Your Heart Breaks is a queercore band and music collaboration project based in Washington state. The band's been around since 1999 performing "sparse homo pop love songs", with its creative instrumentation, groovy rhythms, and spacious sound, and recently returned from a tour of Europe. I contacted singer and guitarist Clyde Petersen shortly after that tour for an interview. We talked about working with Karl Blau, the state of queercore music, being a trans/genderqueer musician, and their recent album, Live in Berlin. That interview's after the jump, and here's YHB's "Bad Company" and "The Rats":
Queer music Friday - Your Heart Breaks and Clyde Petersen interview
AB: I notice that you just got back from a European tour. How was that? Do you get different reactions to your music in Europe than you do in the States?
CP: We had the pleasure of touring Europe with Portland-based musician Laura Veirs, and her band Saltbreakers. For a month we toured France, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Your Heart Breaks shares two members of Laura’s band (Karl Blau and Steve Moore), so we had an easy tour, sharing gear and all traveling together in one van. Traveling in Europe was the most amazing experience. People there value music in a completely different way. For one, there seems to be a basic understanding that playing music is a way that people can earn money and survive. So people seem willing to pay for shows, and buy albums. I feel like in America, everyone expects music to be this free item, and surviving as an artist is ridiculously difficult.
Crowds in Europe were so supportive. It did help us very much to tour with Laura Veirs. She is quite respected there, and some of the shows were sold out weeks in advance. Our first gig was in London, and it was packed. People were attentive and excited to see us play, though they had never heard of us. That never happens in the States.
AB: And yet there's so much interesting music that comes out of the American independent scene, especially from Karl Blau, whom I'm glad you mentioned. What's it like to work with Karl Blau? How did you all start this collaboration? I'm sure there's an interesting story there.
CP: I fucking love Karl Blau. He is a genius. He has about 60 albums, and released an album a month for 3 years on his label KELP LUNACY! You could subscribe like a magazine, and the albums came to you in the mail. His discography is huge, and includes all the best in indie rock bands, including Mirah, Little Wings, Laura Veirs, Wolf Colonel, D+, the Microphones, this list just keeps going.... I can’t understand why he is not sitting on a gold throne right now, drinking champagne and ordering around an army of imported monkeys to do his bidding. He should be so famous. Like Britney or Christina famous. It makes me sick.
One of the main reasons I moved back west from Bloomington, Indiana was to start playing music with Karl Blau. I had been traveling around the US, playing guitar in an old-time band called the Milkcrate Rustlers. After about 5 months in Bloomington, I decided I needed to live in a community with more than 3 visibly queer people. I loved the punk scene there, but I was sick of making pizza for a living. I was thinking so hard about gender, and just not finding the support I needed. I moved back to Seattle, and challenged Karl to make a record with me in a day.
We holed up in his shack in the backyard in Anacortes, Washington. It was January, freezing cold, and we recorded 6 songs on his four track. I knew he was good at making beats, so that’s where I really wanted him involved. He has a very natural talent of pulling songs together and making them more interesting with strange rhythms. That was the first time we really collaborated. That was the 4th YHB record. Karl released it on his label KELP! Lunacy, as a split album with compositions by our future YHB bandmate Steve Moore.
From there, things really took off. We work together very naturally, and usually in freezing cold environments. The next two albums we made together were recorded in one session at Dub Narcotic Studio in Olympia. We began tracking the day after New Years, and it was a steady 50 degrees the the warehouse the entire two weeks. We slept there, ate tons of pizza, and made 2 albums, “New Ocean Waves” (on Plan-it-X records) and “Sailor System” (on Don’t Stop Believin’).
AB: That's quite a story. To me, there's such a huge difference in YHB's music and the body of Karl's solo work. Is that just surface level or is there an interesting tension?
CP: I think we are both so accepting of whatever we created, that we often don’t question what gets laid down on the tape. I think Karl is a bit more thorough when it comes to his music, and really has a pretty full vision of a song. I never have an idea of what they are going to sound like. That might be the biggest difference we have.
AB: I want to go back to earlier when you said you were in Bloomington. A lot of our readers (about 20%) hail from Indiana, and I know that people here tend to see Bloomington as a sort of queer oasis in the Midwest, what with its huge, liberal university and all. I'm hoping you could go into more depth about what sort of support you were looking for at the time and if you found it in the Pacific Northwest.
CP: Well, I was not in college at that point. I was going in the exact opposite direction of college. I just wanted there to be more people who actually thought about gender and sexuality in my community, the punk community. I believe that Bloomington is an amazing liberal place. I just couldn’t find people who thought about these issues away from an institutional setting.
AB: I've seen YHB described in several places as "queercore". Is that an apt description? How do you see yourself as part of the queercore movement?
CP: I call our band queercore because it’s a genre I grew up around. To me, QC gave the appearance of really embracing the idea of “other,” the things that American society really identifies as sick and wrong. I like it because it feels inclusive of many different kinds of bands, people, and ideas.
