Interview: Heart to Gold

Minneapolis three-piece talk Nirvana, dogs and humility in music

Pop punk band Heart to Gold made their Fargo debut Jan. 19 at The Aquarium.

Inspiration for band names can come from anywhere, including literature, science or even another band’s song. When it comes to origin stories for band names, perhaps no one has a more intense story than Minneapolis pop punk band Heart to Gold.

The incident inspiring the name occurred many years before music was involved, when lead singer and guitarist Grant Whiteoak was staying over at a friend’s house. “We’re in my friend Erik’s room about to pass out and … we start hearing some really odd sounds and they happen to be very terrifying dog yelps,” Whiteoak said. He recalled his friend yelling out the door for them to stop beating the dog, which only escalated the event.

“Eventually, this guy brings this dog in and starts beating it in front of us to try and show us this adult-like manlihood … and is yelling at us, trying to give us this moral advice.” Eventually, the belligerent drunk became so incoherent that the boys couldn’t help but start laughing. This enraged the drunk to the point of trying to pull their friend Mario off the bed by his feet. For whatever reason, Whiteoak said this finally caused Erik and himself to attack the step-dad to protect their friend.

This show of defiance further enraged the drunk, who started yelling, “I’m from Edison (high school in Minneapolis), home of the Tommies. We used to beat up kids like you for fun.” Whiteoak explained that the man continued to call them names before his last outburst: “He starts pointing to his forehead and pointing to his chest and going, ‘Heart to gold, heart to gold, heart to f—— gold. You have no idea what that f——- means.'”

After the event, Heart to Gold became Whiteoak’s ideal name for a pop punk band even though he was only a closet musician at the time. When he finally formed a band, Heart to Gold seemed like the clear choice.

Whiteoak met bassist Sid Johnson through mutual friends and soon struck up a friendship based on shared music taste. It was when Whiteoak was hanging out with Johnson and some friends while high on psychedelic mushrooms that Whiteoak decided to start a band with him. “I was tripping, and I looked Sid in the eyes and was like, ‘There are certain people that I feel like I need to have musical endeavors with in my life and you are one of them. Let’s start a f—— band.'”

The first two songs on their “Still Stuck” EP, “H.I.C.” and “My Denim Jacket,” were written in Johnson’s basement soon after. The EP would eventually be re-released with the band’s “Summer Demos” as a six-track B-side through Tilde Records.

Whiteoak’s neighbor Jack Anderson served as the band’s drummer for the “Still Stuck” EP and moved with Whiteoak and Johnson to Red Wing, Minnesota for a guitar making school. It was after returning from Red Wing that Blake Kuether became the band’s current drummer. Kuether and Johnson had known each other since early childhood, meeting at a paintball game before becoming co-captains of their tennis team years later in high school.

The three-piece self-released their first full-length “Comp” in April 2018. The colorful album art depicts each member as a dog in a Hawaiian shirt sitting on a couch. The shirts are a nod to the band’s early days Whiteoak explained: “For a short time, right after Blake joined, we were all really into the idea of wearing matching outfits at certain shows, so we had these beach shirts that we would always wear.” Kuether added, “My dog is wearing my beach shirt in the photo.” The art began as a colored pencil drawing before photographer/graphic designer Bethünni Schreiner polished it digitally.

As for the name, “Comp,” it explains the timeframe of the songs. Some of the tracks included on the album were written with Anderson, while others were written with the current lineup.

Laura Ellen Brandjord (LEB): Is it important to you as a band to make songs that are easy to jam to and sing along with?

Grant Whiteoak (GW): Like you said, ‘songs that are easy to sing along to,’ I think that comes from me thinking, you know, the average Joe that doesn’t play guitar and doesn’t sing, when they hear something that they like they want to sing along to it, and they want to possibly pick up the instrument that they share in common with you and try to learn your songs.

I feel the easier it may be for people to do that, the more seriously they may take your music because it’s easier for them to do it. It’s not something that is out of reach or out of their skill level. Sometimes the overall feeling we get from the music is based on how jammy it is for all of us; instead of all of us trying to outdo each other.

Sid Johnson (SJ): We all listen to our own stuff, but I think we all know what a Heart to Gold song should sound like.

Blake Kuether (BK): It’s one thing to play something that sounds super cool, and it’s one thing to be in a band and understand the musical importance of your instrument. You can go wild and shred like crazy, but it’s about the creation the song instead of the instrument.

GW: Yeah, we are definitely not one of those bands that try to outdo each other.

LEB: The Minneapolis scene has had a crazy year with Remo Drive, Unturned and Weathered all signing to labels. Does this give you hope that one day it could be you, or does it just  seem like you are always being passed up?

SJ: I think it’s more we’ve played with those bands and talked to them, so I  think it’s more inspiring. 

BK: Yeah, it makes it seem like it’s very real, like it’s possible because they came from a similar place. I don’t know. It’s one thing to watch MTV and see how the band started, but to actually witness a band’s progress and realize ‘Oh, you don’t just have to have this, this and this to get where you want to go.’

LEB: I like to end my interview with just some fun nonsense questions. So to start off, if you were stranded on a desert island with only one album, what would it be?

GW: I have two that come to mind: ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana or ‘Dookie’ by Green Day. Those albums are what I feel like have influenced me the most as a musician. I find myself coming back to them year after year, season after season and playing on repeat nonstop just for the sake of trying to figure out ‘How the f— is that happening?’ ‘How is this such a staple in music history?’ I think that, that is something I try to do more than anything is to go down in history.

SJ: I wouldn’t say my answer influences me, but ‘Pinkerton’ by Weezer is one of my favorite albums. I’m not trying to do that, but I like listening to it.

BK: ‘Moving Pictures’ by Rush or ‘The Battle of Las Angeles’ by Rage Against the Machine or ‘Out of Exile’ by Audioslave.

LEB: Do you have your ideal gear setup currently?

SJ: (laughs) Geez, no. It could not be further; I think speaking for all three of us.

GW: I think I’m content with my gear, but I don’t think it’s necessarily my dream gear.

LEB: What would that dream gear be?

BK: I’m not even close. I don’t even know what I like.

GW: It depends on what we are looking at 20 minutes before this question is asked. If I’m looking at Led Zeppelin with 40 Marshall half stacks and seven guitars, then I’ll probably go with that. But if I’m also looking at like Joyce Manor using the Hot Rod DeVille and getting that crazy plug in and play sound, no pedals type stuff, then it’s like, ‘Oh my god, awesome.’

Guitar-wise, you’ll never figure out what you want because you’ll always hear something or play on something that’s a little bit better.

Pedal-wise, I’ve acquainted myself with most of the surface level pedals that you can find in any shop … I’ve done boutique gear, too, that are really dialed down to the specific sound you are trying to get.

If you play in one spot all the time, then go ahead. But if you are constantly moving around on how you want to sound, then it doesn’t matter what gear or pedals you buy; you are going to sound completely different than you want to.

So, have your layer of effects that you want … but the need to get super dialed down between each schematic of your pedals to get that effect, you can spend your entire life trying to perfect that craft and you’ll never figure it out.

SJ: That really honestly covers it.

GW: Usually, if there is a sound we want, we get it.

BK: If Zildjian is trying to throw me a sponsorship, I mean, I’ll take it.

LEB: Your band biography simply states ‘we really love dogs.’ Do you have a favorite breed?

SJ: I’m saying mutt.

GW: I think my favorite types of dogs are either a classic English bulldog that would be named Ringo, or a half-bred Wolf Husky that’s named Ezekiel and I’d call him Zeek for short.

BK: Siberian Husky or a beagle.

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