John Pettibone has been a fixture in the Seattle music scene for more than two decades. During the early and mid-’90s he was the front man for a pioneering straight-edge hardcore band named Undertow, and later became the vocalist for the fondly remembered and sorely missed Himsa from about 2000 until the band ended in 2008 (several us at this site are huge Himsa fans to this day, and I featured them in one of my Rearview Mirror posts only a week ago).
Since the end of 2008, Pettibone has been the vocalist for Heiress, a band founded by guitarist Wes Reed who have recorded two highly regarded albums — 2013’s Early Frost and 2015’s Of Great Sorrow — and now have a third one coming soon. The new one is named Made Wrong, it was recorded with producer Matt Bayles, and it’s set for release on March 18 by The Mylene Sheath (pre-orders are expected to begin on February 19).
It has become increasingly difficult to sum up Heiress‘ sound in simple genre terms as the sound has evolved, and that’s likely to become even more of a challenge after people hear Made Wrong. It’s dark, heavy as hell, emotionally intense, and intensely memorable, too. I have lots of other thoughts about the music that I’m going to try to sum up later this week. For now I’ll just say it’s an album you won’t want to miss.
I have the good fortune to bring you an interview I conducted by e-mail with John Pettibone last week — and you’ll get some insights about Made Wrong along the way.
I appreciate your deciding to participate in this interview, because I know you don’t do a lot of these. I’ve got lots of questions in my head, most of which are matters of personal curiosity based on your long history in the Seattle heavy music scene, but I’m going to try to resist that and focus mainly on the new music you’ve got coming out.
My pleasure and thank you for the interest in Heiress.
So — there’s a new Heiress album on the way. I get the sense that the release of this one was pushed out further than might have been originally planned because the last one, Of Great Sorrow, got pushed out further itself, from 2014 into 2015. Over what period of time was Made Wrong written and recorded?
Made Wrong writing actually started in the recording process in Of Great Sorrow. I’m sure Wes already had parts and structures figured out during this time. The vocal tracks on OGS took longer as I was a new father and my time was limited. Going into Made Wrong was sort of the same scenario, as vocals were a few months after the band had already finished their production. I was still catching up on writing and was in a bit of a mental block with life’s obstacles. Also, vinyl production was pushed back due to the insane amount of orders and priorities in that industry. Not a lot of pressing plants around to keep up with demand.
Have you been impatient about getting the new music out, or have you been cool with waiting?
That’s one of the nice aspects of this band, as we are patient with what we create and the steps to make it with the music and the art that ties in. We appreciate all that has been presented to us from the ones we have worked with. We don’t tour or play out as a means of finance, we fund this band almost entirely ourselves and we rejuvenate our spirit through each creation of each release. We grow as we flow.
How did the songs on Made Wrong come together? What was the general process of songwriting, and what input did you have as the songs on this album were created?
Honestly, I receive songs from Wes after they are written. I have no input to song structure but I trust in what the boys create. Wes and Nate [Turpen] usually have an idea or riff and just build off of that. Made Wrong was a extension out of OGS sessions. In reality we have the next record 60% formed. Some split releases of songs from the same session will see the light of day also.
Heiress has worked with some really talented people in recording its three albums. You worked with Jack Endino on Early Frost, and then with Tad Doyle on Of Great Sorrow, and now Matt Bayles on Made Wrong. What were the reasons for working with Matt Bayles on this one instead of going back with Tad again, or even Jack Endino. And do those reasons have something to do with the direction of the music on the new album as compared to the others?
Working with Matt was just a next step in our evolution as a band. We enjoyed our time at Red Room with Chris Common on our early 7″ series. Matt is an old friend of mine and we never had the chance to work together until MW. He knew what we were aiming for as he comes from the same background as we do. Working with Jack and Tad were also bucket-list type scenarios and a curiosity of what we all could form. The right person for the right record.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think you’ve worked with Matt Bayles before in any of your other bands. What did you think of the experience of working with him, and were there any changes made to the songs during the recording process that came about as a result of working with him?
Working with Matt was very comfortable and easy. He is familiar with all the bands I’ve done and he knows what to get out of me. Going in I had the ideas of volume, pattern, and layers for each song and he made the general decisions to add what he thought I would prefer. Wes also sat in on vocal production and had some great ideas and opinions for me.
Any other interesting stories from these recording sessions that you feel like sharing?
There’s a scratch track of me singing some R Kelly out there somewhere…
I think the new album is very heavy, dark, and “atmospheric”, with more dissonance here and there and an overall somber moodiness in the melodies. In some songs, the music sounds almost despairing, like a complete emotional disintegration. There’s some genuine entrancing and heart-wrenching beauty and some hard rocking going on, too, but overall there seems to be a heavy dose of bleakness and sorrow in this one, along with a lot of slow pacing. But let me ask you — how do you think Made Wrong compares to Of Great Sorrow, in terms of the direction of the music, the production approach to the sound, or any other aspects you think are important?
