recent full-length Hell Is Other People hit streets in 2011 via Southern Lord Recordings. The album is total ripper from start to finish so congrats on that. Can you tell us specifically- What went into the writing and recording process for this effort? When it began- And did you all contribute to the writing process or was there a captain of the ship that kind of steered the direction?
Rick: Sure. The first songs that we finished for the record were done in March of 2010, pretty far back from recording. The process went pretty slow, we weren’t really focused on writing. We didn’t know if we were writing an LP or another 7” or what the deal was. Later on that Summer or Fall is when we really started to ramp things up and hammering out songs. We’re writing right now too and it usually goes in this wave where we write a ton of songs and throw them all away and then kind of get frustrated about it. Then all of a sudden, things just start clicking and bunch of songs start coming together that sound very cohesive. The writing process was pretty slow and then it kind of ramped up closer to recording. Once we start recording, we’re pretty quick in the studio. We spend a lot of time preparing ahead of time. I would say we took about two weeks to record and then spent a lot of time on mixing.
Rick: Our first 7” we recorded live. That was actually two weeks after I joined the band. I learned the five songs and then we recorded it and two weeks later, went on tour. That was live. That was pretty cool because we didn’t have a lot of money and felt like we were pretty tight with the songs. The studio we were recording at was Mars in Cleveland, with Bill Korecky who did Masakari and pretty much all of their recordings, Integrity, some other things like that. We wanted to make sure we were getting the best sound for what we had to work with. That was cool, it took like 6 hours to record the whole thing.
The LP was a lot different of a process. We knew it wasn’t just going to be a five-song 7”. We put a lot of thought and a lot of time and effort into this record, so we wanted to take our time with it. We decided it was better not to track everything to a metronome. Tom doesn’t record to a metronome. He likes to- and we all believe- everything should sound as true to the live performance as possible. We don’t play with a metronome, so we go into the studio with the same mindset of how we are going to play it live. Although we do tend to play our songs kind of fast live in my opinion.
Joshua BTS: Your live show is really a staple of what you guys do. A lot of the buzz I often hear about Heartless is particular to how intense your live show is. How important is it to you to replicate that energy on the recordings?
Rick: I think that the live performance is the most important part to all of us. That’s why any of do this as far as the outlet of it. It’s natural to try and convey that as accurately as possible while recording.
Joshua BTS: Heartless displays a diverse line-up of members, individually you are quite different as people- some vegan, some non-vegan. Some straight edge, others not straight edge, etc. How does that play into the creation of the lyrics, if at all? And what are some of the lyrical motifs that you guys touch on?
Rick: We’re not a political band necessarily. All of the lyrics are written by Cory and are all based on his personal experience. Most of that is a negative experience with the human condition, whether it’s depression, other types of suffering. There are times when some political themes are touched on, such as work and there are some instances where animal rights are referenced. Overall the lyrics are not political, it’s all personal.
Joshua BTS: Do your politics as individuals play into how Heartless book shows and who you’ll play with?
Rick: Ya. We try to do everything in our power to only play all ages shows. Sometimes on tour you’ll get to a venue and it’s a bar and obviously not everyone is permitted in those types of venues. We’ll do what we have to do to make it to the next city, so we’ll play those shows, but we don’t intentionally put ourselves in those situations. We do everything in our power to play all ages shows.
Joshua BTS: As far the types of bands you’ll play with- Are you pretty much open to playing with anyone?
Rick: Ideally we play with bands that share similar views as us, but we understand that sometimes it out of our control. If we are ever in a situation where a band is saying fucked up stuff- We played with a band that said some very offensive things and we’re not the type of people to solve things with violence. When it was our turn to play we addressed that in front of everybody and singled them and out and made sure that everyone was aware that that wasn’t cool and it’s really a shame people still have to put up with stuff like that at shows. We also won’t associate with bands who are racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.
Joshua BTS: For this next release are you guys going to stick with the same studio and head back to Mars Studios and record in Cleveland? Are the ideas for the new release even that far developed at this stage in the game?
Rick: At this point we are not totally sure what we are going to do as far as recording the next record. We’re writing now and for a second LP but also the idea of perhaps a split 7” if we find the right band to do it with. I think how we choose to record it will be somewhat dependent on that. We’re definitely trying to step it up for sure. The first record- I feel like we wanted to pull all of the resources we had to make the best record possible and I feel like at the time we did that we learned so much. It was the first LP any of us had written and recorded start to finish. We definitely learned a lot. I think on the next one, we’re going to step it up. I don’t know where we are going to record at this point, but we are definitely aware of the mistakes we made on the last record and we’re just going to make a better one.
Joshua BTS: Heartless has an upcoming Fall tour scheduled in Europe- This is a pretty dense tour with the band on the road for six weeks. What went into the planning for this tour and are there any stops you’re particularly looking forward to?
