No matter where you fall on the spectrum of “life after death” ideology, one thing common to everyone’s belief is that we are all allotted a finite amount of time on this corporeal plane. Skipping the debates surrounding destiny and free will, how you spend your time is largely your own decision. Post-punk quartet Heater is well aware of this concept, the idea that we are all doing the metaphysical equivalent of a “tight five” at an open-mic and that we should try to make the most out of the time we have. On their latest recording, the three-song EP Temporary Power, the band crams as much energy as possible into a brief blast of sonic brilliance.
A little backstory: Heater is composed of four dudes bashing away at a version of punk rock that fits in with early-emo, post-hardcore legends like Fugazi and Mineral. Each member is also fully ensconced in the throes of adult life, but for all their various adult responsibilities, they have built one of the loudest, most incendiary live acts around. Heater has put out a few recordings over the past four years, and taken together, they could probably fill an entire album. If you’re one who still prefers a band’s music as a proverbial 10-12-course meal rather than a succession of snacks throughout the day, Heater’s recorded output might be frustratingly meager, especially since they’re such a compelling live band. In drummer Josh Lindsey’s view, each song they write is something of a miracle.
“With an average of 2.25 kids each, we all have more important things we should be doing every time we even practice,” he said.
But given the premium on each member’s leisure time, it’s no surprise that Temporary Power’s three songs would be recorded in DIY fashion. The band tracked them in their rehearsal space over a couple of days, with singer-guitarist Travis Brown mixing them in his home studio before sending them off to be mastered by Andrew Byrom at Rarefaction Mastering in Sacramento. The whole EP clocks in at just over seven minutes, and the “fast, no fuss” approach to getting it done gives the music a sense of angsty urgency.
Of course, even if Heater labored for a year in an expensive studio over these tracks, they’d still crackle with anxiety –– the distorted thunder laid down by Brown, guitarist Jamie Shipman, and bassist Adam Werner makes you think it might actually be possible for a clenched jaw to generate electricity and to then use that electricity to explode a row of Marshall half-stacks. The lyrics reflect the instrumental tension and storm. Brown, who collaborates on lyrics with Werner, said he comes up with the vocal melody first.
“I always want the vocals to match the passion or the feeling of the song, as if the melody is its own instrument separate from the lyrics,” he said. “Then my lyrics usually come from how the song is making me feel. A lot of my lyrics are some sort of deep cry out for something more than what our time in this life has to offer.”
Though their songs are certainly personal, Werner said they don’t want them to be too black-and-white or specific.
“I think we try to keep the actual wording more open-ended so that you can apply them in different situations,” he mused. “That being said, I definitely started writing what became ‘New Clothes’ with the current administration in mind.”
“New Clothes” is essentially a re-telling of The Emperor’s New Clothes, though when hearing the line “Can you feel the fabric? / There is no fabric / A fabricated lie,” you’d have to be deliberately obtuse not to discern who he’s talking about.
“We are all thinking people who are aware and empathetic,” said Shipman of Brown and Werner’s lyrics. “So, yes, living in the age of Trump is definitely frustrating and disorienting in ways we never thought possible. Is our music a direct response? No. The only appropriate response should be much stronger than just writing dumb punk rock songs.”
But even if Shipman and the rest of Heater think there are weightier ways to react to the divisive politi-cultural maelstrom of the MAGAlomaniac-in-chief, the seven minutes of Temporary Power are at least an exciting use of their very limited time.