No Grand Plans: H-Town Supergroup Brand New Hearts Creeps Quietly Onto the Stage
Long, long ago, yours truly was in a band. We weren’t all that good, I’m saddened to admit, but we played some shows, recorded some songs, and had a blast for a while there. We found ourselves part of this amazing little scene and played, a lot of the time, only for ourselves and our friends who were in bands. And we didn’t care, because hell, this was Houston — the odds of making it big back then were far, far slimmer than they are even today.
Along the way, we were fortunate enough to play with some other bands here in Houston who were really freaking good — and I mean really freaking good, as in “Crap, how can we even get on the same stage as these guys?”-inducing good.
One was a quartet of guys from the teeny little town of Magnolia who called themselves Ultramagg. They were one of the best damn emo(-ish) bands this city had seen, in my humble opinion, and they played every show like they were destroying the stage at some arena-sized show in front of a jam-packed crowd of crazed fans. They were heavy, they were melodic, and they were awesome. Frontman/guitarist Nathan Parsons wrote the kind of songs I wished I could’ve written, and it killed me when they stepped out of the limelight and put down the guitars and drumsticks.
Then there was Ben Murphy, who fronted or played with a slew of bands back in those days, from Pop Deflation to We’ve Got Airplanes and up through Panic in Detroit and Lucky Motors and beyond (and who most recently worked his magic in the sadly-defunct Bright Men of Learning). I can vividly remember watching Ben play guitar at one We’ve Got Airplanes show and feeling my jaw literally drop as I tried to figure how he was making the sounds that were coming out of the speaker.
Back in those early band days, we — like every band in this town — had trouble finding and keeping a drummer. We auditioned a ton of ‘em, honestly, and one of the few that utterly bowled me over was a guy named Jeff Senske. The man played like a hard-hitting metronome and was one of the best, tightest drummers I’ve heard before or since, up there with Sugar’s Malcolm Travis or Superchunk’s Jon Wurster. (Plus, he makes the best Drummer Faces ever.) Luckily for him, he came to his senses and demurred when we asked him to join the band, but we went on to be in damn near every good band that came after, including Trompedo and the aforementioned Bright Men of Learning.
Last but not least, there was Bring Back The Guns, aka Groceries, aka Gandhi in Vegas, aka at least three or four more names I can’t recall. At one point, I’d pinned my hopes on BTTG to be The Band, the one who’d finally make the Music World At Large sit up and pay attention. The band’s skewed-yet-addictive brand of indie-rock was fun as hell but weird enough to make you scratch your head; in a lot of ways, looking back, they were about five years ahead of their time. And after releasing an EP, an album, and a couple of 7″s, they called it quits and went their separate ways, leaving myself and a bunch of other devoted fans sad and disappointed.
I say all this, by the way, both to set the stage somewhat and explain why I was so freaking excited to get word of the existence of Brand New Hearts a month or so back. I’d heard from Nathan Parsons back in the fall, when he nonchalantly mentioned he was trying to get a band together, and a couple of months later, BNH appeared, a band that boasted Parsons, Murphy, Senske, and Ryan Hull of Bring Back The Guns. It was damn-near perfect, at least on paper.
And, happily, from the snippets I’ve been able to hear so far, it’s damn-near perfect in reality, as well. The band comes off like the best elements of all the component bands/musicians, all mashed together into a glorious, rough-edged, insanely catchy whole, and I can’t wait to see ‘em live.
In preparation for Brand New Hearts playing live beyond their inaugural show earlier this month, I sat down and chatted briefly with Parsons about the band’s origin and where they’re headed. Here goes…
SCR: Alright, so here’s the big question: how’d this come together? Who and/or what started the ball rolling?
Nathan Parsons: The whole BNHs thing pretty much happened by accident. I was feeling the itch to play music again, so I put an ad up on Craigslist trying to find some like-minded people to play with. The second response I received was from Ben Murphy, whose latest band, Bright Men of Learning, had recently called it quits.
Ben and I knew each other from playing shows together way back in the day. He told me that he and his old Lucky Motors drummer Jeff Senske were looking to jam. I was like, umm, this sounds awesome. When and where? I think we all knew instantly that it would be a great fit.
Awesome — yeah, I remember seeing you in Ultramagg and Ben in Lucky Motors, I think, playing together a long, long, long damn time ago. How did Ryan Hull end up getting roped into things?
We were really hoping to find somebody that understood exactly what we’re about and just “got it.” Ben tells us about this guy he works with that used to be in Bring Back The Guns and how he’d probably be into what we were doing. Ryan learned some demo songs, brought his bass over, and just nailed the songs. He left and we all said, yup, that’s our guy. It really was that easy.
You guys have one hell of a Houston-scene pedigree going; have you gotten a lot of a response from fans of the “old” bands?
So far the few whole thing is kind of hush-hush. I don’t think very many people know what’s going on or know who BNHs is. The response from the few that are onto us have been overwhelmingly positive.
Is that somewhat by design, really, to kind of sneak in from the side of the stage, so to speak, before fans of you guys’ collective earlier work realize what’s happening?
What’s the Brand New Hearts sound like, compared to your previous bands? Is this something new for you guys in general?
We are pretty much doing the same type of guitar-based indie-pop-type stuff. It’s loud and it’s fun. You can’t go wrong with that!
So, no plans for a dubstep or modern-folk album later on down the line?
Full disclosure: I wouldn’t know what a “dubstep” was if it punched me in the face. So I guess that pretty much a “no.”
What’s it been like for you these past few years, having stepped away from the scene for a while? Have you found yourself missing it?
I really was missing it. I knew that I wanted to be in a band again; I just never thought it would take so damn long. I got really busy with work-type stuff, new hobbies, traveling, and new friends.
Before I knew it, a lot of time had passed — like, a lot! I figured before I get any older, I’d better get with it. So I sent out the ad, and six months later, we are rocking and doing shows. It’s really been amazing how fast it’s coming together.
How’s the songwriting process going, by the way? Have you butted heads over songs you’re working on, or has it been pretty smooth sailing?
For the most part, it has been easy. Ben and I both had some songs to pick from to get going, and we managed to work up some new songs together that we really dig.
Having two writers in the band is fantastic. It takes a lot of pressure off any one person, and you end up with twice as many ideas at any given time. Like any type of relationship, though, we get our feathers ruffled from time to time. The good news is that we are older and somewhat “wiser.” So we get over the silly things way faster than we probably would have 10 years ago.
Are you planning on putting out an actual release at some point in the near future? Please, please, please say “yes”?
We recorded nine songs over the past few months, and at some point in the near future we are releasing a four-song cassette/digital download on Better Days Will Haunt You. We are also working on new material for what hopefully turns into a full-length in the very near future.
Now, not to put too fine a point on it, but you guys all have day jobs, families, the whole nine yards — with that in mind, where do you see this going? Any grand plans, or is this more of a just-for-fun-type thing?
We are fully entrenched in adulthood, but we want to have a great time playing music. We are going to do it and have fun. Whatever happens, happens. There are no grand plans, but we are all very stoked to be playing together and are looking forward to whatever happens. END