I arrive early, but the band is already waiting for me. I settle in, get as semi-comfortable as one can when trying to conduct an interview in a boomy, New York venue during sound check, joke about my spectacular ability to horribly misquote my subjects, and after some slightly less comfortable giggling, assure them I would never do such a thing on purpose. Then London Grammar's playback of "Metal & Dust" obliterates the conversation, sending Haerts and I scattering to find a quiet place to chat at Irving Plaza. We would settle for a musty stairwell.
On the day of our meeting this past April, Haerts' four members had just returned home to play a homecoming gig opening for the aforementioned band that just sent us running for a place where we could hear ourselves think. Like London Grammar, Hearts is a slick and polished, electronically inclined rock band, who's current offering (the Hemiplegia EP) is rich with waves of synthetic bliss and ricocheting percussion and programming. It's a warm weather collection of songs, which on this day in NYC was something everyone could still use a little more of. This was the very cusp of spring, after all, and memories of the wicked winter lingered fresh in the collective memory.
Led by vocalist Nini Fabi and keyboardist/composer Ben Gebert, the two musicians began to lay the foundation for the band as schoolmates back in Germany when they were only 14 years old. As Nini tells it, "Benny was the guy who started playing piano when he was three years old. He was doing a lot of classical music. He went to proper classical school." Nini, on the other hand, was a little more closeted with her creative muses...less technical maybe, with lyrics in her journal, melodies in her head. The two opposing teenage approaches complemented each other, however. "There was definitely a deep connection, musically," Nini points out.
Born to a German mother and an American father, New York City was always in the vocalist's plans. "When I came to New York for the first time, it was just a place that really struck a chord with me, and obviously very different from Munich, where Benny and I grew up." They would move when they were old enough, with no real plan, other than to try and play music. There connection to the other two members in the band would take a few years. Both Nini and Ben pursued college studies in Boston, meeting English bassist Derek McWilliams during that period and luring him back to New York upon completion of their studies. The final piece of the puzzle would be guitarist Garrett Lenner, whom they met some time later through their mutual friend and now producer, Jean-Philip Grobler of the like-minded electro-pop outfit, St. Lucia.
Together, the quartet makes music that's indicative of each member's personality. It's warm and fuzzy, nostalgic and romantic, earnest and heartfelt, with robust and sure-footed foundations. Such qualities start with Nini, who tills her own experiences and emotions for the inspirations that dart across Hearts' music. "Writing is an internal process," Nini explains. "I was never able to write a story about something that's not somewhere in me. Everything that I do, everything that I see, everything that I surround myself with, every conversation, and every word that I hear can really start a song."
Still, such stories, though extremely personal, are fairly open-ended. On songs like "All The Days" and "Hemiplegia" specific moments lack definition. It's as if she trades the exact stories of her life for the resulting feelings of those experiences with her poetry. On "Wings", for instance, she tackles heartache with a glassy ambiguity. "People never smile to say good-bye/Leaving means there's nothing left to try/But I broke my wings for you/I smiled as you untied our love for good."
It's this quality of Nini's narratives — a universal appeal that can be interrupted differently from listener to listener...something every good pop artist strives for — that's one of the most ambitious qualities of Haerts' music. "Since I was a little girl I always had this idea of writing the perfect poem or the perfect lyric. That would be when you start with a thought and you finish that thought perfectly. I feel like I've never been able to do that. That's why I can't say what every song is perfectly about because you start with something and then after you write it, it develops into something else."
Such a personal investment in the music does not go unnoticed by the other members of the band. "To work with people who create music that is such a close part of people's personalities is a very rare thing," McWilliams declares. "When I got to know these guys I could see very much their personalities come through. Their music also resonates with my personality as well."
Currently, the band is in the studio with Jean-Philipp Groebler, putting the finishing touches on a full length, major label debut that they hope will be ready for the fall. In addition to the London Grammar tour, they recently played a few high-profile, festival gigs at both Governors Ball and Firefly. Opportunities like these are massive, of course, but it's clear Haerts are a band who aim to make the most of them. "With every day that passes it's part of this journey that we're doing together," McWilliams told us. "As every day goes we all learn something new, we all push ourselves a little harder, we all become a little better. To do that every day, to accumulate these experiences together is something that is pretty unique and special."
As for Ben, he sees things in a more altruistic light. "I personally hope [the music] touches people on some emotional level and has some sort of impact. A part of me always thinks I want to do something good for the world, I want to give something back." This fall the band will have their chance with the release of their debut album...a chance to show what their hearts are truly made of.