by Matt Meade
I like to experience music in a way that may be uncommon. I am typically sitting alone in a dark room, digesting all the constituent parts, the YouTube video, the band website, the viral marketing campaign, like it is all a part of some pastiched, multi-faceted found-footage film. Each song, each Instagram photo on the bandcamp page is another clue in some grand mystery.
The generation of music makers who are coming up now do all of this guerrilla marketing as a matter of course. A social media presence that functions separate from, but also in conjunction with, the artist is necessary, and expected. For misanthropes like myself it works out well as we can sit at home and puzzle over the band’s internet presence like the entire public persona of the act is some modern, musical version of Myst.
Heccra, a one man project based in Chicago, does all this better than most. From the moment you go to his soundcloud page you are pulled into a world that is entirely populated by losers and grifters, arsonists and prostitutes, vandals and tweekers.
Each sub two minute segment on White Eagle represents just a fragment on an idea, a few frames in a twisted little scene which Heccra uses to construct into a larger experience. It is built out of scraps of video games, vuvuzela, steel drums, sped up vocals, ukulele, and time signature changes with more odds than Todd Browning’s Freaks.
The persona of Heccra, the mask he wears, are all a part of an immersive environment this artist is trying to establish. The beautiful nude girl holding the bunny rabbit that serves as the album cover is one of the more striking elements. Her soft skin set against the jagged edges of the music makes her seem like some kind of semi-virginal sacrifice (I say “semi-virginal” because no one is completely innocent in this universe).
The way the album is structured invites you to imagine the persona of Heccra as this down on his luck palooka who you root for. Who has heart. Who has dreams and needs that he is trying to realize and achieve in a world built of discarded fast food containers, spray paint cans, and animal carcasses. With song titles like, “Monster Cul De Sac,” and “VHS Porn,” I like to imagine him more like some gas huffing friend of Harmony Korine’s who is going to end up in juvie any fucking minute now. Some extra in a film Korine is making about a homeless teen who dreams of becoming a vampire and wanders around this series of abandoned tunnels beneath his decaying semi-urban, semi-rural home town.
Playing the What Genre Is This? game with this music is difficult. Heccra has been referred to as post-hardcore, metal-core, chipmunk-core and often times screamo. There is screaming, but this can’t be screamo. Most screamo is a chore to listen to, but Heccra uses various tools (sped up tape, drastic shifts in song structure, pared down musical ideas) to pull you in and make you identify with this character. And when he screams, it feels so good. Like you are doing the screaming. Seriously. When was the last time you screamed as loud as you could for as long as you physically could? It’s been a long time hasn’t it? And you look around now and you can think of at least a half dozen reasons why you can’t scream until your throat bleeds. Well, let this kid do it for you. Let him be your angry, blood red, screaming avatar in this bizarre, dark world.
Heccra is the kind of guy who can write a record like White Eagle, about how shitty everything is and then less than six months later release a record like, Last Weekend of the Summer about what a bummer it is that everything is coming to an end. I’m gonna say it cuz I’m sure it’s what we are all thinking, he is pretty much a modern day interpretation of Hobbes’ Leviathan, exploring “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
And the songs are so short, he avoids self-indulgence. Should I use the word restraint? It’s like he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. He is afraid he’ll be asked to leave at any moment, so he removes himself, but the result is that he creates perfect little scenes with his musical ideas, and he is able to avoid the verse-chorus-bridge-outro convention that bury most songs under cliché before the first note. Heccra is really only keeping the parts that work the best. The chanty singing parts, the strange sped up vocal parts, the deep guttural cathartic parts, the alien laser beam parts, the chugging, distorted guitar parts.
By the time “Camp Algonquin” comes around there is even some humor, with Heccra explaining that “I pissed off a ghost on top of this.” As if the guy didn’t have enough problems already.
There is something disarmingly honest about the way the music is made and presented. There are few attempts to fall into line with the tropes of the metal-core or post-hardcore genre. There aren’t song titles named after diseases, or concentration camps, or violent acts. The track listing includes titles such as, “I Wanna Go on a Ski Trip with the Beach Boys,” and “Best Dreams Ever,” and “Roses for Darth Vadar.” There is no dumb headed taunts, or alpha-male mugging. If anything the records have some sort of boyish abandon to them. There is no apocalyptic warning… Ok. There is that. And there are the shredding guitars and blast beat drums, but overall there is a knowing understanding of what it means to be making this kind of music and that results in music that is much more complex, intelligent, and cathartic, but also, somehow simultaneously, accessible, heartfelt, and sad. It is a document of a guy’s thoughts as he toils away alone as much as it is heavy guitars and guttural screams.
If you want confirmation that this guy is not your typical artist, just look at the way he is releasing The Devil-Faces of My Old Friends, Beneath Me. The record is coming out in sections, revealing the unfinished parts as Heccra completes them. He’s like a sculptor, scraping away at the marble in public, an LSD dropping Bob Ross painting angry little trees from blank canvas to complete canvas, like Lynch when he shows you the sets and costumes of Inland Empire while he is filming and then presenting that to you as if it is the film.
It should not be a surprise to me or you, that my favorite song turns out to be, “This is Cinema,” from Last Weekend of the Summer. The song is one of the more complete songs available from Heccra. He starts off screaming at 11, inserts a soundclip of a cat meowing and then has children chanting over a metal drum beat before he creates a handclap sing-along oasis in the middle of his synthed out scream track where an electric guitar noodles sweetly and children sing along to a charmingly off key vocalist.
The lyrics hint at some kind of hope, some kind of understanding of the importance of holding onto something. But this pressure is a burden. The adult world has instilled a sense of urgency that saps childhood of its power, that pre-occupies the young with a need to correctly navigate experience and to avoid squandering the gifts that every generation that precedes them has squandered.
Clench my teeth, my mouth
Throne room of my tongue
If my life was film, would anybody watch?
I hope I’m the last guy that you kiss
I swear there’s no one better than this
This might be the one
And I pray it’s not too early
And I pray we’re not too young
(And we’re not too young)
The song ends with a sense of acceptance and resignation. A brief respite from the pressures of falling in love, of being interesting, of finding the one, of being young.
The character Heccra has created is so mysterious and unstable, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day check in on his tumblr page and find no trace that he ever existed. Deleted in a late night fit, or the result of some ancient curse finally taking its toll. Either way, we’d better take a look at him now before he disappears completely. For the time being, speaking as a guy who is sitting alone in a dark room listening to the wild colors of this music, I am thankful that there is someone on the other end to provide the pigments, the pictures, and the angst.
Also, thanks to Anessa and Daniel from nowavvves.tumblr.com for use of the bad ass Haccra tattoo -MTM