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by Ryan Snyder

Latest Easter proteges make a bold statement with their debut album

They’ve yet to even release their first album, but Heartdrive (www.myspace.com/heartdriverocks) seems to be doing everything right. Vocalist and guitarist James Tillman saw it as a huge coup to have pegged veteran local producer Mitch Easter, whose keen direction on albums of bands like Wilco, Pavement and REM they hoped to capture on their own, to oversee recording their selftitled debut, but he was surprised at Easter’s initial thoughts on the material. “We spent a lot of time developing our demos to the point that they were so fleshed out that Mitch didn’t really know what to do with them when we got there,” Tillman said. “His first reaction was that there wasn’t much to do besides record it.” Nevertheless, Tillman, along with his brother and Heartdrive bassist Evan Jackson and drummer Mitch Hull, dove right into the material at Easter’s Fidelitorium Studio. It’s a collection of rock songs with a distinctly pop architecture that Tillman has high aspirations for, not simply because they’re partly his own creations, but because their creation was driven by a willful desire to affect the indie-rock landscape. “A lot of indie rock has been about sleepy, subdued music and I really want Heartdrive to be the band that wakes everyone up,” Tillman said. “These songs have more of an upbeat, spun melody and honest lyrics. I really want to take a more direct approach than indie bands have in the past 10 years.” Tillman sought to bring a firm sense of self-awareness to his lyrics driven by his appreciation for the same qualities found in hip hop, with thoughtful pronunciations on holy war, infidelity and hypocrisy running through them. It’s not light subject matter by any means, but Tillman says that he wanted get away from the all too commonplace use of young love as the driving narrative in pop and indie that he sees. “It seems like we tackle a lot of really negative subjects, but I think it’s a hopeful record because you have to talk about problems before you can talk about solutions,” he said. “We still cover the spectrum and I think there are topics that everyone can identify with. We just want to have a record that impacts a lot of people’s lives.” Even with a high level of polish already existing on their ownrecordings, Tillman says that another element was bestowed upon thesongs that could have only been conceived through the in-studiocollaborative process. Easter brought in Cheetie Kumar of theRaleigh-based psychedelic band Birds of Avalon to provide additionaltechnical consultation and the result was a satisfying new direction onsome of the album’s more low-key tracks. “Cheetie suggested a guitar effect where she and Evan were on the floorturning knobs to give the mando-guitar a slide effect,” Tillman said.It ended up with a really nice chimey sound that really changed theoriginal dynamic.” The album is scheduled to drop on Oct. 4 under their own label,Supervillain Records, though Heartdrive has the release party scheduledfor exactly one week later at Winston-Salem’s Club Oasis on Tillman’sbirthday. The band has plans for a national tour on the near horizon, where theyhope the intentions behind the album will be at their most impactful. “Once people will hear this record, they’ll understand that we’rereally just trying to forge a new path for indie rock,” Tillman saidconfidently. “We feel like things have started to stagnate, so we’rejust trying to breathe new life into it.”

Heartdrive enlisted local hero Mitch Easter to produce their eponymous debut. (courtesy photo)

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