Heels are an all-acoustic duo comprised of longtime friends and collaborators, local comedian/drummer-about-town Josh McLane and guitarist/vocalist Brennan Whalen. The two had previously worked together in projects such as Hombres and the River Rats before forming Heels with the intent of stripping songs down to their core and presenting a simple, yet dynamic product. On their first E.P. — dubbed Even If It's Nothing, It's Something and set to be released by Fat Sandwich Records — Whalen and McLane achieve that goal in spades. Between Whalen's highly emotive presence as a frontman and McLane's driving, pounding rhythms, one hardly misses traditional rock conventions like bass, electric guitar, keyboards, and other flourishes. We caught up with both members of Heels this week to discuss forming the band, the new E.P., and more.
Flyer: So, how did you guys get together?
Brennan Whalen: I met Josh through being a regular at P&H at the time he worked there. We've been good friends ever since, and he eventually started playing drums for my band the River Rats. Josh McLane: I saw the River Rats play at the Hi-Tone one night and was blown away, because I'm not a big fan of that genre usually. I'm not usually a fan of male, acoustic singer-songwriters, but he was magnetic. Then he made his solo record, and I was blown away again. So I got him to sing for Hombres, but then I missed him doing his acoustic stuff, so Heels was born.
Brennan, what about Josh's playing drew you toward working with him?
Whalen: I've been a fan of Josh's drumming since before we ever met. I've watched him in many bands and have always really admired his work. The reason Josh is perfect in the setting we currently have is because he has a range that most people just don't. He can absolutely destroy you or he can play as lightly as possible, all without giving away that he's making an effort. He's fantastic. He also has a really great voice and an ear for harmonies, which helps add to live performances.
Why did you choose the name "Heels?"
Whalen: A "heel" is a bad guy in professional wrestling. I guess it seemed fitting because one, we love wrestling; and two, we're two people who aren't very good at cutting ourselves any slack. If I'm being honest, I'd say Josh and I are two very nice people, but you wouldn't know it if you asked us to describe ourselves.
How would you describe your approach to songwriting?
Whalen: Our goal with this project has been to be almost completely collaborative. While I came to this with a lot of songs already written — some of which Josh had played with me before — they were just base songs that took on a completely different tone when Josh put his stamp on them. At the moment, we're working on new material together instead of writing songs separately and bringing them to each other at practice. It works because there's really nothing that we will say no to. If it's a good song, it doesn't matter if it feels out of our wheelhouse. We're going to give it a shot.
What was the recording process like for Even If It's Nothing, It's Something
McLane:We recorded at Ardent with Matt Qualls. It was the best recording experience of my life — seven songs in five hours. Matt is the epitome of what you want in a producer. He trusted us to know the music, then made it sound amazing. I can't speak highly enough about him or Ardent.
How do you feel about the finished product?
Whalen: I'm very happy with the E.P. We knew when we set out to record it that making a record with just acoustic guitar and drums could have ended poorly. If we didn't perform well and the mix was off or the sound wasn't right, the whole thing would've sounded hollow and unpleasant. But I feel, especially thanks to Matt's production, that we pulled off what we set out to do. I couldn't ask for more.
So, while we're on the subject — why only acoustic guitar and drums?
McLane: Why not just acoustic guitar and drums? Rules are for suckers. Whalen: Being a two-piece is really nice. Practice is easy to schedule, there's less equipment, and we can really do whatever we want creatively. I definitely see utilizing electric instruments on future recordings and live shows, but I don't see us adding another member. We've just really got something between the two of us that I wouldn't want to risk.
What else do you guys have going on? McLane: We're planning on touring this spring, and doing another record next year, hopefully. Right now we're also the house band for the monthly "Night Shift" show with [local comedian] Katrina Coleman at Theatreworks. Whalen: We just want to keep making music that we enjoy and have fun playing live and recording. We really hope people enjoy it, but I'd say the primary focus is entertaining ourselves.