I think queercore is a genre that has yet to be closed, in terms of a timeline and a definition. There is a lot of gay-identified electronic music and rap being produced right now (Team Gina, Scream Club, Nikki Click, Katastrophe) that I think totally fits into the queercore category. I love that. I am grateful for bands such as Tribe 8, the Need, Mukilteo Fairies, Pansy Division and Limp Wrist. They were outspoken and worked hard, making a place for queers in the punk scene. People can argue that Riot Grrrl has found an end and emo is pretty specific at this point (shoegazer vs. hardcore), but queer musicians will never all agree to make one kind of music, and that seems to keep this genre alive. It feels good to be part of a scene where the music is so diverse, but there is an inherent otherness in the perspective and frameworks the songs are written from.
Also, we can see how historically mainstream culture has absorbed, co-opted, and generally fucked with counter-culture movements to absorb them and take away their power. I try to think of a way that mainstream culture could absorb and distill queer punk music. I don’t see queercore/homocore as the kind of music that is commercially successful, and that is a pretty good weapon towards the sustainability of our real culture.
AB: It's interesting to see Pansy Division, Katastrophe, and Limp Wrist and some of those other bands get put in the same genre. But then again, tearing down artificial boundaries like that would probably be half the point.
CP: Yeah, I love all those bands, and I can see where some people would say, “Limp Wrist has nothing to do with Katastrophe.” But I think they have tons in common. Their music sounds very different, but they both fight really hard with their lyrics and presentation of self to identify what they stand for. There are plenty of queer artists who aren’t out or don’t address queer issues. That’s fine too, but I would hesitate to call them queercore, and to me, that exclusion really highlights the similarities between bands like Scream Club and Tribe 8.
AB: On your MySpace page, you describe your music as "sparse homo pop love songs". What does that mean?
CP: The music is spacious, the words are gay, it’s pretty upbeat and the words rhyme, and most of the songs are about trains, getting your whiskey drunk on, and girls. It’s the best way I could think of to describe the feeling. It could also say “drunken gay adventure music.” That might be another accurate description of the band.
AB: And a whole lot funnier at that.
Since you mentioned "girls" and "gay", do you mind if I ask you how you identify in terms of sexuality and gender? Did you reach any conclusions to your thoughts on gender that you mentioned you had in Bloomington?
CP: I ID as trans or genderqueer and prefer pronouns of the dude nature. In terms of sexuality, I like queer ladies and fags.
AB: What's your reaction to being labeled a trans singer, as I did when I first emailed you about this interview? Is it reductive? Does it help you access different media outlets? Or am I the only jerk to email you about it and it's never a big deal?
CP: It’s fine with me. I think this is the first interview I have ever done. Your Heart Breaks has had almost 0% contact with any form of media, except for our webpage, which I don’t have time to update or patience to spell check.
Interview continues below
AB: How does working on a large collaborative project work? How do you find people and get them to work on different tracks and albums? I'm sure that the nature of Your Heart Breaks provides for an interesting dynamic.
CP: When we recorded at Dub Narcotic, we were lucky enough to have 2 full weeks there with 24 hour access. I just walked around downtown, saying hi to people I knew, and told them Karl and I were recording. We invited our friends, and they invited theirs. Olympia is ripe with multi-instrument playing musicians. You can walk down 4th and pick up a full band in about 3 blocks. Lucky for us, we managed to pick up a group of people who had a band named LAKE. They played together all the time, and came into the studio with their gear.
At the time, we were getting up to 12 people rehearsing songs live. We circled up, I played the song, and then everyone picked an instrument. We rehearsed it live 2 or 3 times, and then Karl would mic up the room and hit record on the 8-track. It was really wonderful. Then we would laydown the vocals, sometimes for a choir, and have them stand behind me, and we all sang the part into one mic. Old-school style.
When I am writing , I try and think about the musicians who will best fulfill the aesthetic I’m going for with the tune. I know Karl Blau and Steve Moore really understand the feeling of the band. I want to make our next record very spacious, so I’ve asked Phil Elvrum (Mount Eerie) and Genevieve Castree (WOELV) to be involved in the mix. I love the way they use silence, hesitation, and pause in their music. I love the Microphones “Live in Japan” album as an example of this.
AB: Tell us about your recent album.
CP: Our new album is YHB, “Live in Berlin.” It was randomly recorded in Berlin at Café Zapata. It was a terribly exciting show. Our first in Berlin, it was sold out, packed, sweaty, people were right in our faces dancing.
Our new friend Alexander taped it off the board and sent it to us. I was planning on releasing the show we played in Paris, but the Berlin show had such a kick ass energy. It’s a great document of YHB as a trio, playing every night for a month. Karl, Steve, and I got really tight. The strange cover art is based off a photo taken of the three of us in Germany. I painted a picture of it. We look strange and high for sure. I love it.
For more on YHB and their latest album, click here.