HT Heartache’s latest record, Sundowner, apparently isn’t a sad album… but that sure is hard to tell while listening to it. HT Heartache is the project of Los Angeles-based musician Mary Roth, whose genre she describes as “Down Tempo, Gothic, Country”… which is about right. The album embraces, a mellow, twangy sonic moroseness… even if the sentiments explored are on the sunnier side. It’s closest peer would likely be the Americana dream pop of Mazzy Star. Sundowner dropped this May, but HT Heartache is just now about to hit the road for the first time in about four years, and will be at the Tin Angel on September 19th. Mary recently took some time to chat with me about her latest release and what she’s planning for the future, including these upcoming East Coast dates.
Izzy Cihak: So there’s not a ton of information available about HT Heartache. How did the project come about?
Mary Roth: HT Heartache came about when I was beginning to write songs almost ten years ago. HT stood for Honky Tonk, and although I never actually played Honky Tonk music, it was derived from that spirit. The original HT Heartache line-up was myself on guitar, my sister singing harmonies (whilst knitting onstage) and our friend, Bougarelli, playing a wash tub bass. I could barely strum a guitar. It was simple and maybe even a little ridiculous, but a special time for sure.
Izzy: And what have been the highlights for you, so far?
Mary: Each era has had its own highlights. The early days were definitely the good old days. It’s hard to trump youth. We played a lot of memorable shows and we drank way too much. It’s evolved over the years and I’ve become a bit of a better musician, capable of more meaningful collaborations and stronger visions. Creating Sundowner has definitely been the highlight of my career artistically, and is far and away the thing I’m most proud of.
Izzy: You released Sundowner earlier this year. How do you feel the album compares to Swing Low, both in terms of its sound and the process of writing and recording it?
Mary: Swing Low was my first experience making a record. They were the first songs I ever wrote, literally of the ten songs I had written in my life at that time, eight of them became Swing Low. Considering that, I think it turned out to be a pretty sweet little album. At the same time, I listen back and hear all the ways it wasn’t fully realized. We spent about four or five months working on and off finishing that album. My amazing friend Gus Black produced it and I will always be grateful to him for that. Sundowner, in contrast, took over a year and a half to complete. My friend Christina Gaillard produced the record with me and it was a long, drawn out labor of love carried out by just the two of us in her living room. It was a first for both of us in terms of recording, engineering, and producing an entire record. A lot of the year and a half went into trouble shooting. Christina is a true cut above in terms of her musical talent and I learned so much from her. The collaboration of our styles and perspectives is really what defines this album – it carries a piece of both of us. I think we felt a real cosmic-fit together.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?
Mary: You know it’s obviously derivative of all the things we love but, between the two of us, that scope is really vast. We weren’t channeling any particular band or sound intentionally. It was an open forum of ideas, we just played around with sounds until something clicked. It was a slow, natural unfolding. I think in terms of real-life inspiration behind the songs there is a pretty strong thread of freedom and rebirth in most of the album. Swing Low was inspired almost entirely out of sadness and heartbreak. The mood on Sundowner is very different. It isn’t really a sad record at all.
Izzy: And do you have a particular favorite track at the moment? “Darkside” really stands out for me.
Mary: I’m probably closest to “Sundowner” for some reason. We recorded it about three different times before we finally arrived at the version you hear on the album. At one point I wanted to leave it off of the album altogether, but Christina kept telling me to give it a chance. It may not be the catchiest of all the tracks, but I like its subtlety and I think it’s the kind of song that grows on you the more you hear it. Lyrically it’s also particularly meaningful to me.
Izzy: You’ve put out a few really cool music videos recently. What is it that inspires the visuals associated with HT Heartache? Are there any films or filmmakers you’re especially fond of?
Mary: Thanks! I love film but I’m a dummy when it comes to the who’s who of that medium. I watch documentaries and comedies mostly, not much time for drama. I like eerie visuals. I’ve used double exposures a lot. Anything to evoke nostalgia, time and space, other-worldliness. I’m not a big fan of plots. It’s fun to document experiences and journeys and that’s what we did for “Cowboy Poetry” and “Ruby,” although each in very different ways.
Izzy: I really, really, really like your video for “Ruby.” Have you seen the Nine Inch Nails documentary Closure, which documents their Self-Destruct Tour? It reminds me of that kind of a lot…
Mary: Thank you! It was my inaugural foray into directing. I haven’t seen that documentary but I’ve wanted to and now I really, really want to.
Izzy: You’re going to be playing here in Philadelphia in the near future. What can we expect of the live experience? These are your first shows in quite some time.
Mary: These are my first shows in a long time. I have a paralyzing anxiety about playing live and have only played one show in the past four years. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. Whatever. The upcoming shows I’m working on will be stripped down, solo performances on the East Coast/North East. I’m just trying to get back in the ring and learn to relax a little. There won’t be a lot of bells and whistles or pyro, just singing from the heart (snore).
Izzy: And what are your plans and hopes for the remainder of 2014 and the first part of 2015?
Mary: I’m doing a stint on the East Coast right now but Christina Gaillard and I plan to band together for some performances when I get back to the West Coast this fall/winter. Out East I’m collaborating with Fountainside for some live shows and helping to produce his new album (to be released under a different name). I’ve taken a little time off from playing and writing since finishing Sundowner but my creative energy reserve is feeling replenished and I’m getting excited about it all again.