Saturday, February 18, 2012

Candy Hearts

Mariel Loveland, as a frontwoman, is not what most people would think of when they hear the word “punk-rock.” “I'm pretty much a girly-girl,” she says. “I mean, I have a little bit of tomboy in me, but I'm girly with certain things, like the way I like to smell and the way I like my hair to look and make-up and things.”

Likewise, Loveland's band Candy Hearts seems about as “unpunk” as she does, despite their existence in the realm punk-rock. On Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy, their 2011 release on Kind of Like Records, the band forgoes careening speeds, gut-cutting guitar chords, and snarled vocals—the aggressive staples of what many perceive punk-rock to be. Loveland's songs are neither apparent nor implied political manifestos, nor are they party anthems for the perpetual teenager; instead, they fall outside this thematic spectrum that some use to oversimplify the genre.

Even those within the scene, those who understand that punk-rock is more nuanced than pop culture suggests, still might hesitate to call Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy a punk-rock record. Candy Hearts' songs are snapshots of epic summer nights and stories peppered with personal struggles and insecurities; sung in Loveland's mellow mew, driven by rich and ringing chords, and striped with acoustic guitar, songs like “Sleepy Kisses” and “Lighter Than the Air”—though emotionally and musically powerful—simply don't possess the aggression that punk-rock has historically suggested.

Our image is kind of softer than a lot of the bands we play with,” Loveland explains. “I think that makes our songs and our image as a whole a little bit awkward, but also a little bit nice. A lot of bands are one thing—like they're tough or they're silly or their super-serious or something—but we have elements of a lot of different things. I feel like we're a little bit genre-less, stuck in the middle of two different scenes.”

Under this surface, though, Candy Hearts could be considered one of the most “punk” bands playing music in the 2010s.

Loveland started Candy Hearts, in part, as an excuse to escape another band in which she was performing. “I was playing in a country band with Kris [Hayes], who plays guitar, and it wasn't very good,” she laughs. “It was actually very bad, but we didn't know it at the time.” Within this band's set of rockabilly songs, one stood out to Loveland as different and more exciting than the others. “It sounded kind of like the Pixies,” she says, “and we liked that song the best. We really didn't like the other songs, so we thought about what kind of music we could write, and I started writing more outside of that band.”

Because she was minoring in songwriting at SUNY's Purchase College at the time, Loveland used this collection of newly written songs for her senior project—a record she called Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams. “I was a creative writing major,” she explains, “so wanted to do a project with thirteen songs that went with these thirteen short stories, only it didn't work out that way.” Because her instructor took creative control on parts some of her stories, Loveland isn't as proud of the them as she is the songs. “I'll say that I'm a pretty good writer,” she says, “but, it was so bad that, when I was forced to read it, nobody clapped, and they clapped for everybody else.”

The thirteen songs that make up Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams left Loveland more satisfied, at least initially. The record, recorded with Hayes and a handful of friends, is more searing than Candy Hearts' later collection. In the opening song “What I Want”, for example, Loveland's petite voice competes with scorching chords and the crash of shattering cymbals; her vicious lyrics, however, cut through: “I don't want to be the one to tell you to fuck off.”

Even the concise and acoustic “Punk Songs” seems strummed more furiously than anything on Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy. Loveland explains why: “Back when we were still a country band, we went on this three day tour all around the tri-state area,” she says. “Right before we left—legitimately, we didn't even get in the car—I slipped and fell and knew immediately I broke my arm, but nobody believed me. They were like, 'Shut up. We'll get you some Advil. Just get in the car.' When we were in the car, we were listening to Punk-O-Rama on repeat, and it was actually making me kind of mad because they were singing aloud to all these songs while I was in pain and squished in the back seat.” A week later, Loveland learned she had, indeed, broken her arm, but not before finishing the tour. “The shows were the most ridiculous ever,” she remembers. “They had to put my guitar over my head; I couldn't put it on myself.” Still, “Punk Songs” and the others that make up Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams preview the personal narrative songwriting style that would become the backbone of Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy.

