Early June saw a squash of hot, but eager, bodies pour into Norwich’s local music haven, The Birdcage, to fill their eardrums with the delights of Heart of a Dog’s With the Head of a Beast EP launch. Having narrowly missed a self-induced nervous breakdown in the D.I.Y recording of debut EP, Awake! And carry on!, Bare Feet’s latest signing have passed the producing/recording reigns onto another, and in doing so, emerged proud and confident in their creation. Evoking the fluid partnership of The Proclaimers and Robson & Jerome, Sam and Jon thread seamless vocal harmonies with dusky, accent heavy lilts and soft earthy tones. The five-track EP begins with ‘Fall Guy’, a slowly lulling interlude with simple understated lyrics wrapped tightly around a nurturing melody. The EP’s richly layered instrumentation and energetic percussion in ‘Hits’, ‘Mining’ and ‘Fever’ create an enticing landscape of textured sound which unravels with each listen. Closing track ‘Undone’s’ ingenious layering and looping creates a forceful chorus of vocals alongside beautifully swelling crescendos. A tighter, more confident sound proves they’ve accomplished the second release dilema – with a welcome move from a raw and ragged infancy to a refined, more established sound which they’ve rightly secured as their own.
I had a chat with the band and got to know them a little better;
Can you tell me a little about your history? How/when did you start playing together?
Sam: We were kind of on the rebound after leaving previous bands behind. I moved to Norwich after 5 years in Cornwall and met Jon through working at a cinema. It was really nice as we’d both been looking to do something different and challenging.
Why ‘Heart of a Dog’ – how did you come to name yourselves as that? What’s the process of choosing a name in such a saturated musical environment?
Sam: Yeah, it is pretty difficult, I suppose that’s why so many bands have punctuation or no vowels etc. We’re named after a Mikhail Bulfakov book that Jon was reading at the time (I’ve decided never to read it) – we just thought it sounded quite sweet but at the same time a bit sinister or even gruesome.
Jon: It’s a wonderful book. We just decided to drop the definite article from the book. There are more than enough bands starting with ‘The’ already.
You’ve just released your debut album – how has it been received?
Sam: It’s actually an EP, we’d really like to make an album but we’re (I’m) very picky about which songs are good enough, I go off them very quickly and eventually come back around. I must be fun to work with! We’re getting a great response which is nice but the main things is we’re actually quite proud of it. I know you’re not supposed to say that but it’s true, a lot of people helped us this time around and that makes it easier to show it to people, less embarrassed, not like: ‘look what I’ve done’ – more like ‘look what my friends helped me make”.
How did recording of ‘with the Head of a Beast’ compare with your D.I.Y lounge recording of ‘Awake! And carry on’?
Sam: The first EP we did completely on our own, recording mainly a lot in my living room using only one mic that I bought on eBay, I mixed it and mastered (if you can call it that) myself and it sent me crazy. I was a little seduced by the whole ‘do it yourself’ thing, which I now think just isn’t for us, at some point you need someone to step in and say, “stop being so precious, stop chasing the demo, your vocal sounds fine” – basically an objective set of ears. So we got our friend Iain Lowery from ‘The Lost Levels’ to produce the record – he’s made all the difference.
Jon: I was pretty adamant that Sam wasn’t going to produce this record. I’m very proud of the first EP, but I think it destroyed the songs for Sam a bit (and destroyed Sam a bit along the way).
Who are your influences? Would you place your own sound alongside those?
Sam: I grew up listening to loads of REM but my music’s never really sounded anything like them, However I’ve just realised that the opening track on the EP sounds like late 80s REM, which is odd because I don’t really listen to them anymore. I’m mad on Bill Callahan/Smog, Neil Young, Sam Amidon, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, that sort of thing. I always think we sound like Iron and Wine but I still haven’t really gotten into them.
Jon: We’re both into The Band and Calexico and we should definitely mention The Smiths and Scott Walker.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Sam: Haven’t got the new Beach House album as I’m still so into the last one, First Aid Kit are great, Kurt Vile and the last St. Vincent album is great.
Jon: Lots of Chic, White Denim & the new Jack White.
What do you think of the Norwich music scene? How easy is it to connect to the local audience?
Sam: I think there’s been a real change in attitude over the past few years, there are loads of people willing to get involved in projects, people who are more interested in playing music than talking about it in bars. I suppose when you’ve got a day job you don’t have time to piss around, you just have to get on with it.
What are your plans for the future? What’s next for ‘Heart of a Dog’?
Sam: We want to keep going, whenever we take a break, it takes so long to get going again, so we’re going to write some more, play more shows, record some more, tour some more and hopefully enjoy the music we produce – so far, so good.
With more shows scheduled in London this autumn, as well as few dates closer to home in Kings Lynn, Bury St Edmonds, Cambridge and Norwich, there’s no excuse not to see them!
By Chloe Eversfield