I had the Squig Ransom pleasure of sitting down with AJ from the Heavy Hours to talk about their debut single and music video “Don’t Walk Away”. The song was written collaboratively by all four band members who are close friends, along with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and produced by Simone Felice (The Lumineers, Matt Maeson, Jade Bird). It gave me genuine wholesome vibes to listen and watch the video. Check out my full conversation with AJ here where we go in-depth on the song, video, writing process and influences.
Squig Ransom: When did you first start playing music and how did The Heavy Hours start?
AJ: I had been playing guitar since I was in grade school. Our lead singer Michael, who was a close friend of mine, didn’t start playing music until we were in college. He had this hidden amazing voice, we couldn’t believe he was keeping it from us for so many years. Then we met John and Ian who are now the bassist and drummer of our band. We had been friends for a really long time…I don’t really know why we started. We just didn’t want to do what our friends were doing, and we started playing music in this abandoned house.
Squig Ransom: That’s sweet man. I think it’s interesting, when people think they’re not a good singer and end up having a real sick set of pipes on them. They surprise you.
AJ: Mike has been our friend for so long, we didn’t really view him that way until we started getting more outside feedback that people really liked our sound. Mike is our Neil Armstrong, our reluctant hero. He’s our lead singer but he doesn’t really like the limelight. We all sit down and write the songs together as a band. We always like to collaborate and do everything together. It’s more of a four musketeers kind of vibe. It’s completely holistic. We’re all brothers.
Squig Ransom: I think that resonates in your sound (no pun intended) that you guys are all working together to create the songs. It’s not just one guy who’s the frontman and everyone else is following along.
Now I want to ask you, who are some of your influences and inspiration?
AJ: Our drummer Ian says that the classics are what really inspire him, The Beatles, Jim Croce, The Rolling Stones, Elton John. Their style and technique are just killer. That’s something that we strive to emulate. For myself I grew up listening to 90s college rock like Pavement, Modest Mouse. John is a huge Kings of Leon fan and we all love them. They are all brothers and they have a very raw sound so we can relate and be inspired by them. Mike and I both agree that J. Roddy Walston & The Business is a huge influence and inspiration for us. I remember going to their concert and seeing the environment they created, the whole crowd dancing and sweating. I knew that I wanted to make music that creates that environment.
I could see in your video that there were a lot of different influences going into it. I couldn’t quite pick out where it was coming from but I can see it now. It reminded me of the Front Bottoms. It was very real and intimate. I could tell that you guys are just a couple of friends playing music and not putting on a façade.
How did you go from playing on a farm in an abandoned house to getting in touch with Dan Auerbach and getting over a hundred thousand streams on your first song? What was the journey?
AJ: Mike and I were hanging out one day, and it was April Fools Day, and we got this phone call. It was this random guy in Nashville, who said he heard our music, he loved it, and he wanted to sign us. This guy is now our agent. We had our demo CDs going around to our family and friends, and somehow it ended up on his desk. Then it started going around to his industry friends. We didn’t even know how Dan Auerbach heard it and then we got a call a week later saying he wanted to get lunch with us.
Squig Ransom: What is the lyrical significance of “Don’t Walk Away”?
AJ: That song came together in a very Nashville style of composing. We were sitting around a table in Dan’s kitchen, going around humming random melodies. Then we found the melody and made a chord progression, and then Dan said “alright let’s write some lyrics.” We normally write lyrics that are a deep exploration to our inner hearts and minds, but that wasn’t really fitting to this setting. It was only natural that the song was something we could all relate to. It wasn’t a song written alone in a deep contemplative state. It was written authentically by the group of us sitting around in the kitchen writing a song on the spot. Everyone needs a good love song that’s easy to get behind and relate to. It was fun writing a song with a guy with we just met.
Squig Ransom: Tell me about your socially distanced tour adventure. How did that go?
AJ: It’s been really fun. We’ve been driving in a rented RV to Colarado, Kansas, Kentucky, Nashville, all over. We’ve been going to the houses of venue promoters who are out of work, and we’ve been playing in their front yards for them, and their neighbors and who ever else is around. We’ve played at local radio stations in their parking lots. Everyone’s been very respectful about being safe with Covid precautions. It definitely makes for a good first tour.
Squig Ransom: Speaking of mixing influences and genres, what are fans to expect in terms of your sound?
AJ: When we’re recording a song, we like to start with the barebones essence of the song, just the vocals and main guitar melody. Sometimes when Ian sends us ideas for a song, it starts off as a voice memo of him whispering a melody into his phone in a closet. And you know if it sounds good whispered in a closet, it’s going to sound even better with the whole band. We’ve kept the recording process very consistent. We recorded all the vocals the same way, with the same guitars, same amps and EQ for all the songs. There may be some songs where we venture into different genres, but mostly we made all the decisions based off what sounded right in the moment for the song. We weren’t trying for a certain sound and it came together organically.
Squig Ransom: What are fans to be on the lookout for in the near future?
AJ: More tunes, more videos and content. We’re all creative guys, and as long as we’re all locked up in our houses, we’re going to keep creating content together. We’ve been recording a bunch of songs and we’ll be dropping more soon. Maybe more singles, maybe an EP, maybe the whole album.
You Can Find The Heavy Hours Here!