As I mentioned before, MW was written during the OGS sessions and reveals itself as an extension of that time and based on an overtone of that mood. Think of it as Of Great Sorrow is this harsh, intense and frustrating moment you feel is inescapable, and the outcome is of confusion and exhaustion but a sense of normalcy. That’s what Made Wrong turned out to be. We’ve survived!
You’ve been known for a long time for the intensity of your vocals, but you really seem to have held nothing back on Made Wrong. I swear, sometimes it sounds like you’re turning yourself inside-out. How did you get yourself mentally and emotionally into the kind of place where you could pour yourself so intensely into the vocal performance?
Actually, becoming a father has changed me emotionally and mentally in a great way. It has made realize what really has importance in life and to let go of a lot of toxins that have really no meaning or value. “Nothing sacred anymore” is the underlining theme to this record.
I do have to ask you about the vocals on the closing track “Endure”. That’s a truly mesmerizing song, though a very melancholy one, and your vocals sound absolutely ghostly, almost like a harsh whisper, but still very unsettling. How did you come up with your approach to the vocals in that song and how were they recorded?
The song had this beautiful haunting feel to it already, so I wanted to make the vocal be behind the riff. It was just a track of whispers and a track of a higher pitched screams with effects placed behind the whisper.
Lyrically, what kind of themes were you exploring, and is there any particular overarching concept that in your mind unifies the songs on the new album?
It’s purely a survival aspect theme to the record. Thin the herd, tighten the reigns, detox the spirit, letting go for the greater good.
Could you pick out one song in particular and tell us the story of the song and what it means to you?
I’ll pick the title track “Made Wrong”. It’s about the belief that we are taught and built to succeed in life and forced into this idea that success is empowerment. For me, it’s just the survival aspect that I’ve lived in my own way that has made this path the way it is. Some by choice, some by chance. In the end it’s what’s been made.
The cover artwork for Made Wrong is really striking. Who did it, and can you tell us the meaning behind it and how it relates to the music?
Chet and Rachel Scott from Glass Throat Recordings. They are the extension of this band. We wanted an aspect of diversity that portrays our sound since the influences are everywhere and that’s where the dahlia ties in. The Lucifers Crocosmia overlap is the idea that with beauty comes harsh reality and it’s nature is hard to control.
You’ve been involved in music for basically your whole life, growing up as a punk kid, getting into hardcore, being straight edge for a long time, being the vocalist for bands like Undertow and Himsa. And I know you’ve got a wide range of personal tastes in music. What is it about Heiress that attracts you to the band, given how different it has become from where you started musically? What keeps you involved and creating with Heiress, now through three albums?
It’s a band that has no limitations, agenda or anthem in order to feel welcomed. We all have similar loves of music and art and we build off it. I was doing this band, I Am The Thorn, after Himsa that played shows with Heiress, and they became my favorite local band. Once the opening for a new vocalist came around I asked to join, as I felt this band was exactly what I needed to be in.
What really came through strongly to me when I heard the album is that it sounded like music that you guys made for yourselves — serious music made by adults that reflects what you’re feeling, what you’ve experienced — instead of some conscious effort to construct according to a blueprint for selling records, or fit into any kind of trend. I suspect it’s going to appeal most strongly to serious-minded music listeners, too. Is that the way you see it?
You are so correct!
All you guys in Heiress are fully grown men with jobs and other commitments. Given those constraints, do you have any plans to promote the album through any touring this year, or any special performances in the works?
We plan on making it down the coasts hopefully by fall. Nothing set in stone but there’s talks of Europe as a possibility.
You’ve been involved in the Pacific Northwest heavy music scene for a lot of years and seen lots of trends come and go. This may be an unfairly broad two-part question, but how do you think your own perspectives and tastes in music have changed since you were growing up, and do you have an opinion about the relative health, vibrancy, and quality of music being made here today versus years past?
My tastes in music haven’t really changed much. I will always love and support the art I grew up with and continue to support. My 3 favorite bands are still the same… Negative Approach, Neurosis, and Integrity. But the record that has been a nonstop play in my house since being released is 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room. It’s perfect! And seeing them live was breathtaking!
As far as today’s music, Heiress is in part a product of it and I feel we are a healthy, vibrant bunch of old timers. To some I hope. Haha
Off the top of your head, are there a few current bands from the PNW that you’d urge people to check out that maybe don’t have a high enough profile for most listeners outside the area to know about?
I suggest Blood of the Black Owl, Mercy Ties, Losing Skin, Grenades, Scriptures, Theories, UN, Wounded Giant, Nightmare Fortress, Motion, True Identity, The Hollowpoints, Success.
Again, I appreciate your taking time to answer these questions. Any parting words for readers, whether about Made Wrong or anything else on your mind?
I thank everyone who supports this band and/or anything I’ve been part of. And a huge thank you for the time and effort you’ve done to conduct this. Much appreciated! Be well.