It’s a good thing we like the music of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – not least because we are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. And so are you.
Confused? Read on – or perhaps more immediately, have a listen to the debut album from Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, entitled “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.”
We became aware of Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – and the fact that we are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – just about one year ago, via an astoundingly unforgettable song called “Psychic Sidearm,” which quickly became included on any variety of listening devices throughout the Revolt of the Apes headquarters. It’s got a sinful surf-rock hook and a squealing, monster vocal, painting an alternate reality where The Ventures not only learned to sing, but were fronted by singing vampires. Needless to say, we were immediately on board.
And you may very likely jump aboard, too. “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs” shows a band that has not drowned themselves in so much swirling, multi-colored oils that they forgot how to transmit a catchy song in the process. Consider the album closer, “Turncoat,” which pledges allegiance to a smiling-yet-spooky flag, with the repeated refrain, “I’m not worshipping you.”
You don’t need to worship Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. After all, you are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. And so are we. We’re all one, dude. We’re pleased to have C. Ray Harvey (vocals/guitar/keys) and Derek Mauger (vocals/guitar) answer our ridiculous questions below, and tell us more about who they/we are. Enjoy.
Which came first for you – a desire to make music, or a fascination with the music made by others? What was the earliest way that desire to make music manifested itself in your life? What was the earliest way that fascination with music made by others manifested itself in your life? Which of these two things holds a greater sway in your life today, and why do you think that is?
C. Ray: Fascination with the music of others was the starting point, and as early as I was able to see people making the music I was hearing, I wanted to join the family. Today, regardless of whether I ever heard another song by another band ever again, I would keep writing songs. In fact, that might be an interesting experiment … to keep writing based on a gradually fading knowledge of the music made by others.
Derek: Definitely the fascination with others’ music. My parents were always playing music, mostly The Beatles. At a very young age, I distinctly remember thinking The Beatles story was the archetype for all bands: you got three of your friends together, practiced hard, got famous and ten years go by and you have long hair and break up. I figured I could do that – silly kid. I’ll always be fascinated by music – that’ll never change and I believe that has to do with how powerful music can be, emotionally, and how it can completely transform where you are in that moment you are experience it. I think from that comes the desire to create and for me that desire is so strong that it has since become more of a compulsion.
Was there a particular moment in your own personal musical evolution wherein you became confident in your ability to make music? Is there ever a danger in being overly confident when it comes to making music? What strategies do you employ – consciously or unconsciously – to keep yourself humble … if at all?
C. Ray: I think the danger of overconfidence is so real to me that I’ve never yet experienced full confidence. I don’t have to put effort into staying humble – having band members helps tremendously in that regard. I think about the songs that I enjoy most, musically and lyrically, are the ones where you can feel that the player/singer has something to lose. Even confidently delivered lines seem to be best delivered when they feel newly discovered and a bit surprising to the person delivering them.
Derek: I’ve never felt completely confident with my ability but I think at this point I’m at peace with that. Currently, that is mostly due to being surrounded by such great musicians. I know I can take a loose idea to the band and those guys can run with it and create something really special. Also, I never really feel overly confident or smug because I see myself as a student, and I know there are a million things out there I still want to learn. Knowing everything would be boring.
What can you tell us about the name Heaven’s Gateway Drugs? How did the band come to choose that name? What does the concept expressed in the words, “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drug” mean to you? What led to the expression of that concept as the title and cover art for your debut album?
C. Ray: The name came from a series of names generated through a surrealist exercise of trying to blend commonly used turns of phrase and pop culture touchpoints. Some of the castoff names were absolutely ridiculous. Derek threw that one out and I really latched onto it. I wouldn’t let anybody else in the band question it. Even before the discovery of the name, while we were putting a lot of thought into how we would perform our songs, we knew that we wanted to be an overwhelmingly inclusionary band. We chose Ben as a front man, even though he doesn’t sing, to act as the central point of focus when we play. His presence and personality is highly magnetic and his on-stage movement can be hypnotic. None of us speak onstage, except Ben, and only to repeat “We are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs” and then, toward the end of the set, “You are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs.” The phrase has always been a core concept to the songs, the performance, and the ideology of the band – it’s an invitation to do more than absorb.
