Interview: My American Heart

Recording a rock record probably conjures up images of late nights in smoky studios, passing whiskey around like an offering plate and enjoying days lazing about the trendy urban neighborhood in which said studio is located. It probably doesn’t conjure up the image of being car-less in suburban Floridian hell. That’s exactly where My American Heart found themselves while making Hiding Inside the Horrible Weather, their second record for Warped Tour/Taste of Chaos impresario Kevin Lyman’s Warcon Records. “We weren’t old enough to rent a car,” says bassist Dustin Hook, “so we walked two miles to Walmart to buy bikes.”

“James (Paul Wisner, their producer) recommended a hotel that he said was right by his house, but turned out to be about two miles away, which is a long way to walk every day in Florida. The bikes worked out–”

“Yours did!” says guitarist Jessie Barrera, who managed to pop both tires only blocks (and minutes) from store. My American Heart get on like you might expect a group of young men about the age of freshman college students: with equal measures genuine affection and lighthearted jocularity.

The hotel, alas, did not. “It was wretched,” states singer Larry Soliman in the kind of flat, emotionless tone normally reserved for hypnotherapy sessions. “It was a complete crackhead hotel. People would come by at all hours of the night asking ‘You got three cents?'”

Adds Hook: “I liked to ride around for fun with nothing to do. I put three hundred miles on the bike and then returned it. I’m a scammer. Sounds great doesn’t it? All for 40 minutes (of music).”

Hiding Inside the Horrible Weather, the aforementioned 40 minutes of music, is the band’s follow up to The Meaning in Makeup, their 2005 debut. According to the band, the record reflect the personal and music maturation one might expect of a band that still, on average, isn’t old enough to buy beer, much less rent a car. Says Hook, “Every year you have a brand new thing–going from one to the next. When you listen to the records, it definitely shows up.”

“It was a really drastic change for us,” interjects Barrera. “We started listening to a bunch of different kinds of music. When we started, I was huge into Rufio, Taking Back Sunday, Larger than Life from San Diego: just huge into pop punk and skate punk. When we started off were kind of a skate punk kind of band. Touring and listening to new music got us more into rock and roll.”

And deeper, according to Soliman, into the San Diego bands with which they share a musical lineage. “If it wasn’t for bands like No Knife, Noise Ratchet, Counterfit, Spare Change…we wouldn’t be the band we are today.”

The record benefitted also from the careful, ordered guidance of James Paul Wisner, one of the most active producers in the emo/indie circuit. With credits like Underoath, Paramore and The Academy Is… on his resume, Wisner brought a seasoned, if somewhat formulaic, approach to helping My American Heart create the record. “James Paul was way hands-on with the songs,” says Barrera. Our last record, pre-production lasted three days. James really wanted the best songs, getting crazy with keyboards, extra guitars, even singing on the record.” His presence is clear on tracks like “Boys Grab Your Guns,” which would sit comfortably nestled between Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is… on modern rock radio, even if My American Heart is a little rougher around the edges. The hooks are big and clear, if somewhat indistinguishable from those of their brethren, putting the National City quintet right in the wheelhouse of their Warped Tour-attending fan base.

This will be their second year doing the full Warped Tour, a traveling circus of dyed black hair, tight jeans and hooky choruses that’s as much a test of endurance as popularity with scene kids. “If you’re expecting to go into the tour and expecting it to be a breeze, like summer camp, it’s not like that at all. It’s more boot camp than anything,” says Barrera.

Drummer Steven Oira seconds that opinion. “It’s an expensive tour to survive on. Most bands are on a bus, which costs way more than a van and trailer. You leave at 2 AM and you have to be at the next venue at 6. The driver is still awake and all tweaked out.” But, as Hook points out, the tour is unparalleled for giving bands a chance to meet tons of new fans every day. “The typical day is nine hours in the sun. You have to think positively. When you’re around 20,000 kids all day, you might as well talk to as many of them as you can.”

This year’s tour is set to be a little less stressful. My American Heart are set to graduate to the big leagues of touring–their own bus. “Back in 2005 we were going to do a bus tour, but Kevin recommended that we earn it a little bit,” says Hook, noting the advice of their label owner Lyman. Lyman playfully refers to the band as My Asian Americans (Oira, Soliman and Barrera are of Filipino descent). The truth, however, is not quite so cut and dried. “We had a bus for two weeks,” admits Oira. “The bus broke down and the driver straight-up ditched us in the middle of the desert. We did the rest of the tour in an Explorer with eight people in it. We even went to Canada in it. It’s really hard to talk to girls when all you have to offer is an Explorer. In the parking lot on tour it was bus, bus, bus, Explorer, bus, bus…” The collective memory puts smiles on the band’s faces, recalling one of the many “best friends in a foxhole” moments bands encounter on tour.

Talking with a band that’s been touring almost constantly for three years, it’s difficult to believe that they have no recollection of the early 90s, much less the 1980s. When I ask them about the fact that they are living out one of the more awkward times in most people’s lives in front of thousands of people on stage, the band address the question head on. “One thing about doing this young takes a little pressure off in terms of paying bills,” says Hook, as most of the band live with their parents when not on the road. “That stuff’s a little easier on us. There’s another type of pressure that a lot of people don’t deal with, which is trying to grow up as a person–as a human–and trying to grow up as a band.” Oira points out, however, that in some respects youth may be on their side. “There are definite advantages and disadvantages to being young. I feel like being young we have a lot of room to fuck up!” The point is well taken. Four of the five could drop music tomorrow and still have time to knock out a bachelor’s degree before the age of 23.

Despite their youth, the band has noticed that as they mature, their audience doesn’t necessarily grow up with them. “Our shows are definitely changing. Just as three years ago, we were kids playing for kids,” says Hook. “You grow and some of those kids are still there, but they’re not kids anymore. Then there are kids that are just coming into it. Because of that, I feel like we have a real variety of friends.” Once again, Hook’s partner in the rhythm section finishes his thought. “The kids that were listening to us then who are still listening to us now are our friends, because we grow really attached to our friends–I mean fans,” Oira’s Freudian slip suggesting the veracity of his statement. If all goes according to plan, Oira and crew will have a whole slew of new friends by the end of the summer.

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