Five Questions With… Jeff Stuart of The Hearts
The Albertan roots-pop collective's new EP Sunshine is their fourth release. The group's co-founder and songwriter explains their transition to a more collaborative approach and recalls a memorable early gig he played at a biker bar.
By Jason Schneider
On their fourth studio release, the six-song Sunshine EP that is out now, Alberta roots-pop collective The Hearts brilliantly display how much they’ve streamlined their sound over the past two years.
The six-piece, which now boasts Edmonton singer/songwriter Alex Vissia as part of the line-up, has continuously been evolving since 2011 when co-founder Jeff Stuart began assembling musicians to back him on what was initially intended to be his solo project. The added input soon set The Hearts apart from their peers, as an overall fondness for 1970s AM radio converged with Stuart’s highly personal songwriting style.
That approach reaches new heights on Sunshine, which the band hopes will be the first in a string of releases to appear at regular intervals over the coming year. Produced by Hearts guitarist Gavin Dunn and mixed by Sam Kassirer—known for his work with Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim, Lake Street Drive and others—the EP is the band’s most cohesive effort to date, highlighted by the dreamy first single “Dead & Gone.”
Stuart spoke to us about The Hearts’ new direction as the band gets set to tour this fall, including a European trip in September. However, if you’re near Edmonton, you can catch them June 29 at the Wild Oats and Notes Festival in Tofield, Alberta. For more, go to thehearts.ca.
What makes Sunshine stand apart from your previous work?
We took a more hands-off approach to the recording process on this one. We put a lot of care and effort into writing and arranging, but when it came time to track the songs, we didn’t let ourselves get bogged down trying for the perfect take. We let things roll and went for feel over precision. Much of what you hear on Sunshine is often first or second takes—mistakes and all.
What songs on the new album are you particularly proud of?
All of them! But to pick one, we’re pleased with the way “You’re Not the First” turned out. Our keyboard player Dwayne Martineau sparked the initial idea for it. He showed it to us during a pre-production session, and we just started playing it. The arrangement came together quite naturally—almost accidentally. When we listened back to the iPhone recording that was running through the session, we thought it sounded finished, aside from lyrics. We were scared that we might not be able to capture that moment again when it came time to do a proper recording of it for the EP, but I think we pulled it off pretty well.
How would you describe the band’s artistic evolution so far?
We’ve become more collaborative over time. As individuals, we’ve each learned a lot about playing music, and in turn, we’ve learned a lot about music from each other. We still have plenty to learn, but it becomes increasingly intuitive when we play together, which gives the live show more flow and makes it more fun.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I have a cool mom, and starting when I was very young, she took me to see Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, and many, many more. Those experiences made a lasting impression on me. I was hooked early.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
A band I had in high school got a gig at a club. We were all too young to be in the venue, but we were issued permits by the government to be allowed in there to perform. Most of us had never been inside that sort of establishment before that night. We thought we were pretty damn cool. We were also nervous about how a group of “bikers” at the back of the room were going to take to our tunes. They seemed to be shooting us some strange looks. We happened to know a Black Sabbath cover, so we kicked off our set start with it because we thought it was our best chance to win them over. In hindsight, I imagine the strange looks were because they couldn’t understand why a bunch of children were in a bar playing music!