Five Questions With... The Honest Heart Collective
Brothers Ryan and Nic MacDonald lead the powerful Thunder Bay-based rock band. Here they reflect upon the making of their new album, their creative partnership, and the thriving scene in their hometown.
By Jason Schneider
Anchored by brothers Ryan and Nic MacDonald, The Honest Heart Collective was born out of a moment at a Bruce Springsteen concert, and a rotating cast of musicians made it permanent. The band’s recently released sophomore album Grief Rights builds on the passion and energy displayed on their debut, Liar’s Club, with more songs rooted in longing, deceit and new beginnings.
Based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, The Honest Heart Collective has maintained a blue-collar mentality since forming in 2013 and playing over 150 shows since. And with Grief Rights bearing a powerful sonic stamp courtesy of producer/engineers Derek Hoffman and Jay Ruston, the band seems more than ready to take the next step.
Their commitment has only intensified in the wake of an accident last December en route to a show that totalled their van, trailer and some gear. Thankfully the members just walked away with some bruises, and with the support of their fans, a crowd-funding campaign surpassed a goal of $10,000.
The Honest Heart Collective is eager to reach those fans with more touring lined up this summer. They’re currently on tour in Ontario, with two hometown shows slated for the start of June. The MacDonald brothers took some time to chat about their new album, and more info is available at www.honestheart.co.
What was the process like making Grief Rights?
Ryan: It was a tough two-year-long process. We did so much pre-production on our own. We recorded three demo versions of the song“I’ve Got You” alone before we even stepped into the studio. We dug in with everything we had and put the work in to create a record we truly thought was us.
Nic: Grief Rights didn’t come easy. There was over a year of uncertainty before we finally figured out how we wanted to make the album, followed by another year of scrambling to find the money to pay for it. It wasn’t until we began working with Derek Hoffman that Grief Rights finally started to take shape. Thanks to him, we have an album that we love.
As brothers, how has your creative partnership evolved over the years?
Ryan: We’ve had a great system going where I’ll bounce a song or idea off of him, and then we throw it back and forth until it turns itself into a THHC song. We keep improving, and we’re learning a lot about arrangement lately. I’m stoked to see what we come up with next.
Nic: We’ve always kind of had this thing going where Ryan will come up with something, and I’ll try my hardest to push him to explore new avenues and not just lean on old crutches. The real magic happens when we get in a room with Jay and Kevin because everyone’s influences shine through and shaky ideas become THHC bangers.
What songs on Grief Rights are you particularly proud of?
Ryan: I’d say “North American Dream.” We had that song pretty nailed down in the pre-pro stage, but when we starting working with Derek, we realized the current arrangement didn’t quite fit “us”. So we worked all day to rebuild that song, and I couldn’t be more proud of what came out of that session.
Nic: I’d have to give it to “Lonely Bones.” This one went from a live-off-the-floor demo to a final mix without going through any major structural or lyrical revisions, which is cool! Makes me feel like we’re starting to get the hang of this songwriting thing! It’s a total blast to play live, and Kev’s dual solos get me every time.
What's the scene like in Thunder Bay?
Ryan: Thunder Bay has a great music scene to grow up in and learn the nuances of playing live music. I’ve watched it ebb and flow over the last decade and a half, and I love it. We’ve got lots of great bands, and more and more of them are starting to tour. It’s only a matter of time before we all put Thunder Bay music on the map.
Nic: I agree. Thunder Bay loves live music, and there’s a ton of crazy talented musicians who live there. The city has recently proposed initiatives to become more of a “Music City” as well so the future looks bright.
If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?
Ryan: I’d like to see people be more honest about what they can do for artists or at least be more upfront about what they can’t do and tell them.
Nic: You know what they say, honesty is the best policy!