When The Crossroads Meets The Sunset Strip: The Heavy Heavy Hearts Interview

After a night of drinks, dancing, and onstage serenades, one thing is clear: The Heavy Heavy Hearts are not your average rock band. With instruments in hand, The Heavy Heavy Hearts appear charismatic and comfortable in the spotlight; offstage, they are four guys who enjoy teasing each other and chatting with concert-goers over drinks – preferably whiskey, the band’s beverage of choice.

For a band still in its infancy, The Heavy Heavy Hearts are juggling a lot: their explosive debut EP Dirty Lies and the raw talents of lead singer/guitarist Beau James Wigington, drummer Ralph Alexander, lead guitarist Anthony Mancini and bassist Clark Singleton are one thing, but add licensing talks, label searches, and a love for live shows, and life in a band suddenly gets much busier. Still, playing the blues and having a good time doing so remains the band’s Priority Number One, and as for the heartache, embarrassing moments, and small crowds they might face in the meantime? Well hey, that’s just part of the journey.

There are a few things one doesn’t necessarily expect to see or hear while attending a blues rock concert. For instance, listening to the bassist and guitarist tuning their instruments with Pink’s “So What” riff before a set is not expected; neither is watching the lead vocalist sing freestyle karaoke to A-ha’s “Take On Me” with a new fan after the show, or hearing band members admit to closeted Jeff Buckley obsessions. Yet during their first show in San Diego, CA at The Ruby Room, The Heavy Heavy Hearts unabashedly participated in these activities and so many others. Taken in stride with the group’s Robert Johnson fascination, Mancini’s behind-the-head guitar soloing, and Wigington’s experience discovering the perfect riff after a moonlit night at “The Crossroads,” The Heavy Heavy Hearts demonstrated that where it really counts, their blood runs blue.

While some artists play the blues, The Heavy Heavy Hearts live the blues. “Every song I write is based on a story,” Wigington explained in a pre-show interview at The Ruby Room. “Beau isn’t acting,” Mancini added of the group’s head songwriter. “Every single thing and every single song has happened.” Determined to maintain their lyrics’ emotional edge moving forward, the band is also struggling to identify their place in the Los Angeles blues scene currently on the rise. As the group’s recurring southern roots sound indicates, not one band member claims their L.A. base as a hometown (Mancini hails from New York, while Wigington, Alexander and Singleton are from North Carolina); but rather than relocate to bluesy hotspots like Nashville or Austin, The Heavy Heavy Hearts prefer playing iconic venues like the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. where legends abound and priceless connections hide around every corner. “If you can make a splash in a city like L.A., if you can be a big fish in that big of a pond, that’s a big deal,” Mancini pointed out. “But we’re happy there.”

How did The Heavy Heavy Hearts initially come together?

Wigington: It started last July. I had set up to record a six song EP, it was just going to be a solo thing to use for licensing. I met Ralph earlier – I auditioned for a band, didn’t make it, but I kept in contact with Ralph. I really liked playing with him, and he came in on the EP and knocked it out of the park. Anthony came in last-minute. I’d seen him in a band called Night On Fire and thought he was an awesome blues player, thought he’d be great for the EP. Clark – I used to be in a bluegrass band with him in North Carolina. He flew out to record on the EP. After the whole recording process, I was booked to play at the Whisky [Whisky A Go Go] the Wednesday after we finished, and Ralph was like, “Yeah, I’ll play,” and we asked Anthony and he was like, “Yeah.” After that show, we really decided to make it a band, and we went through a few bass players before Clark finally moved out here from North Carolina.

What first inspired you to go into music?

Alexander: My mom and dad always listened to a lot of music. They always knew I wanted to play drums, but it took my mom a long time before she actually bought a drum set for me. She’d always say, “Try piano,” or “Try violin.” She wanted one of those kid prodigies that would play violin or something. But I always wanted drums, and finally she got me a drum set. But she always played music in the house. My dad was a big Clapton fan – he always listened to Clapton. If I hear anything Eric Clapton, I think of him. And my mom was very much into blues too, so it was always a house full of music for me.

Mancini: My dad’s a blues player, and my grandfather’s really into ‘50s and ‘60s rock. Blues has always been a really popular thing in my family for parties and stuff; if there’s ever a family function, if it isn’t classic rock playing, it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins. I grew up surrounded by it. Music always kind of came easy to me – like picking up the recorder when I was little in elementary school, and with high school bands. I played drums all through high school, and I picked up a guitar when I was a sophomore in high school. At first it was heavy metal, but obviously I was a big blues guy, so I kind of gravitated toward that. Been doing it ever since.

