Jeff Hershey has worn many hats during his musical tenure. Some of you may know him from his metal days in Black Opal or Hybrid Moments. Others may recognize him as a core member of the wildly popular Vagrant Record’s act, No Motiv. My introduction to him was when he ran and danced his way through a busy bar/restaurant venue with a giant microphone attached to 80ft. of cabling. My first Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats show is one i’ll take that to the grave, you can bet.
Certain religions think that what separates the human animal from other living creatures is a presence of a soul. On this particular day, from note #1, Jeff and his band dropped some of the grooviest, in-your-face jams I could’ve asked for and, for those who recall my SXSW story, it was just what I needed. It was clear from the first note that Ventura, California was harboring one of the most soulful white boys in history.
I’m glad to call Jeff a friend, and wanted to have a little chat with this groovy cat to talk about how and when he got involved with Soul music, making the musical transition from Metal and Punk to straight up Funk, and what he and The Heartbeats have coming down the pike. Stay cool, daddy-o!
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and where does everyone come from?
J- Rivkah Ross – drums. Rivkah is originally from Florida. After 2 years in the Isreali army, Rivkah landed in Los Angeles where she pursued a degree in drums for The Musician’s Institute. She is definitely one bad-ass chick.
Joe Baugh – Guitar. Joe has spent the majority of his life playing guitar on many, many great studio recordings as one of the most sought after session guitar players in southern California, and playing many gigs (starting at the age of 16) at the famous Derby Club in Los Angeles during the swing boom era of the nineties and beyond. He has lent himself to the road many times over for those bands that needed an exceptional guitarist with great chops and unique stylings.
Kyle O’Donnell – Lead Tenor Sax. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Kyle spent most of childhood playing saxophone in Long Beach, California and later Ventura, California.
While attending the University of North Texas from 2002-2006, Kyle played extensively in Dallas/Ft. Worth with many locally swing bands and jazz combos. After touring the Caribbean in 2006 with swing band B and the Buzz, he settled in Los Angeles where he’s played with many acts including jazz/reggae group Thelonious Dub, The Jason Goldman Big Band (Micheal Buble’s band), and even Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson.
Ashley Jarmack – Baritone Sax. Ashley started out studying classical saxophone at the University of Arizona, under the tutelage of Kelland Thomas and later Timothy McAllister. While still in college, she performed with the Gene Krupa Big Band for their Southwest tour, the Tucson Jazz Orchestra, and many other musically diverse university ensembles. Her musical journey changed forever when she got the opportunity to play in Disney’s All American College band in Disneyland.
Sam Bolle – Bass. Whether backing up surf guitar legend Dick Dale, laying the foundation with Donavon Frankenreiter, hammering out P-bass propulsion with punk legends Agent Orange and Fear, playing shows with country legend Albert Lee, adding to the fuzz-laden mayhem of innovator Davie Allan, grooving with boogie-woogie- blues stalwart Kelley Hunt, blazing new trails with Slacktone, Shawn Jones, Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats and Todd Hannigan, or playing sessions with notable up and comers, Sam Bolle always adds the necessary glue to make any situation feel right. Having done multiple tours of the U.S., Japan, Australia, Europe, and South America, Sam brings no drama and a top-notch work ethic to every situation.
G- Whoa… That’s a lot of talent! I wish more of my interviewees would give us as much background on each member. Well done!
Given your varied musical experiences, when did you first get the idea to form this group, and how long have you been performing the The Heartbeats?
J- I think I first got the idea around 2002. No Motiv was about to go on our first headlining tour in a while. We decided that it would be cool if we released a tour E.P. that was only available at the shows. The concept was for each member to write and record their own song and sing and play all the instruments. Well, yeah that sounds cool if you’re good at every instrument, like the other three guys in the band! I mean, I’m no slouch, but I’m definitely no Joe Satriani (if you get my drift)… Especially on the drums!!!!!
