At just 28, former Alarmists frontman Eric Lovold is already well acquainted with the highs (headlining First Avenue’s main room to a packed house in 2007), and lows (seeing his band gradually lose momentum amid revolving membership and creative squabbles), of life as a “local rock star.” After taking significant time away from his own songwriting to work as a sideman and producer for others, however, Lovold eventually found the music-making itch returning in earnest. What started as an informal collective of friends recording in his home studio has since morphed into Heartbeats, a six-piece band whose first single, “Radio Distraction,” bears a strong resemblance to The Alarmists’ polished Anglophile anthems.
The single is something of a red herring, however, as other tunes on the band’s largely complete full-length, due out this fall, find Lovold and his bandmates delving into densely textured, dark electronica (“These Streets”); charmingly scruffy, Strokes-style indie rock (“I Can’t Keep Up”); and hard-charging classic-rock riffage (“The Green Grass”). Recently relocated to New Hampshire, where he plans to keep the band active from afar, Lovold took time prior to his sextet’s April 21 show at Cause to talk to The A.V. Club. He discussed learning from the demise of The Alarmists, playing in a geographically scattered band, and why he’s okay with committing “financial suicide.”
The A.V. Club: There was a pretty lengthy period of public-radio silence between The Alarmists’ final days and the unveiling of Heartbeats. Were you still working on music during that time?
Eric Lovold: It was a pretty dark time after my home studio was broken into [in December 2010] and all the recording projects I had been working on were stolen. I felt a personal obligation to finish those other people’s projects first before could work on any of my own songs again. That being said, it was constantly in the back of my mind. As soon as I was done with those other projects, it felt like the floodgates just opened up, and I couldn’t stop writing and working on music. It was exciting. During that downtime, I had started playing in a covers band with Jason [McGlone] just to stay busy musically, but we pretty quickly started working together on original material. Very early on, Ryan Carrera also got involved, and it became apparent pretty quickly that this was going to be much more than a recording project, which was how I originally conceived it. It was very collaborative and very much a band. Now somehow we’ve become a six-piece with people living in multiple states. [Laughs.]
AVC: You moved to New Hamsphire in February, for personal and professional reasons. What impact has your move had on Heartbeats?
EL: From a logistical standpoint, I’ll admit it looks like a nightmare. Luckily we recorded pretty much the whole record before I left. We’re just finishing up some overdubs and mixing, which are things all of us can do independently while swapping sound files online. The plan for now is to be flying back to play shows periodically. That won’t really feel like a huge change anyway, because I had been flying out to New Hampshire for the past 18 months regularly to see my girlfriend here, so really it’s the same amount of travel just reversed. I’ve actually been able to line up some gigs for us out on the East Coast in Boston and Portland, [Maine]. And we’re hoping to fly the band out at some point and do some more touring out here, and possibly play CMJ [New Music Festival in New York City] in the fall. We’re all in agreement that we don’t want to do the traditional grind-it-out and tour a bunch band thing anyway. I’m trying to do things differently than in the past. We’re pressing vinyl and giving away MP3s. We’re not worried about making money at this point, just making fans. It’s all still very fresh and exciting.
AVC: The Alarmists had their ups and downs over the course of their run on the local scene. Did you learn any lessons from that band that you’re applying to Heartbeats?
EL: Absolutely. With The Alarmists we were very young and thrust into a situation where we were pretty popular pretty fast. Unfortunately my co-founder in the band left... and from there we ended up having a lot of various lineup changes. Unfortunately we ended up with a situation [around 2008, when The Alarmists’ swan song, The Overhead Left, was being initially recorded] where the band just wasn’t vibing anymore. By the time Overhead Left finally came out, we had members who were all on the same page again, but I more just wanted to put the record out there as an end-cap on things because the songs had been around for so long. I knew relatively quickly after the record came out that it was time to hang up “the Alarmists hat” so to speak. I read an interview with Jeff Tweedy recently where he said something to the effect of “as long as you’re comfortable not steering the ship the whole time, things can get pretty interesting.” One of the things I love about Heartbeats is that we’re all at the helm. I might write the original chord sequence or lyrics, but these guys are completely changing the picture of how the final song looks, and it’s great to have that happening. There’s a lot of trust in this band right now.
AVC: Perhaps that collaborative spirit is responsible for what feels like an intentional diversifying of the sound a bit from your days with The Alarmists. “I Can’t Keep Up” has a laid-back, pop feel to it that’s so different from that band.
EL: The songs on our forthcoming full-length record were all written at different points in time. It’s interesting that you specifically mentioned “I Can’t Keep Up,” because the chorus hook for that song was something I wrote back when I was 20. At the time I was embarrassed by it and thought it was too poppy; now I think it is great. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t say there’s been a conscious effort to diversify, but I’m definitely embracing change in this band. There are a lot more electronic elements involved—some drum machines and sampling, some quirky synthesizers. We’re not trying to get too far out there and try to be Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails. I’d like us to be a rock band, like the Cars, that really knew how to use synthesizers effectively.
AVC: One of the things that made The Alarmists stand out locally was the sense of polish and ambition you guys projected as an exceptionally young band. Do you have the same sort of goals with Heartbeats that you had back in The Alarmists days, now that you’re a few years older and wiser?
EL: I was actually just talking about this earlier today with [former Alarmists drummer] Ryan Mach. Look, I know it’s insane to make music and put records out. [Laughs.] We’re not going to make money on pressing 7-inches. It’s ultimately financial suicide, but it makes me happy—really happy. It’s very fulfilling to get e-mails from a random person that finds your band and loves it, or to have all the guys together and listen to a mix that gets everyone excited. I take it seriously to a point, but it’s supposed to be fun, which is something I lost sight of for a bit. It’s fun again now, and that’s what matters.