The Heavy Hearts performing live at the Ruby Room in San Diego, CA.
The Heavy Hearts performing live at the Ruby Room in San Diego, CA.

Wigington: I don’t know how I got into music full-time, but I know the southern roots come from road trips. My dad would always have Lynyrd Skynyrd and Clapton and all that playing. My dad was a huge Clapton fan. I played in a band in high school – that was where I got my sense of how being in a band was so cool – and in college I got into another band. It has stuck with me for a long time. It’s a way for me to get everything out that I’m afraid to say to other people without it being in a song.

Singleton: Both of my parents are music people. Both of them studied music, so I was always around it. I grew up playing drums in church; I played drums for a long time. I was always interested in playing and basically nothing else. Then I found bass, and I feel like that’s really my voice, it’s what I really want to play and how I communicate. I was just always around music, always trying to figure out how people did things in music; I couldn’t not play.

The L.A. blues scene is pretty interesting right now. Do you play with a lot of other blues or blues rock bands?

Wigington: Have we ever played with another blues band?

Alexander: I don’t think we have.

Mancini: We’ve only been a band since October, and with Clark only a month, but for the first time last night someone told us that we sounded very L.A. Blues. I’ve never been told that before.

Wigington: Yeah, we were like, “What is that?”

Mancini: We were like, “What is L.A. Blues?” I’ve never heard another L.A. Blues band. I mean, Philip Sayce is a friend of mine, but he’s not even L.A. Blues because he plays in L.A. once every six months – he’s in Europe all the time. So I don’t know of any other blues bands in L.A. I think with anyone in L.A., the main objective is to get successful enough where you don’t have to be in L.A.

Wigington: We play tons of shows where they’re like, “What are you doing in L.A.? You should be in Austin, you should be in Nashville, you should be in Louisiana.” And we’re like, “Well, we’re all here.” I think if we can make a splash here…

Mancini: I think we made a conscious decision, too – if we move to Nashville, then there are a million bands in Nashville that would sound kind of like us. But in L.A. we stick out. It’s funny to have a city like L.A., where it’s the entertainment capital of the world, and there’s a lot of indie music, you get a lot of today’s hipster rock ‘n roll, but you don’t hear a lot of blues rock. At least not our brand of it – I don’t even know what our brand of blues rock is. Maybe it is L.A. Blues. But we’re happy in L.A. If you can make a splash in a city like L.A., if you can be a big fish in that big of a pond, that’s a big deal.

Wigington: We’re not the big fish yet.

Mancini: We’re not the big fish. But we could be one. We could get there. Obviously any artist in L.A. has heard a million promises. We’ve heard some crazy ones.

How will the band’s sound evolve moving forward?

Wigington: The EP was kind of a buckshot – there are six different sounds on the EP. We’ve found that we really enjoy playing the in-your-face bluesy type songs. We’re working with a producer right now who’s giving us tips. He really likes the intensity of the songwriting. There’s a new song that we have that’s unnamed, and it’s pretty intense, it’s a heart story; these guys are always like, “You need to keep telling these heart stories.” I don’t know how to describe it, but it’ll be good.

Are there any stories behind your lyrics that you’d like to share?

Wigington: Every song I write is based on a story. They’re pretty personal, but I guess it’s already out there. The Dirty Lies title track was from a previous relationship that really went down south. They’re pretty hard to share.

Alexander: The common joke we noticed at one point was, if you look at all the songs and the titles, they kind of tell the evolution of relationships.

Wigington: Yeah, if you look at the EP, it kind of tells my past three years. It starts off like madly in love with this girl, then things went south so it became the “pair of broken hearts,” and I thought I had everything but “I lost it all,” and then she told “dirty lies,” hooked up with my best friend–

Mancini: You’re a “lonely man,” at the “bottom of the bottle.”

Wigington: “Bottom of the Bottle” is a pretty personal one because I fancy whiskey a lot, and it was about that coming down to earth, that realization. That one’s pretty heavy. That song is kind of abbreviated, too – there’s a longer version that we’ll hopefully release in the future. “Lonely Man” was written specifically for the studio. I was super lonely, and was just like, “I’m going to write a song about it, I want to meet a girl and have a good time.”