It's after the record was released (or, rather, turned in) that things started to fall apart for Loveland. “Once we finished the record, we decided to go on tour,” she explains, “which was kind of a horrible experience because, when you're not really a band and you go on tour on a whim, things don't work out.” Between blizzards, canceled sets, and a bandmate who challenged her vision for the band, Loveland decided that, after that tour, Candy Hearts couldn't continue.

Loveland felt isolated, abandoned by her friends, and turned to the only outlets she had to manage such frustration: songwriting and storytelling. “All of the sudden, I wrote a bunch of new songs,” she says. “And then two of our best friends [drummer Christina Picciano and bassist Christian Migliorese] joined the band and it just felt right. We finished writing [Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy] and played all these festivals that were really far away.” As quickly as Candy Hearts fell apart, Loveland had put the pieces back together. “None of it was was the same experience as before,” she said. “It was all really good.”

Songs like “Tongue Tied”, the opening track of Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy, seem to express both the stress and satisfaction of this songwriting process. Picciano's mid-tempo drumbeat is tireless and energetic and, along with the whisking rhythm of an acoustic, propels Loveland's grumbling guitar and Haye's nasally leads. The song's mood is jubilant and exuberant despite Loveland's lyrics, which expel uncertainty: “I was tongue tied, / Skipping over sentence not using my words right. / I was tongue tied, / erasing every comma so all my thoughts collide.”

Maybe this is what makes the band feel so unpunk. Maybe it's that Loveland's voice, the content of her lyrics, and Candy Hearts' music overall feels feminine.

You know, I think it does,” Loveland states after some seconds of hesitancy. “I don't really want my music to be feminine, and I don't perceive a lot of other bands I listen to as feminine, like Jenny Lewis or Nicole Adkins. But with other artists, like Best Coast or Taylor Swift of She and Him, it is feminine. It depends on the person writing the song, and I'm just such a girly person that I can't escape it.”

Presupposing that punk-rock music is inherently masculine (which, considering the subculture's participation and aesthetics alone, isn't such a stretch), it's no wonder that Candy Hearts may seem unpunk, and why their existence in this scene may seem startling to some. The band's participation in punk-rock, however, is both intentional and important.
Personally, there are so many horrible things about having to be a girl in a band,” Loveland says, “but there are also so many great things, and I feel like there are a lot of girls who maybe want to do something like that but are afraid that they couldn't handle a lot of situations that they are presented.”

Loveland argues that being a touring musician is difficult, especially for a woman who considers herself feminine. “Touring is essentially camping in a car,” she says, “and it used to take a certain kind of person who could do that. A lot of girls in bands don't really care so much about the way that they look, which is awesome and a great thing to teach girls. But for the girls that are super girly, and love makeup and like doing their hair and think about their outfits a lot, I feel like touring is really hard. You're kind of thrown into this situation where you can't really bring a lot of things, like you can't shower, you always feel bad and tired, and that affects the way you perceive yourself.”

For Loveland, though, being a feminine woman in punk-rock is worth the work; in fact, she considers this work feminist. “I feel like a lot of girls think that, to be a feminist, you have to act like one of the boys,” she explains. “You have to be super-tough, you can't be soft, and you have to wear the things that the rest of the boys wear. There's this certain image that a lot of feminists think that you have to have, and I like showing people that that's not true.”

Of course, this is what makes Candy Hearts so perfectly placed in punk-rock. In a subculture founded on and famous for subverting expectations, Loveland and her bandmates are subverting expectations. And, in addition to raising questions about what terms like “punk” and “feminist” mean, they're making a statement that too often requires clarification in the realm of punk: Good music is good music, whether it's considered aggressive or cute.
I'm fine with being cute,” Loveland concludes with a giggle. “It's okay.”

Loveland recorded these songs from her home in Jersey City on a wintery evening in January. Earlier that day, Candy Hearts premiered a demo for "I Want You" from their upcoming EP on their Bandcamp page, so she was willing to record the the song during her session.

"Jawbreaker" appears on Candy Hearts' 2011 record titled Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy. "I Want You" will appear on Candy Hearts' yet unnamed 2012 EP. "A New Name For Everything" is a Weakerthans cover; the song originally appeared on the 2003 album Reconstruction Site.

Visit the band's Tumblr for more music.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Three for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2012. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.

Read more articles.