Jun 2024 26

From the Austin underground to North America and beyond, Urban Heat is a band that clearly knows what they are doing, with a new album and tour looming on the horizon.
 

 

An InterView with Jonathan Horstmann, Kevin Naquin, and Paxel Foley of Urban Heat

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Navigating through the Texan underground with a vibrant mix of emotive melodies, post-punk grit, and sharpened synthwave ambience, Urban Heat is living up to its name, bringing the heat out of Austin to all of North America and beyond. 2022 was already momentous for the band with the release of the Wellness EP, but the following year brought even greater fortunes as the prominent Artoffact Records label signed the band and expanded the EP into a full album, pleasing an already growing fanbase rabid for more of what the trio of Jonathan Horstmann, Kevin Naquin, and Paxel Foley can deliver… and deliver they had with powerful and engaging live shows and an evolving image that shifts from the Southern gothic bravado of Fields of the Nephilim to the slick leather-clad cool of Depeche Mode. Now with a new album, The Tower, nearing its release date, along with a rigorous touring schedule that will see the band performing all across North America and at several notable festivals, ReGen is pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with the trio about their musical and creative partnership, the importance of balancing family and fame, presenting a strong image both private and public, and more.

 

How is everyone?

Naquin: Doin’ good, thank you.

Horstmann: I’m doing really well. I’ve just had a birthday, and I’ve been in New Orleans taking in a nice little reset in the Garden District.

Naquin: Oh, that’s the best place to stay.

Very cool. The Tower will be coming out on August 16. Having lived with these songs, writing and recording them, how effectively do you feel you’ve been able to address and exorcise those topics?

Horstmann: That is a really good question, because I don’t know if we’ve ever thought about if we were effective in what we were trying to say or do. The songs just take on a life of their own, and your intention might be to exorcise something or write about something. The only way I can say from the feedback that we’ve gotten from the fanbase is that if there was a song that was a little gut-wrenching for me, it tends to be a little gut-wrenching for them. There are songs that we feel really good about, like ‘Right Time of Night’ is kind of hard and a little dark, and if that’s how it feels for us, that translates live for the fanbase. So, I think we’ve been fairly effective.

Do you feel that you’ve been able to say what you need to with those songs that you can move on to other things?

Horstmann: Oh, we can move on. (Laughter)

Addressing the band’s image, you’ve stated that the audience only sees what you allow them to. Has it ever been a concern to project too much, especially with how personal the album is?

Horstmann: I think that our aesthetic at that time was kind of a certain thing, and we’ve let things evolve, especially with the amount of touring that we do. We’ve really had to look at what is really sustainable for us on the road, like if we’ll be able to do laundry and the like. So, the aesthetic and our personal style is ever evolving.

In this day age, with so much access, even having an Instagram projects a lot of personality and self-image. What do you feel are the bounds of vulnerability that an artist should be able to present.

Horstmann: I run our social media, and I think it’s nice to be able to use vulnerability as you want until it gets to a point that it feels unhealthy, where it feels like it’s no longer serving you – strategic vulnerability in order to create a bond with your fanbase and with the community around you is very important. At the same time, we are so much deeper than just what we show on social media. That is just what we allow people to see, and I think it’s important to have not a mystique, but your own personal secrets and safety. There’s stuff that’s just between Kevin, Pax, and I – that circle remains unbroken, and there is stuff that only the three of us will ever know. That’s important to have that in each other.

 

 

As people of color, have you encountered any kind of prejudices in this musical community?

Foley: No. I think this genre of music is really accepting of who you are and what you bring. They look at it as you’re making the music that you’re into. Nobody’s ever come at me like that with this band, so I would say no.

Horstmann: I will say that people of color in the goth scene are really psyched when we meet them at the merch table to have some representation like that. I feel like our shows are for them, because as far as visibility, it is such a smaller group when it comes to POC goths. They really appreciate what we’re doing, and we appreciate them for showing up.

Regarding your families, you’ve talked about how important it is to be an example for your children, while also pursuing your art and not putting your passions on hold, which is no easy task. Of course, there is also a parental imperative to protect your children. What has been the biggest challenge for you in maintaining that balance between family and art.

