2011 could be Jeff Hershey’s year. The 30-year-old fixture on the local music scene (most notably as bassist for the hugely popular ’90s post-punk band No Motiv) has done pretty much everything an ambitious young musician can — and perhaps, should — in the process of following the creative path. He’s done the songwriting, the records, the van tours, the fliers, the booking, the contracts, the networking, the merch, the bickering, the overindulgence, the breakups and the reunions. He’s endured shitty agents, crooked management and sweaty bars. He’s enjoyed the applause and tasted the industry’s version of success. (No Motiv was the first band to sign to Vagrant Records. They shared a tour bus with Dashboard Confessional who opened for them. Their music is featured on video game soundtracks, and they played all the appropriate festivals including Warped Tour and X-Games.) Yet with more than a decade of it behind him, he still needs a day job to keep it all going — and he couldn’t be happier. Supremely confident and charming to a fault, false humility is not his strong suit, but there is a peace about Hershey these days, a mature contentment fueled in part by the completion of his dearest project to date — the first record by Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats — but also by the realization that life is short and doesn’t end well. This weekend Hershey will celebrate the official release of the record Soul Music Vol.1 with a live performance at Bombay Bar & Grill. More than anything, he wants you to know that in the grand scheme of things, that particular moment will never happen again. And if you miss it, well, you miss out.
VCReporter: You are known as a rock and metal guy. What prompted you to go soul?
Jeff Hershey: I think I just got bored. You can only do so much with a certain style of music. Also, I think I grew up. When I was in metal bands and hard rock bands — which I still do — but when that was my primary thing, I liked the musicianship of it; but when I started to sing in bands and actually sing, that’s when I got into soul music. Those singers, the pure emotion that comes out of their voices, is what attracted me. It’s working man’s music, it’s honest.
The whole thing started as a novelty for me. When I was in no No Motiv, we did a tour EP where every band member had to write and record a track doing everything, and I suck at drums so that’s when I wrote my first doo-wop song and made it vocal-based. I don’t like to take myself too seriously but this band is definitely no joke. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel or create some new ground-breaking sound. I’m trying to write modern classics. And I think the record can stand on its own with the others from back in the day.
How has this project been received? People seem excited about the live shows.
I think it’s been received really well. The heart and soul of the band is basically punk rock. We are not your traditional band playing R&B covers in a bar. I think the reason people like it is, we bring the excitement to the stage. It’s like when rock ’n’ roll was dangerous. You want to go to a live show to be entertained. So many bands record these days and they sound perfect, and you see them live and it’s like, “What’s this?” I’m very grateful for the reception and I like the spectrum of our audience from young to old. People’s grandparents come. I think it’s a universal band.
Does this mark a complete change of direction, or will you just add it to your other projects?
It’s kind of weird because I just started a new metal band and we wrote five songs in four rehearsals, and I can say this record coming out is what I will be known for from here on out. This is the culmination of my whole life: the contacts I’ve made, the people I’ve known. I think I really found myself in this project and I’m ready to cash it in. I’m ready to burn it down.
How much of an audience is there for this type of music, and does it matter?
The scene worldwide is very tight-knit and small. There is a big scene in the U.K. that’s having a resurgence. It’s small but I think there’s an audience for it in the way we handle it. We could play Coachella and Warped Tour and I think people would dig it. We play punk rock covers in our set. Fear songs, Misfits, Rocket From the Crypt. We know who we are and where we’re from, it’s not like I’m trying to pretend. I’ll show up in a suit with a Merciful Fate patch on it.
What was it like to write in this style as compared to rock ’n’ roll?
