When the K23 Orchestra called it quits in late 2008, the fire was still burning for lyricist Al Howard and keyboardist Josh Rice. In a last ditch effort to keep it lit, the band sent out a mailer seeking a brooding baritone to flesh out the blues rock sketches Howard and Rice had been working at for years. As fate would have it, Erik Canzona, a web designer with a voice like a grizzled hurricane, was available. After a couple successful calls to local musician buddies and a drummer garnered from Craigslist, all systems were go for the freshly minted Heavy Guilt save for studio funds. The remedy? A three weekend yard sale in Howard’s Ocean Beach (San Diego) backyard in which the band “damaged our backs significantly carting out 3,500 LPs every week.” As Howard painfully recalls, “Nothing is heavier than a ton of vinyl.”
Their victorious haggling, which wiped out Canzona’s cherished Curb Your Enthusiasm DVDs, Rice’s golf clubs and around 2,000 of Howard’s records, allowed them to create the debut album Lift Us Up From This at Prairie Sun Studios in Sebastopol. It also provided unexpected inspiration. “Josh and I wrote “Fever,” one of the songs off of our upcoming release, during the high noon yard sale lull,” explains Howard.
The band passes time between shows and fuels the tour van with a variety of day jobs. Howard works at Cow Records in Ocean Beach, Rice is a craftsman, guitarist Sean Martin teaches (you guessed it) guitar lessons, bassist Jason Littlefield gigs around town and drummer Jenny Merullo works at the Mingei Museum.
Despite their 9-5s, the six-piece band found themselves in a familiar cash-strapped situation as time approached to record the sophomore album. This go around the Guilt turned to Kickstarter, the creative project funding platform, to secure time at North Park’s Archival Sounds. Howard gratefully relays, “This album was made possible solely through the generosity of our fan base and even that of some strangers.” The Heavy Guilt will celebrate the official release of In The Blood with a record release event on July 16th at The Glashaus featuring four bands, live art and a circuit bender display of original and recently invented instruments.
Al Howard Q&A:
URB: Aside from yard sales and Kickstarter, are there any other creative means of raising funds you guys are engaged in or have plans for in the future?
AH: We’re hoping to not have to raise any more cash in the immediate future, but we definitely want to do as much as possible to reciprocate the philanthropy we’ve been shown. At our shows we let fans purchase CDs for whatever price is reasonable for them. All summer long we’ll be doing random free stripped-down street performances with a last minute warning on facebook, we might even show up on your couch if you ask nicely. We’ll also be giving away some outtakes, live cuts and bonus tracks to anyone willing to help us spread the sounds around.
What’s the worst job you have ever held down?
I was the mascot at a chicken restaurant called Cluck U. The previous mascot was an alcoholic and someone stole his head when he passed out in the town green, so I just had a chicken suit. This was before YouTube and the days of total and complete documentation, so thankfully there is no evidence of this happening. I would likely be known as Chicken Fail or something.
You play a variety of instruments on stage with a ferocity suggesting little regard for your own physical well being. Any significant performance-induced injuries to speak of?
Well, I’ve broken 7 tambourines in half during this year alone; in my last band I had my eyes closed while beating a tambourine like it owed me money and a pin came loose. When I opened my eyes, my shirt was covered in blood as well as some of the audience members close to the stage. I had about 300 pinholes pierced in my left palm. Iggy would have been proud. Iggy would have also made fun of me for playing tambourine and he’d be right to do so.
Are Heavy Guilt songs shaped around the lyrics or do you write to what you hear from the band?
When we started I would email Josh a few hundred pages of lyrics, he’d scroll through until something peaked his interest and then compose around it. Then the band would massage that outline into song. Presently there is a much more collective approach to the compositions, but we generally start with lyrics and build the songs around them, while also sculpting the lyrics to rhythmically fit the music. I definitely write with Erik’s voice in mind. He’s got this commanding voice that calls for a certain vibe of brooding introspection. Knowing him has been a huge inspiration in my approach to song writing. “Alibi,” a track on our upcoming album In the Blood, is the first Guilt song where the lyrics came after the music. That one started with a Sean lick and a certain era of Stones in mind.
Do you ever get the urge to pick up the mic again, whether it’s with the Guilt or a side project?
Nope. I’ve never been more content than behind the pen. There are singers and there are the rest of us. I have the kind of voice that can sing alone in the car or shower; no one else should be subject to hearing that. I’m also writing lyrics for a few more bands in town, the Black Sands featuring members of the Guilt, The Fire Eaters, Podunk Nowhere, the Jade Elements, and two, as of now, unnamed projects. And I’ll gladly take on any more if interest arises.
If the Heavy Guilt were to abandon integrity at some point and go balls out toward a shameless gimmick a la Insane Clown Posse, what would the band’s gimmick be?
Jack Johnson cover band. We would own the beaches; give us one summer. Or, Disco Drums – auto tuned hooks voiced by R&B divas in elaborate neon nurse costumes, Erik would burst out of a giant womb, dressed in gold lamé, rapping about absolutely nothing (but we’d have to act fast before Lady Gaga gets a chance).
Tell us a little about the new record and what’s on the horizon for the band.
The new album is the proudest creation I’ve had a part in. I feel like all of our varying influences are audible, but not mimicked. It moves through all these different feels, soundscapes and emotions, but it does so seamlessly. And we were able to capture the energy of a live show, yet refine it without taming it. In the Blood will also be the first album we’ve ever been able to press on vinyl, which is extremely exciting for all of us. It will be released at The Glashaus on July 16th and we have some great concepts and coconspirators to take it beyond a show and into the realm of event.