Horstmann: Kevin and I both have young children. For me, the challenge is mainly time, which is a limited resource. If I could, my hope is to one day have the capacity and the ability to have my children on the road with me at least some portion of the time, to be able to take them out on summer runs and have somebody to watch them during the shows. The hardest thing has just been actually missing them and physically not being able to be there. Mine are three and six, and they understand what dad’s doing and why he’s doing this; Tuesday, my six-year-old, each tour, she can see it… the way she puts it is, ‘You’re a little more famous every time you come back.’ Not exactly, but…

You’re getting there.

Horstmann: Yes, more eyes are looking on, and she enjoys performing herself. For me, it’s just time and missing them. But when I am home, I have them half the time, and my time with them is very dedicated to just being with them. Kids reflect what they see, not what they’re told, and I think personally having to get that mindset shift into dad mode… in the beginning, it’s difficult for me. Because being in artist mode full time was a new thing when we started touring, and I was like this incredible, ‘Wow, we can just be artists 24/7, this is amazing.’ Coming home in the beginning, there was a struggle between shifting from artist self to dad self.

Naquin: Yeah, that can be hard. That’s the hardest part, I think, just getting back into that routine or mode of, ‘Now, I have to be present here,’ and not somewhere else in my head.

Horstmann: But the lovely thing is that we are dads, and we are artists, and the best dadding that we can do is being an artist with them, getting that creativity excited, and just watching them flourish.

I’d watched an interview with Guy Pratt, best known as David Gilmour’s bassist, and he’d said the best advice he was given was that when he comes home from a tour, the first thing to do is go on a vacation and be with family or even by yourself.

Naquin: Yup!

Horstmann: I think we’ve all gotten better at it now, but the first time we’d been gone for more than a month, when you get back home… it’s weird. It can be very, very strange. I got that same advice from Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory. He has four children, and he said, ‘Your first night back from tour, get a hotel. Just be there and give yourself 24 hours to acclimate,’ because yeah, it’s weird.

Outside of music, what are your favorite activities?

Naquin: Well, we used to do a lot of stuff, but now, it’s just band and parenting.

Horstmann: (Laughs)

Naquin: I mean, when it comes down to it, this is the only time we have. We all had different hobbies that we had for years, but like I said, trying to find time for them is the hardest part these days.

What is the dynamic like in terms of songwriting and composition? What is the process like?

Horstmann: Well, Urban Heat was like a singular idea, but the first time we performed anything, it was as a band.

Naquin: Yeah, we all came from many different bands, but we’d all played so many shows together with our other projects that by this time that Jonathan had this idea of doing something else, we were all in the same position and saying, ‘I want to do something else too.’ This was in 2019, or maybe a little before that, and having that history with each other allowed us to jump in and do it. Jonathan had some ideas and songs and some sketches and stuff; we got in a room together, and from there, it just started to become what it now is.

Horstmann: Those initial songs, like on the Wellness EP, were more collaborative in a way. I remember for ‘That Gun in Your Hand,’ we were trying to work that out, like, ‘I don’t know about this lyric,’ and nothing else would work with that, and we’d workshop ideas. The Tower is kind of like something special that sort of happened after we got off the road in December of 2022. I just ended up writing a full record in two weeks after getting home, and brought it to the guys, ready to change the things and work it like that, and the guys were like, ‘This is good, this works, let’s run with it.’

Naquin: Yeah, we couldn’t really critique it. It was all there.

Horstmann: I think a lot of what we’ve been doing so far, at least for me creatively, was leading up to the creation of this thing. We’re already back at the drawing board, but working much more collaboratively. Bands tend to write their next record on the road, so we’ve been writing stuff on tour, and we’re looking forward to the follow-up to The Tower, because it will be much more collaborative. We’ve seen what I was channeling and what was in me, so now, let’s see what we can do all together.

I feel like I’m not getting Paxel enough in here. Do you have anything to add?

Foley: Who me? Oh, no. They answered the question. They got it.

Horstmann: Every band needs the strong, silent one, and Paxel holds it down.

Foley: It’s all good.