Derek: We’ve never had, as a group, any sort of political or spiritual message that we wanted to preach but from the very beginning there has been a huge effort to make the band and more specifically our live shows as inclusive as possible. The cult reference in the name nods to that philosophy. The “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs” mantra is just an extension of that. We don’t talk between songs, only Ben speaks and he only says, “We are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs/You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs,” and it drives the point home even more. We don’t want people on their cell phones during our shows – we want them to be present with us. If they feel compelled to get on stage, then we want them to get on the stage with us. If we feel compelled to go into the audience, we do. It’s about removing the fourth wall and also about removing that rock band ego and tired cliche of, “We’re the band, you’re the audience, shut up and watch us.” Naming the record “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs” seemed natural and obvious to us, as did featuring our friends and loved ones on the cover.
We could fairly be described as being entranced by the songs that make up that aforementioned album, and with the album’s opening and closing tracks in particular, “Radio” and “Turncoat.” What can you tell us about the origin of these two songs? Do these two songs share any particular connection, aside from their placement at opposite ends of the album’s audio trip?
C. Ray: Both began the way many of our songs do, with either Derek or I sharing a guitar part with the other. Then we build off of that guitar part to find the other guitar parts and a vocal melody. Sometimes the person with the melody sings it, sometimes not. Then one of us writes a chorus. Then one of us writes a bridge. Then we share it with the band. It’s also common for the bridge to not be written until the rhythm section hears the song. Very few of our songs are crafted by one person before sharing them with the band, and this means that there are several half-formed songs that never get completed, but in the case of “Radio” and “Turncoat,” only the primary guitar parts were really known before the drums and bass were working their parts in. Derek had the starting guitar part for “Radio,” and I added the lead part over the top of it, and the rest formed in practice. I had the starting riff for “Turncoat,” then Derek added the chorus. The bridges for both songs were worked out in practice. Lyrically, both were penned primarily by Derek, with minor input from me, and he sings lead on both songs. We usually have the music most of the way worked out, and something in the chords or melody triggers a theme for Derek or I, and we build around that theme. We try not to be too blunt or direct in our lyrics, but we also aren’t trying to confound people with endlessly spiraling metaphors that don’t actually meet up at any point.
Derek: Lyrically they are almost polar opposites. “Radio” being about wanting to be with someone and “Turncoat” is more about escaping someone. In some sort of far flung poetic sense, “Radio” is an introduction to a person or us and “Turncoat” is the frantic exit. I could act like that was the plan all along, but it wasn’t. “Turncoat” has been a go-to set closer since almost the beginning – it lends itself nicely to smashing up our gear.
The album was recorded by some guy named Eric Oppitz – an astonishing coincidence, considering there’s a guy with that very same name in a great band called Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, which was the very first band ever to be interviewed for this site more than three years ago. What are the odds?
C. Ray: SOYSV … what a bunch of dudes. We met them briefly at Cincy Psych Fest last fall, then invited them to play in our hometown of Fort Wayne, IN. While they were here, I cornered Sean and Eric and hammered them with questions about how they recorded their last record (which I loved). After finding out they recorded in Sean’s basement, I started laying the groundwork for a trip through Michigan that would end up in that basement. We tracked drums, bass, guitars, and percussion in that basement. Then we took the tracks off of the tape machine and brought what we had back to Fort Wayne to finish in my apartment. We did all of the vocals, keys, additional arranging, and fiddly bits there, and then I mixed the record.
Derek: Small world. We met Sisters at Cincy Psych Fest last October and immediately hit it off. We played together again a few months after and got to talking about recording with them at their studio. All of us were impressed with the sound they got on their record so we knew that they had the skills to make a really amazing sounding record and wanted that for ourselves. We even went so far as to have it mastered with Dave Cooley in L.A., who did their record. They’re great dudes – we hit them up all the time with random questions. They’re like our musical mentors. Eric did all the tracking on the record, Sean was there mostly for moral support and comic relief. C. Ray took what we did with them in Detroit home and mixed the record himself. He did a phenomenal job.