I’ve used a lot of the same formulas. It’s just a pop music form. Everyone follows me on the cues and I don’t even have an instrument. Communication is the key but songwriting is just a pop structure. The addition of horns was new to me, but it’s basically adding a second melody on top of what’s there. I usually get a vocal idea in the shower or something and record it on my phone, and then bring it to the guys. It’s fun to write this stuff, it’s not real challenging. If this was the most popular music today I’d think twice about it because everything is competitive, but I’ve learned to stop worrying about things. I’ve worked so hard on this project. Every day of my life has been consumed with this. I’m starting to enjoy the journey and be more patient with myself instead of going, “Are we there yet, are we there yet?” And now we’re here.
Has the state of the music industry changed the way you approach making music?
Making it or selling it? They’re different. I used to go to studios and pay $1,000 for a 24-hour lockout. Now everyone has pro tools and can record in their garages. Selling music — obviously you can go online and get anything for free.
You will suffer quality but a lot of people don’t care about that. In No Motiv we made a lot more money because the technology was around but not as popular. But we will see. People still need something tangible. Any fan of this band will want to hear it on vinyl. We are heading toward an age where you will want ultimate quality and ultimate convenience. So you will have it on your iPod and on wax. I don’t think we will ever get rid of physical stuff. I bought an album on iTunes once, and when I see it in the store I feel like I don’t own it.
Are there plans for a tour?
I’m talking to three different agencies in Europe right now. That is the plan, to tour Europe first. There is a big scene for us there. I’d like to be there two or three times with this band. I’ve toured the States a lot, but it doesn’t make sense for this band to get in a van and hang out in Wyoming for a basement show.
So, are you living the dream?
I will always have the dream but now there’s more reality. I have no problem being gainfully employed — working a day job humbles me. I think the greatest art is made at that honest struggling level. I just want to enjoy my life. I’m a lot more secure these days and I’m happy to live. I’ve had close people die and the reality is they’re not coming back. I want my legacy to live on through music. A record is timeless.
Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats will perform live at Bombay Bar & Grill on Friday, May 13 with supporting acts La Vonettes and Alexandra & the Starlight Band.$5 cover includes CD.
Soul Music Vol.1
Jeff Hershey & the Heartbeats
Jeff Hershey sums up Soul Music Vol. 1 perfectly: “31 minutes of knock-down, drag-out rock ’n’ soul.”
Painstakingly recorded live to tape, it’s a process that’s considered de rigueur in the soul revival community because it imparts an authenticity that cannot be captured any other way. All the gear was old, down to the mics.
Instead of the microperfectionism that’s common to the most state-of-the-art digital recording process, there’s no hiding behind a live recording. The band must be flawlessly rehearsed and super-tight — the Heartbeats absolutely are. Featuring arguably Ventura County’s best rhythm section, Sam Bolle on bass (Agent Orange, Dick Dale, Slacktone) and Tony Cicero on drums (Saccharine Trust, Big River, Park Bench Prophets); along with Joe Baugh, the hardest working guitarist in town; and Kyle O’Donnell (Park Bench Prophets) on saxophone, the sound they produce together would make Motown’s Funk Brothers smile. “Obviously, they are the highest-caliber musicians that I know,” says Hershey.
Engineered by Pete Curry (Los Straitjackets), Hershey says the studio was “like going in a time machine. It fit the vibe perfectly for the band.” And Hershey spared no expense on the details. “Every element was key for getting the sound. I didn’t want to cop out on anything,” he said, explaining that if any little thing went wrong, they couldn’t just fix the part, they would have to remix the entire song, which is why recording in this fashion is not for the weak.
“So, sometimes, you’ve got three guys on a mixing board and it’s all timed out live. It’s a lost art, mixing that way.” Fortunately, it’s a method that Hershey and his band of veteran players are not unfamiliar with. Back in the day, upstart bands couldn’t afford time in the studio so they’d be forced to manically rehearse and record live as quickly as possible. “We couldn’t afford to fuck up,” he said. “These days you can make a perfect recording, but what is that?
It’s just a computer.” Soul Music Vol. 1 will be available on iTunes, in record stores as a CD and eventually on vinyl.
CDs will also be complimentary at the release show with a $5 cover charge.