Horstmann: Something that’s really special about this project is that it exists somewhere in between the space of collaborative writing and just one person writing everything. I’m never going to write anything that Kevin and Pax don’t think slaps. It has to pass them, because with my musical influences, I can be pretty cheesy sometimes, so I bring something to them, and it has to make it through the factor of coolness. On my own, I don’t have that cool that Kevin and Pax bring to it, so everything kind of has to go through the cool filter, and that’s what makes it Urban Heat. Wellness had to do that, and it was also a collection of songs and ideas with a band just starting out and figuring out our sound. The Tower, while it goes kind of all over the place sonically, it’s less us figuring out our sound, and more us experimenting with expanding the sound.

One of the first tracks of yours that I’d listened to was the cover of ‘Goodbye Horses,’ in which you played around with the chord structure, and interjected some different progressions. What does that song mean to you, and what were you hoping to convey with your rendition?

Horstmann: Well, you know, Diane Luckey was one of the few visible black people making that music, and her story’s a little tragic in the way that all went down… not tragic, but I felt like paying homage, but also bringing more people to that song. For me, I feel a kindred spirit with some artists, and it’s hard to quantify that or really explain it – there are just some artists that you feel like you’ve got to do the song right. If we do this, it’s got to be done really right and our way, but really respectfully. It was actually my ex-wife who suggested it, who first brought it up that we should cover ‘Goodbye Horses.’ I kind of put it out of my mind for a bit because we weren’t really interested in doing covers, just because in this modern Tik-Tok era, so many people get known for their covers. We want to shy away from that, but I feel like… I don’t want to say we lucked out, because I don’t feel like it’s completely random, but that cover works. Something worked there.

 

 

I would agree. It’s actually my favorite cover of that song, and I have heard a lot of them. The way you interjected the Urban Heat style, played with the chord structure, and was still reverent to the song, which a good cover should.

Horstmann: Thank you so very much for that.

Urban Heat is from Austin, which has always had a very rich and vibrant music scene. How do you feel that scene helped shape you as a band?

Naquin: Yeah, I think this city lends itself to bands being able to get onstage. We’ve probably played a show with… I don’t know what we had, maybe five or six songs, and we were able to get a show because there are a bunch of venues and a real thriving music scene.

Horstmann: And I was still mumbling lyrics.

Naquin: Right, you didn’t have lyrics for some of the songs. This city’s been good to all of us – none of us were born or raised here, but when we came here, we met good people and were able to, all individually, start playing shows right out the gate. It’s so about its live music. That allows you to make mistakes, that allows you to grow and become better performers, all of those things really help. And seeing other bands is always cool too, it’s always cool to take inspiration and things from different artists.

Horstmann: I do think that bands can get very comfortable playing in Austin because there are so many places to play. It kind of shaped our approach to this band, because one of my first conversations with Kevin about it was that we’d both been here and doing this for a while. Kevin had done some touring with previous projects, and I had done some touring, but not to the extent that he’d done. Our latest projects weren’t really getting off the ground the way that we wanted them to. Let’s focus on creating a body of work, creating content that gets us out of Austin. Because the last thing we wanted to do was to create another band that played in Austin, got cool points, but wasn’t able to actually sustain a career in the future. That’s one big way that Austin shaped this project’s trajectory is that we were always focused on playing outside of Austin.

 

 

I’m sure that played into Artoffact signing Urban Heat, because I’m sure you had to have had other label offers. How has that relationship worked out so far?

Naquin: It’s been good. Jacek’s a great dude. So far, so good.

Horstmann: We’ll have to see when the actual record comes out, but so far, the work that we’ve been doing together on the singles has felt really good. It feels really good to be part of that Artoffact family and to meet other label mates out on the road. As far as nuts and bolts, Artoffact has brought along the publicists that we’re using, and it’s the first time that we’ve had a pro publicist. We’re incredibly happy with the work that they’re doing and keeping us very busy talking about the record and getting us into different publications. This whole thing is a much larger team behind us propelling this thing forward, and we’re really happy with every part of that team. We’ve worked with real shitheads in the past.

Naquin: (Laughs)

 

Urban Heat
Website, Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Artoffact Records
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram

 

Photography by Cathlin McCullough, provided courtesy of Urban Heat and Artoffact Records
Website, Instagram

 

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