Q&A with Nathan McGarvey of Hearts of Palm
Black Mountain Studios
Hearts of Palm started out in the winter of 2006 as a pop song writing collaboration between former Roper and Black Black Ocean guitarist Stephen Till and longtime friend Nathan McGarvey. Within the following year, the project expanded to eight plus members and the band's sound went from a spare and earnest beauty to an exuberant and impassioned exorcism of melancholy moods. During the course of the band's existence, it won accolades from critics and fans alike and released two EPs before deciding to fold the band in 2009, with two final shows slated for this weekend at the hi-dive marking the occasion including a 16+ show tonight on Friday, November 6, and a 21+ show on Saturday, November 7. We had a chance to speak with lead singer Nathan McGarvey at length about the history of Hearts of Palm, its experiences and what we can expect from its members after the break-up.
Tom Murphy (Westword): What prompted the name change to Hearts of Palm and what's the significance of that name?
Nathan McGarvey: We got to the point where there were too many people actually writing songs. It was always kind of a joke having a big band named Nathan & Stephen. But it got to the point where we were all sick of the joke and we wanted to make sure everyone was getting their due. It's the name of an Idaho record that a lot of us are really big fans of. By the time we found Hearts of Palm, we all got together, made lists, voted on things and that was really the only thing not everyone hated.
WW: Why did you only put out EPs rather than a full-length record?
NM: Well we wrote really slowly. And all of our recording times were kind of rushed. I think both EPs were done in three or four days each because we were paying for studio time and we had to get everyone off work at the same time. The Everyone EP was recorded at Notably Fine Audio by Colin Bricker and Andrew Vastola did the second one at Rocky Mountain Recorders.
WW: Why did you call your first EP The Everyone EP and your second The Bridge?
NM: The Everyone EP was playing off the joke of a big band being called Nathan & Stephen. Because even at that point, everyone had already started putting their flavor into it. The Bridge EP, one of the songs on there had something about a bridge so that helped. At the time we released it, I think we thought we were going to write in a different way so we saw those songs as kind of a middle ground between the old songs and the new stuff we were writing. Which is funny now because we didn't release anything after The Bridge EP.
WW: On your Myspace page you list your genres as "Indie," "Pop," and "Gospel." Is the latter a joke or did that play a role in the band's music and if so, how so?
NM: I think it is mostly a joke. For a long time we had "Pop," "Pop," "Pop." We heard, from time to time, that we had, in a weird way, kind of a gospel feel. There's a lot of singing without much harmony, I guess. And with horns and everything, I guess you could see that. But that was after the fact. It was never done intentionally. It was more the way people reacted to it.
WW: The Everyone EP came out on Morning After Records. Considering some of the out of town gigs you played, were you ever approached by a bigger label to put out an album?
NM: Morning After was our label for both EPs. Dan Rutherford, it was his idea to work with Illegal Pete's. He'd had a relationship with Pete for a long time and they had long been talking about doing something musical together. And then Dan had the idea of doing a sponsorship type thing. In return for playing a bunch of shows for them, we actually only played one show for them, and giving them exclusivity for the first EP, they paid for the pressing.
We weren't [approached by a bigger label]. Someone from our band had some interaction with someone from Atlantic who said they really liked us but would never sign us. We kind of took it as a compliment. We never had much interest from other people as far as we knew. We only got out of town a few times. We went to SXSW [in 2008], which was fun, but it was more for us to get to go. We also did [the Hyperactive] festival in Albuquerque once, in 2007, which was also pretty fun.
WW: Can you tell me about your out of town jaunts and what you learned from each or at least what sticks out in your mind as particularly memorable about each?
NM: We learned that it's better to have a van than not. When we went to Albuquerque we caravanned with four cars. At SXSW we found it was good to have friends in the area. Our friends had a vacation pad so we had kind of a lavish place to stay. Both trips were a blast. I also found out I sang way better in a humid climate. I get hoarse after shows up here. During SXSW we played five shows in four days and I never lost my voice once.
WW: What were some of your favorite moments with the band on stage and off?