I was listening to a lot of 50’s doo-wop music at the time… I was really getting into it! Maybe a little too much when I look back on it. But, there was something about it that just gave me this really nostalgic good feeling, even the sad songs… The sad songs that can actually bring a man to tears.
I decided I was going to write a doo-wop song for this tour E.P. I saw this as a very fun challenge. I had to make it sound like an acapella group over the music, so 4-part harmonies were a must! Writing those parts was a lot of fun for me. I had to make my voice sound like 4 different people harmonizing together. I highly recommend as an artist, getting out of your comfort zone and seeing what you create. The results can be magnificent!
Anyways, the first song I recorded was called “When Our Eyes First Met”. The song actually says “doo-wop” over and over again (HAHA!) This song went on to get a lot of attention from friends of the band. The feedback was really good and I felt good about it, so I decided to go back in the studio and write another song. This was titled “Baby Please (Don’t Let Me Go)”. It had a more rockabilly upbeat kinda feel, but still retained the background doo-wop style vocals. I wanted to release these 2 songs on a big hole 45” vinyl, like an old school single. I came up with the name of the band to tag on the end of my name. Even though it was just me, I wanted it to be a band and sound like one, too. Maybe that was my own insecurity at the time of just slapping my first and last name and a picture of me on the cover of a record, expecting to be taken seriously.
So, now I had 300 copies of this record, and no one but the occasional No Motiv fan to sell it to. I decide that I needed to do a show. Not just any old show, either. I wanted to release this 45rpm with class. I wanted to put together a band of professional roots musicians, just for one show. That’s what a lot of people don’t really know. This project was a kind of a novelty thing that I was really proud of. I wanted to put on a show with a killer band playing my 2 original songs and all of my favorite songs from the golden era of Rock n’ Roll.
To make a long story short, I got the band together, we played a packed show, covered everything from The Drifters to Gene Vincent to Dion and The Belmonts. It was a magical night to say the least. That’s how it all started. The rest is history in the making.
G- That’s excellent! Certainly a different approach from most I’ve heard in the past, that’s for sure. So, tell us a bit about what it’s like in the studio for you guys… What is your writing process like, and who writes the songs? Do you bring them in and rehearse new stuff, or do you jam it out at practices and in the studio?
J- It’s been different. I would say those most common thread is that we record mostly everything live. We have only ever recorded one song digitally. The rest were (and are) always recorded and mixed to tape. No digital influence at all! That may change in the future and I’m probably ok with that, but I am definitely proud that we have done it in a pure form. Our last record may have mistakes and God knows there’s parts I would love to do over, but it is what it is. I wanted to get that record out and get on the road. That record captures what the band was sounding like at that time.
I write most of the songs. Sam has contributed a few songs and original ideas, as did our old drummer Tony. Joe adds his own flavor that can’t be mistaken, and Kyle has been more active these days in bringing songs to the band. I can honestly say that I have no clue what the next record will sound like… I’m interested to see what we do. It definitely won’t be “Soul Music Vol.2”. I feel it will still have a soulful vibe, but I’m picturing it on the next level of energy.
G- Keeping it old school… Much respect! People often forget about the unique sonic potentials of tape. I prefer it to most of the super clean, digital recording I hear at this point.
So, give us a few examples of any bands or artists in particular that influence your style? Who do you typically like to listen to, and are there any acts you think we should know about?
J- Oh man, so many! I would say Kiss and Otis Redding!!!
I listen to so much different stuff! Lately, in the car, it’s always classical music. It reminds me of my grandmother. She loved classical music. I grew up with her driving me around listening to it. I used to hate it, and tried to put Anthrax or Slayer tapes on in the car, which she wasn’t having at all (HAHA!) Now that she’s gone, I find so much joy in listening to that music, driving around the same places she would take me.
I think everyone should explore music of their own free will. While some think that the future of the music industry is going to be extinct, I see it as an opportunity for so many to go out and stake their claim and create their own destiny. The digital age is upon us, and it’s up to us to figure out where our place is in it.