Mancini: The process of writing our songs, nine times out of ten, or probably 99 times out of 100, will come from something that Beau’s already written acoustically. Usually he’ll have a night to himself, probably a couple things to drink and a whole lot of bad feelings going on, and he’ll come up with a song about it. When that happens, the songs become incredibly personal. There are times when Beau will get offstage and we’ll have to help him because of how affected he is by some of the songs. Some of them are so personal he doesn’t want to play them. Those tend to be our best ones, so we kind of force him to play. The best part about Beau is, so many blues artists out there write stuff because that’s what blues is supposed to sound like. They’ve probably never had any of those things happen to them, but they know what blues is supposed to be, so they’ll do the best they can to act it. Beau isn’t acting. Every single thing and every single song has happened; it’s as bad as it sounds. He’s up there and it’s real, and he’s singing it and it’s real, and every time you listen to him sing you’re like, “Yeah. That’s real.” That’s the best part about our stuff. If you listen to The Black Keys or Gary Clark, Jr. or those types of guys, it’s believable to me – it’s how they sing it, the soul they have in there. But it’s a lot different when we hear it coming from a dude who’s probably about to break down if the song gets any sadder.

Wigington: I thought of a story with the EP. Our producer was pretty intense with trying to get me in the right mindset. I’m really happy with how the EP turned out because he really pushed me – like before “Dirty Lies,” I had a conversation with the girl on the phone, and he had a bottle of Jack Daniels there on “Bottom of the Bottle.” He had me take a shot after every vocal take – it was a lot. But I like getting as close to the issues as I can.

Do you have a dream venue?

Alexander: Saturday Night Live.

Wigington: We did say we wanted to play Saturday Night Live.

Mancini: How big a dream are we talking about? Because I could say the Troubadour.

Wigington: Yeah, we really want to play the Troubadour, that’s our realistic goal for the next year. There’s actually a really cool venue in England…I don’t know the name of it, but I know it’s an underground cave. I like the not-your-average venues, so that’s mine – I’d like to play there.

What’s next for The Heavy Heavy Hearts?

Wigington: We’re just trying to play as much as we can, and hopefully we’ll get licensing opportunities – that’s the main thing. My roommate does custom paint jobs for motorcycles, and he’s trying to get us involved in that culture. We’re trying to get involved in the not average shows.

Do you have a favorite musical memory that stands out from recent days or from your childhood that you’d like to share?

Singleton: I’ve only been in L.A. for a month – I practiced the songs before I drove to L.A., but they had already been a band and already had other bass players. So my first night with them, I think it was during either “Bottom of the Bottle” or “Lonely Man,” one of our heavier tunes – when it hit, it was right. The sounds were there, the tones were there, the attitude was there, and we were all just playing and enjoying it. You could tell that it was what needed to happen at that moment.

Wigington: I’ve been playing acoustic for almost two years, and I never even thought about what it could sound like with an entire band behind it. When I heard the first licks of “Dirty Lies,” it blew my mind. The songs all sound way different acoustic than they do on the EP. Hearing the full band sound just made me say, “Oh – maybe we should try this out.” I never thought my songs could sound like that.

Mancini: I had the opportunity to be Jonny Lang’s escort for a couple days at a Grammy event. We were hanging out in his dressing room where he was warming up. He looked at me and he goes, “You’re a player, aren’t you?” And I go, “Yeah.” And he goes, “Well, here,” and he takes his guitar off and puts it on me. Jonny Lang was one of my biggest influences growing up, so I was just in heaven right there for a minute. That’s a good musical memory.

Alexander: I entered a competition to get into school with a scholarship – that was my ticket to get out of North Carolina, because I couldn’t afford to come out here. The five seconds before I went onstage, I knew it would change my life. It was a really heavy moment. I knew that if I blew it, I’d be back home flipping burgers for the rest of my life. If I didn’t, I‘d be out here, and I’d meet these guys.

Do you remember the name of the first album you ever purchased or were given as a gift?

Wigington: Green Day, Dookie. That was the first cassette tape I ever bought. My parents were like, “What is this?” It was pretty cool.

Mancini: I begged my mom to take me to the record store, and I bought Jonny Lang’s Lie to Me. That was my first.

Alexander: The first album I ever bought was – this is how cool my mom is – she drove me to the record store and bought me Slayer’s God Hates Us All album. She bought it for me; she went into the store – because I couldn’t buy it, I was underage.

Singleton: I can’t think of the first album I ever owned, but I remember the first time I fell in love with something that was music: it was “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. My dad sat me down; he was like, “You need to listen to this.” I remember exactly where I was, what it looked like, what the chair looked like that I was sitting in, and I remember listening to it and thinking, “I have to know what’s going on. I have to figure out what’s going on to be able to communicate like this.” From then on, it’s been a puzzle, trying to figure out how music is made and how it affects people. And how John Bonham’s foot does that!

Interview by Meghan Roos

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