While on tour, every time Authority Zero guitarist Dan Aid came across a person who was unusually kind or helpful, he would think to himself, "They're a member of the Big Hearts Club."
That's now the name of his latest post-punk project with Slow Caves guitarist and frontman Jakob Mueller.
On August 11, Big Hearts Club will release its debut single, "Dear Nick." A moody, indie-rock song reminiscent of the Smiths and DeVotchKa, it's produced by James Doviak, the guitarist, keyboard player and producer for former Smiths member Johnny Marr.
While the drop date is a week away, the band is giving Westword readers a sneak peek. And after listening to the song, we caught up with Aid to talk about the new project and find out more about "Dear Nick."
Westword: Tell me about Big Hearts Club.
Dan Aid: Big Hearts Club started as a turn of phrase that James Alex from Beach Slang and I would say to each other. It was this way of recognizing people for the large-hearted way they were acting or speaking. I think the actual phrase Alex used to say was "Big Hearts Unite!," and he meant it. Before Big Hearts Club was ever a band, it was an idea, and over the past few years, I have been thinking a lot about it as I traveled around on tour, meeting people and seeing places that changed my perspective and opened my world in ways I never would have imagined or expected. Everywhere I went, I tried to pay attention to the little moments, the times where someone went out of their way to do or say something to me that made me swell up in the chest, and every time that happened, I would think, "They're a member of the Big Hearts Club."
What brought the band together?
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About a year ago, when I was in between tours, I hit up Jakob Mueller from Slow Caves about maybe meeting up and doing a writing session. I'd met Jakob through my old drummer, Stefan Runstrom, of Wiredogs and Tickle Me Pink, about eight years ago, when Stefan was recording one of Jakob's early bands in his basement up in Fort Collins. I called Jakob because I think he's about as big-hearted a guy as I've ever met, and I didn't know what our styles would end up creating, but usually if you step into a room with lovely people, lovely things tend to happen.
So Jakob and I met up at his folks' place, and I think we spent twelve hours writing and demoing that first day. When we emerged from the basement sometime after midnight, we had a fully demoed song with all the instruments and vocals laid down. We kept meeting up for these half-day marathon writing sessions, and at the end of every one of them, we had a new tune. I think we both like to work fast, and after a few months, we had about fifteen song ideas recorded.
Then I left for tour again, and then he left for tour with Slow Caves. He was busy trying to finish up his bachelor's degree, and I was out in Los Angeles shooting a couple of TV shows and a movie, and the project seemed to sort of fall into a holding pattern. But I would walk around L.A. on rainy afternoons listening to those demos, and they always made me feel good.
How did you wind up working with James Doviak?
Jakob and his family took me to see Johnny Marr at the Gothic Theatre. I knew about the Smiths but had never listened to Johnny's solo stuff, and so I walked into the room that night just up for a good time, but with no real expectation. Johnny and the band blew me away. I spent the next few months listening to his records on repeat and his autobiography, Set the Boy Free, on Jakob's audible account. Johnny's music and his worldview resonated deeply with me and inspired a lot of conversations between Jakob and myself over burritos and too many cups of coffee.
I'd been sitting on the demos for almost a year and started to think about if we were to make a record, who I would want to work with as a producer. The first idea that came to me was to see if Johnny might be interested, so I hit up his manager to see if she wouldn't mind passing along a couple of demos. She responded very kindly, but I never heard anything back after that. Then I started to look at who had worked with Johnny on producing his solo records, and I ran across the name James Doviak. So I sent James a message, not expecting to really hear anything, and he wrote me back this lovely, long email expressing interest in the project and saying how much he liked the tunes — "Dear Nick," in particular.
We started brainstorming about what working together might look like from there. We had made a rough plan to meet up at a studio in L.A. this year and spend a few days recording, and then COVID hit. The project slowed; communication having to do with anything BHC-related seemed a little irrelevant given the global lockdowns and uncertainty. Then James pitched the idea of maybe mixing what we had recorded in Jakob's basement. We sent him the tracks, and then James and I would do these virtual mixing sessions with software James had found that allowed us to both listen to mixes and make changes in real time with him in Manchester and me being in Denver. "Dear Nick" is the result.
Have you been playing out, or are you just recording?
We haven't played out yet. We've started doing some writing with drummer Gregg Ziemba of Rubedo and Wheelchair Sports Camp, and if it makes sense at some point, I think we would all be down to do some shows. I don't think any of us really know what live music is going to look like in the aftermath of the pandemic. In the meantime, I know we all love being around each other and enjoying the music we're creating, so hopefully we can find a way to keep putting music out until we can do more with the project.
What's it like launching a new band in the middle of a pandemic?
It's different. And I don't think 'different' is bad. Jakob, Gregg and I have all been in bands and made records and toured in groups since we were teenagers, so I think having to approach the beginning of a project without having a distinct road map of how to push the project out is very freeing in a way. You're not able to fall back on the same pattern of promotion that you used to, which hopefully will push us to be more creative in how we present this music and us as humans to our community.
Tell me about this debut single? What's the story behind it? And why are you releasing this first?
"Dear Nick" came out of that first set of basement writing sessions that we did in Fort Collins. The day would always start at about 11 a.m. I would drive up from Denver, we would get a bagel, then start playing through ideas. Once the initial music of the track was written and recorded, we would always take a coffee break and grab pens and paper and revisit the conversations that we had been having throughout the day. "Dear Nick" came out of one of those conversations.
We were discussing how both of us had recently had major fallouts with our respective best friends and were no longer on speaking terms with either of those people. The process of falling out of a relationship with someone you have loved and created with for years, I think, makes building new friendships and creative relationships feel shaky, so I think as Jakob and I were deepening our relationship, we necessarily had to bring up those old wounds. "Dear Nick" is about how to live your truth in life. Sometimes it means moving on from people; it means stepping away from the comfort of well-constructed safety zones and into the unknown of what your heart is curious about in yourself.
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We are releasing this song first because Big Hearts Club is an idea about what can happen when roughed up souls try to find each other. Big Hearts Club is the act of seeing one another and holding one another and dancing with one another. This song, this band, is dedicated to all the big-hearted, callused-handed, open-minded dance-floor shufflers. We see you. We are you. You are welcome here.
What are you ultimately hoping to do with this project?
I think we would love to get together with James in L.A. as we had originally planned and spend a couple of weeks in a studio making the first BHC record. Eventually, we would love to get to show these songs to audiences. I think we'll just have to wait till the time is right. Until then, hopefully, we can keep putting out tunes and inviting more people to be part of the Big Hearts Club.
Hear "Dear Nick" at the band's SoundCloud page.