Where there is art, there is always an audience. A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it was back in the day to get any attention from the industry. It’s a new frontier with endless possibilities. Sorry if that was off topic.
G- No not at all… That’s a very good way to look at it.
Tell us what you have in the works right now for 2013? Do you currently have, or are you working on, any releases right now? How about touring… What’s the deal?
J- We just recorded a punk rock covers E.P. Featuring songs by Misfits, Fear, Ill Repute, and Agent Orange that will be released on a 7” in May, and we’re returning to Europe May 15th for a 26-date tour to support the release of this. After that, we’ll come home, play a lot of shows regionally for the second half of the year and write a new record.
G- Yea buddy! 26 dates for to support a 7”?! That’s how it’s done!
Do you have a favorite song you have ever written with Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats? If you were to give someone who’d never heard of you guys 1 song to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
J- My favorite song is “Wearin’ Me Out”. It’s funny that this is the last song on the record. I totally feel that this song was the beginning of the more wild side of the band. I dig it.
If I had to recommend a song, I would say “Knock You Down”. It has a great groove and is really to the point.
G- Right on. Now, from my experience, they can expect a lighthearted, beer-drenched dance marathon, but what should people who’ve never heard or seen Jeff Hershey and The Heartbeats expect to see at your shows? What would you like them to take away from the experience (besides rad merch?)
J- I expect them to see a band giving it everything they have and involving the audience to join along. We want to have fun and bring a party to the party!
G- Excellent. Now, you’ve already taken this project across the pond and are getting ready to head back in May… In your opinion, how does your reception in the states, compare with your performances abroad, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction? What country in Europe went off the hardest for you guys?
J- European audiences are a dream! They are very supportive and aren’t afraid to have a good time. U.S. Audiences are spoiled, myself included. I go to shows practically every night, and I see great bands all the fucking time! I take them for granted just as much as the next guy.
I’m still looking forward to playing in the states a lot more this year. I want to raise the bar and give it everything I got to stand out amongst the rest. I know it can be done, so why not this band?
G- Dig it. And for the future, who would you bring out on the road with you if you could pick out a solid 3-band lineup? Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future?
J- I think an interesting tour would be RX Bandits, The Hives, and Jeff Hershey and The Heartbeats. That’s my dream tour.
G- Hell yes!!! That tour would be sick!
Speaking of shows, SXSW 2011 was certainly memorable for me, but what is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date in any of your groups thus far? Where was it and what was it like?
J- I can’t talk about the craziest, but I’ll give you the second craziest…
We played at a Hell’s Angels party in my high school heavy metal band (Black Opal). I was 16 at the time. It was out in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere!!! We played early in the night around 8:30 or so. There were a lot of skinheads there, moshing throughout our set. I was so relieved when we were done playing. That was until they said they wanted more. I told them we played every song we know! They said “Play it again”! I said ‘All of it?’ And someone said “Yes, all of it”. So that’s exactly what we fuckin’ did! Our entire set again!!!
When we were finally done and loading our shit into our drummer’s Dad’s pickup truck, a fight broke out and some dumb asshole got stabbed! Poor bastard. We weren’t having any of it, but our friends’ band, Destroy Babylon, were going on after us and we didn’t want to leave them there in that mess, so we stuck around till they were done, then bounced. People can be so fucking stupid at times!!
G- Indeed they can. Violence at shows sucks… Way too much of it and it ruins the vibes and the scene.
So, to finish it out on the positive tip, as a man who’s been in the music game for many years, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
J- If you are truly passionate about it, you will succeed. You’ll know when this moment comes. The moment where you realize that you’ve already accomplished more than anyone thought you ever would and you’re still hungry for more. You have to follow your dreams.
What’s the fucking alternative?! A life that you hate? That’s what’s on the other side. Always be yourself, take care of yourself, trust your gut, and most importantly, Never, ever, ever, ever give up!!!!!!!