Salvador Dali was said to have sought sunlight while sleeping in order to induce bright, extremely vividly-colored dreams into his subconscious. In what way – if any – do you use your natural surroundings to impact your art?
C. Ray: Salvador Dali (a true entertainer) aside, I think to state that any artist’s work is influenced directly by their surroundings, and that those surroundings can be arranged to conjure certain tones, is unarguable. For me, there isn’t anything particularly out-of-the-ordinary about my daily life, so making art is really the escape I use to reach beyond it. It’s probably different for many of the other guys in the band. In fact, I’m certain it is. But for myself, my desire for brighter color, stranger sound, and deeper experience is just constantly building while I walk through a fairly normal living condition. I create to let the pressure off, and when I don’t it starts spilling over into my otherwise fairly controlled other life. That’s a long explanation to say that, I guess, I surround myself with normality until my creative self has brewed up something I can use to wreak havoc.
Derek: Fort Wayne isn’t Austin. It isn’t NYC. It certainly isn’t L.A. There aren’t mountains or beautiful beaches. However, there is a sense that anything is possible here so long as you build it. I think the musical world we are creating is a reflection of our imaginations and the environments inside our heads. In that sense, it’s completely freeing.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you will soon leave the music world behind in order to open a carpeting store called, “Heaven’s Gateway Rugs”?
C. Ray: There’s a joke in here about sweeping that rumor under the rug … shit, that is not funny. Uh, you could tell people that there is a local cover band starting called “Heaving Segway Drunks” that we endorse as a true likeness of our music.
Derek: Only if it was a toupee store.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Beatles album and why?
C. Ray: I’ve been unable to stop listening to Mikal Cronin. Looking for melody ideas in Animal Collective records. Enjoying old Lo0p records. Re-listening to Billy Nichols, always. Derek and I curate a Spotify playlist several hundred tracks long that grows whenever one of us finds a song that impresses us or we think has an idea we can mine into gold with HGD. Oh, and I don’t think it’s actually their best record, but my favorite is “Magical Mystery Tour.” Or, fuck, maybe “Revolver.” Radical Mister Revolvour?
Derek: I’ve been listening to a lot of the country-er Byrds lately and that horrible disco-y/vaguely reggae era of the Rolling Stones. “Monomania” is probably my record of the summer at this point. I always thought Deerhunter was just OK but I saw them 2 summers ago and they blew my mind – I’ve been waiting on that record ever since. My favorite Beatles record is always changing. One day its “Revolver,” the next it’s “Meet The Beatles!” They covered so much ground and each record is its own little world. My mood that day dictates which one is my favorite. Can I just say “It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo so I don’t have to offend anyone?
In his book “Steppenwolf” (named such as a stirring tribute to his favorite band and his proclivity for magic carpet rides), Herman Hesse says the following:
“Every ego so far from being a unity is in the highest degree a manifold world, a constellated heaven, a chaos of forms, of states and stages, of inheritances and potentialities. It appears to be a necessity as imperative as eating and breathing for everyone to be forced to regard this chaos as a unity and to speak of his ego as though is was a one-fold and clearly detached and fixed phenomenon. Even the best of us shares this delusion.”
C. Ray: I agree. The perception that this thought-process or processes that we refer to as self can somehow be consolidated and distinguished from ourselves so as to be scrutinized for motive, measurement, or morality, is false. Ego is not an ego, and even the consideration that this can be understood by those of us enlightened enough to know it both proves and simultaneously disproves it.
Derek: The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, just like Roky said.
What’s next for Heaven’s Gateway Drugs?
C. Ray: We have the songs for another full-length, but will probably continue crafting them and satisfy our desire to publish by releasing a 7″ with two of those songs by the end of the summer. We are shopping for a record label to help with overall publishing efforts (hint to anybody you know), and lining up mini-tours for our new band van for late summer and fall.
Derek: We’re always writing. Hopefully that means recording a few songs this summer with Eric for a seven inch. Playing more and more out of town dates, we recently got a band van and aim to put many more miles on it.
Heaven’s Gateway Drugs‘ debut album – “You Are Heaven’s Gateway Drugs” – is available at their Bandcamp page.