Rick: We were talking about the idea of going to Europe to tour early last Spring and we didn’t have any concrete plans. We were just like ‘we’re going to try to make this happen” Honestly, like the week we started talking about it, Timo from Alerta Antifascista randomly emailed us and was like ‘Hey do you guys want to tour Europe?’ We were like ‘Hell yeah! Let’s do it.’ So we had to figure out a time that worked for all of us and that’s when we landed on Fall. Timo booked the whole tour and set-up the back-line and the driver, so pretty much just took control over the whole thing while keeping in mind the places we wanted to go. We tried really hard to book some Scandinavian dates but it doesn’t seem like that really worked out so we are re-routing around that. Pretty much all Timo [laughs].
As far as places that we are stoked to play- We are really pumped for Bloodshed Fest in the Netherlands. We’re playing with Wolfbrigade and Dropdead even if we weren’t playing that would be something we’d go to. Other than that, Ireland is something we are really looking forward to. We had a split 7” with an Irish band called The Blind. We have a little bit of a tie to Ireland so it’s really cool to go there and finally meet all of these people that we’ve been talking to and that we dealt with and have helped us put this record out. That’s going to be really cool.
Joshua BTS: I always like to throw in one for the gear nerds. What do your rigs look like? In particular- Your guitar tone is very punishing and intense live but there is also the enunciation and finite playing that is all in there as well. Is there anything in particular that you use that is pivotal in helping you capture that sound?
Rick: I think it will be easier if I go through my whole rig because I am not sure what specific piece of it is attributed to that.
Joshua BTS: Sure. If you don’t mind sharing that with the world- Awesome!
Rick: Totally. I basically use two stacks, one on either side of the stage. They each have an Emperor 4/12 and Emperor 2/12 and whatever the stock speaker is for Emperor. One one side I use a VTM 120, which is a vintage Peavy amp which is loud as hell and has a lot of crushing distortion. I use that on one side. For the other and for a while I was using a Peavy Butcher which is pretty similar to the VTM but I’ve recently switched to a Blackstar HT 100, which to me is just way heavier and helps beef up my sound a little bit. I’ve been running an OCD Overdrive for both of those. I installed a Bare Knuckle War Pig humbucker in the bridge of my guitar. That has helped finalize the whole rig, I am really happy with those pickups.
Joshua BTS: Rad. For the two heads- You actually play those in unison?
Rick: Each side has a stack, so each head powers one stack on either side of the stage and I run them through a Radial Bigshot ABY Switch. When I originally joined Heartless we had another guitarist and now we’re just a four piece. When I have a guitar break or something like that I’ll cut out one of sides so whenever we come back in, it hits harder.
Joshua BTS: Some of the members of Heartless run a booking collective with Joe from Masakari and Adam who plays bass for both bands I believe. How much time does that consume in your daily lives? Are you guys booking a lot of shows for touring bands?
Rick: Adam and Joe mostly handle the booking part of Root Of Evil Collective. Adam lives in Pittsburgh, so he handles all of the Pittsburgh shows we do and Joe does all of the Cleveland shows. We also have a Columbus contact we are working with too. We get email after email from people looking for shows in Pittsburgh or Cleveland. Adam books a ton of shows in Pittsburgh and Joe books a ton of shows in Cleveland so it just made sense for them to funnel it all into one thing. That way they can help bands who are coming into the area- maybe they need a show the next day, they can have Joe set up the Cleveland show and Adam do the Pittsburgh show. I help Adam with doing flyers and that sort of thing but where I really came into play was when Joe decided to he wanted to turn The Root Of Evil Collective into something bigger than just a booking collective and wanted to start putting out records. He knew that was something I also wanted to do, so he asked me to help out with that. We started building up a distro and I started buying up records wholesale and off of bands on tour, just collecting as many records as we could. Just building it up and adding my own records and Heartless records and whatever to build the distro up and get some money together. We just recently released our first record which is a collaboration between us and Halo Of Flies and Allergic to Fun, and it’s the Masakari / Grin and Bear It split 5”. We are really, really pumped for that to finally be out .
Joshua BTS: Awesome. As we head into 2013- What does the rest of the year look like for Heartless? Obviously you have this upcoming tour. Any long term plans- more tours, releases starting to solidify?
Rick: Right now the European tour is sucking up all of our time and Adam plays in Masakari and they just got back from a month long European tour, so he’s only been home for like a couple of weeks and we’re about to leave again. [laughs] For a month or so. Not too much time to get our shit together and merch and everything else organized and records over there. Really just absorbing all of that right now and at the same time trying to write new material. I feel like once we get back from this tour we really don’t have anything else planned so we are going to buckle down and really start hammering out some songs.
Joshua BTS: Very cool. We really appreciate your time and really appreciate you sitting down and talking to our readers today. Any closing thoughts before we sign off?
Rick: Thanks for the interview and looking forward to seeing people out there on the Fall tour.