NM: Off stage traveling around was fun. We were lucky to be great friends before the band started and traveling we never really got on each other's nerves much. We never had that kind of rivalry within the band, which is good.
As far as onstage goes, we had a friend who had a government-sponsored museum that he had set up. His name is Brian Nation--a very prolific, very strange character. He was kind of a crazy artist guy and he had gotten a grant to turn this thrift store at Colfax and Krameria into a museum. He called it The Museum of Light and Motion, now it's a thrift store again, St. Vincent DePaul. He had taken all the stuff inside out and put in installation art. Then he used it for a bunch of photo shoots. He built a huge stage and he had a few shows there. He also owned a Shetland pony so when we played there was a Shetland pony in a makeshift stockade in the back of the store. It was fantastic. I don't know if we played well but we had a great time.
WW: The celebratory feel of much of the band's music was rightfully pointed out by critics. Yet somehow it seems as though there was a melancholy undertone to a lot of it. What would you say was the emotional and thematic core of the project's songwriting?
NM: That's kind of hard to say. A lot of times the lyrics were more depressing than the music sounded. Andrew Warner from Bad Luck City and Red Cloud West used to always talk about that with me. He thought we were one of the most depressing bands in town even though we were fun to watch. I think that always made our songs kind of weird in a way but if you watch instead of paying attention it seems like a fun, good time but the lyrics are depressing and kind of dark but not too dark.
WW: What were some of the funniest pieces of press, name misspellings and odd comparisons you received over the years?
NM: I had a lady tell me I sounded like a guy from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and I thought that was a little hurtful. I don't know why but we got called "Nathan & Steffen" or "Nathan & Steppin'" sometimes. Also "Nate & Steve" from time to time. Once we changed the name, I don't think there were any hilarious misquotes with the name.
WW: With your band being one of the most popular indie bands in town, or at least that was the perception, why was it time to bring an end to Hearts of Palm?
NM: It sounds kind of trite but we all wanted different things in the end. And we were definitely lucky to get the kind of response we got from some people. But throughout us playing, we jumped from one thing to another and never really had the chance to sit down and think about what we wanted to do long term. Which was great and it kept us going for a long time. But when Jared, our second drummer, ended up moving to New York with his girlfriend, we had some time to think about what we wanted to do. So we thought we'd figure out what we wanted to do next before we got a new drummer.
When we had that conversation, we all found out we had different expectations of what we wanted to do. In the end we figured that if we all wanted to do different stuff, we might as well do whatever we wanted to do and do it separately.
WW: What are the members of your band doing musically post-Hearts of Palm that you know about?
NM: Almost everyone is doing stuff. Stephen and Leanor are doing a project called Mouthful of Thunder. Stephen is taking a format where he can play by himself or play with a big band. At the Westword Showcase last year he played with a big band. That's something he's always wanted to do.
Matthew is in Houses now and they're doing really well. Jonathan is playing with d. biddle when they play and he's doing all kinds of professional stuff and doesn't play as much. Dan Craig is doing his own solo thing and doing really well and touring. He and his wife are about to release a new album. Phil, our trumpet player, is starting a band, but right now he's writing. That will be interesting when that comes out. Justin, our keyboard player, has been doing production stuff around town. He's actually had local rappers commission him to write beats--that's where he started. He was more production side before he played keyboards. I think I'm the only person who isn't doing anything musical. I'll figure something out one of these days.
WW: A lot of great bands don't do a final show. Why do two final shows and do you have anything special planned for them?
NM: I'm actually not sure why we're doing two shows. We like the idea of having a sixteen and over show and a twenty-one and over show because we have noticed it's a pretty different crowd with both. We're also keeping it pretty cheap at $3 so we're hoping more people will show up for that reason. It's also nice getting to play with four bands over two days. Other than that, I don't really know. I also think we miss playing and we might as well take advantage of having had the practice done.
Usually when we do fun little stuff at our shows, we usually put it together at the last minute. It's pretty hilarious but we're such slow writers that we only have eleven songs and we're going to have to stretch them both nights to fill up a headlining slot.
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