Good People Even Do Bad Things is the title of the new HEELS album. "That is a Mr. Rogers reference," says Joshua McLane, who is one half of HEELS. "And also an Insane Clown Posse reference."
"It's a Mr. Rogers sample that's at the beginning of a song by the Insane Clown Posse," says Brennan Whalen, the other half.
"Every time we come home from a tour, we listen to the same Insane Clown Posse song called 'Southwest Song,'" McLane says.
The song means they're off the road and headed home, he says. "To a certain degree, it means if 'Southwest Song' is playing, it's time to wake up because you're about to have to pull some gear into the house before you go home."
To raise money to make the record, which was produced by Toby Vest and Pete Matthews, McLane sold "hundreds of comic books" and "dozens of wrestling toys." They also held a raffle. Whoever won the raffle got to shock McLane and Whalen, who were wearing dog collars, with a remote control. "There was one dude that held it down for a little too long," Whalen says. "This one random dude who put in like 100 bucks."
Last March, HEELS signed with Altercation Records. "It's a punk label out of Austin and New York City," McLane says. Which means he and Whalen don't have to "physically put those albums in those record stores."
McLane and Whalen bonded in 2012 when they were in the metal band, Hombres. Whalen wrote a song, "Our Savage Lord," which was about wrestler Randy Savage. McLane and Whalen began hanging out, watching wrestling together. Whalen wanted to continue playing his Americana-style solo songs, so he asked McLane if he'd play drums with him. HEELS, a wrestling term for "bad guy," was formed.
Brennan writes most of the lyrics, and McLane "orchestrates" and also "brings songs to the table."
"King Drunk," the first single from the album, is "essentially like a breakup song with my on-again off-again partner — alcohol," Whalen says.
One of the lines is, "If you see her, tell her I was wrong. If you see her, tell her I didn't write this song."
"That's maybe one of my favorite lines Brennan's ever, ever written," McLane says.
Another favorite Whalen line is from "Antics": "I don't love you because we're different. I don't love you because we're the same. I don't love you."
"'Bright Red' is kind of a love song from the point of view of somebody that's going through dementia," Whalen says. "So it's like you're basically singing to somebody you're forgetting about."
"Box of Porn in the Woods" is a "hyper-sexualized love song" to his wife, Whalen says. "It's about thinking my wife is really hot and also how I want to build a Ted Kaczynski compound somewhere with her out in the middle of the woods."
McLane wrote the music and lyrics to "Picking Fights Like a Coward," which he says is "about starting shit with people on local news comment sections at three o'clock in the morning when you want to feel good about yourself. I like quoting Bible verses back to people who are being very racist or hateful."
He and Whalen didn't labor over each song for months like they did on their other four recordings. "We didn't want to, for lack of a better term — 'Leonard Cohen' it — keep working on it till it's just dead in the water. Not fun anymore."
But each song still sounds like a HEELS song. "It's still upbeat. It's Brennan making you very sad with his lyrics while you still love him more, which is just something insanity does. And me getting bored with dynamics very quickly."
HEELS is the perfect musical partnership, McLane says. "I've never been in a band where I could say whatever I want about whatever I want, whether that be with a riff or a lyric or anything. And that's what this is.
"We're brutally honest when it comes to ourselves and to each other. And that can't help but come out in the songs. That, and we just want everybody to think we're cool."