Hearty Har: Ready For Liftoff
“So what kind of music do you like?”
I'm sitting across from Tyler Fogerty—co-frontman of la band, hearty har. He asks me the question before taking a sip from his already perspiring iced coffee.
It’s a very hot Tuesday in August. We’re sitting outside the Little Ground Cafe in Glendale, a tiny joint that's easy to miss next to all the concrete warehouses. We’re waiting for his brother, Shane, and drummer Will Van Santen to arrive, making small talk about Los Angeles, Jonathan Richman, and TV (Fogerty likes The X-Files and is not caught up on Game of Thrones, so no spoilers, please). My mind meanders between thinking about how much I want Fogerty’s vintage shirt, and how big the sweat stain on my own button-up is going to be when I have to stand up at the end of this interview.
Like the majority of today’s LA bands, Hearty Har are peddling a hyphen-heavy, petri dish style of rock—a common result of growing up with all the music ever made available at one’s fingertips. Or, as Tyler puts it, “There’s fundamental genres like, folk, rock, where it’s been done so much, you can’t just be a garage band. It’s not interesting. It can be fun, but it doesn’t keep your attention very long.”
According to the band’s Facebook page, their genre is simply, “Rocking/Rolling”—going on to list charmingly disparate influences like, “50s Spook Garage,” “Joshua Tree,” and “Lore from the days of old.” If I had to take my shot at it, I would go with fuzzed-out garage-psych-rock, with nearly untraceable elements of...lots of other things—or as I put it more simply on this very blog, “the next album that Dan Auerbach wants to produce.”
It was the undeniable aura of “Can’t Keep Waiting” that brought me here, its psychedelic sound pulling me into an alternate universe where the music is always loud and everyone's groovy…and maybe a little intoxicated. Filled with fuzzed out guitars and a honking sax, for all intents and purposes, it’s Hearty Har’s first official single—the road to which winds through the remains of former bands, the debris of fractured friendships, and lots and lots of skate videos. Hearty Har may not be Shane, Tyler, and Will’s first band together, but they seem determined to make it their last. After several false starts, they're ready to roll.
The elder Fogerty and Van Santen have arrived, and considering the fact that I could probably fry an egg on the table we’re sitting at, I decide to cut right to the chase (i.e. Does Shane or Van Santen also watch The X-Files? I'll never know).
To save you the Google search, yes, Shane and Tyler's father is John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Does it really matter in regards to whether or not you're going to like Hearty Har's music? Only as much as touring with dad has sharpened their guitar chops. It was an elementary school friend, not “Fortunate Son,” that led Tyler to pick up the instrument, with Shane quickly following suit. “I started out skateboarding, naturally started watching the skate videos, and there’s tons of music in those,” Shane explains. “A lot of it was weird, a lot of it was classic rock, so I just took from that what I liked. With Tyler getting his guitar and us taking lessons, it turned into, ‘Am I gonna go skate today or am I gonna practice guitar?’ ”
Clearly, guitar won out, with both boys pursuing music in college—Shane at USC and Tyler at Cal Arts. “USC had a lot of technology and venues at their disposal but, just a different mindset,” Shane explains. “I’d go to Cal Arts and that’s where all the cool shit would happen. Stuff at USC was just very vanilla compared to, every time you went to Cal Arts, it was something crazy, and different, and exciting.”
Judging from my hour with them this could almost go for the brothers themselves. Shane, the typical big bro, speaks with a bit more confidence—the years spent touring with his dad, a few more interviews under his belt, and the unavoidable weight of responsibility that comes with being the oldest, coming through in his relaxed body language, diplomatic approach, and the way the other two look to him to take the first crack at answering my questions. In his plain t-shirt and weather-appropriate shorts, he strikes me as a creative-minded, all-American guy—a mother’s dream.
Tyler, like Cal Arts, is a bit funkier—more of a wildcard. He’s got a mustache, wears flashier clothes, and is quick to give me pricklier opinions, calling out “young CEO types” and “pretentious engineers” as drawbacks to the LA scene. When I caught the band’s set at Echo Park Rising, I was pleased to find him going full freak-out, writhing around with moves stolen from James Brown during an impassioned rendition of the Them deep cut, “Could You, Would You.”
Historically, rock music has never been particularly kind to brother-led bands. The Everly Brothers, Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis—the list of sibling relationships soured by the rollercoaster ride of a career in music goes on and on. Is this fraught lineage likely to continue with Hearty Har? According to Van Santen—probably not. “As brothers go, I’ve never seen these guys like, really fight,” he explains, before Tyler confirms by citing “fighting over the last Kombucha” as their most intense disagreement.
Van Santen is quieter than both the Fogertys—thoughtful, the best student of the three, and the one with the most subversive wit. He’s known the Fogertys since high school, impressing Shane with his skills behind the kit when he would come over to jam. He bashfully admits to being in a moderately successful band as a young teen—a gig that even had him touring overseas—but is quick to self-deprecate. “It was like back in the day with Motown, where they would take these kids and train them," He explains, "It was kind of was like that. Except, not anywhere near as cool.”
Hearty Har is rounded out by bassist Marcus Högsta—a highly prized player in the Cal Arts days thanks to his impressive skill and Rickenbacker bass—and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Wilson—who earns his keep by shredding on the keys or picking up a guitar when Tyler feels like cutting loose. Together they fill in gaps left from the dissolution of Steamtrain Mary, the Fogertys and Van Santen’s first band with other high school friends. It was here that they started writing songs, playing shows, and finding their sound. Creative differences and the imminent, separate ways of college fractured, then ended Steamtrain Mary, but the Fogertys and Van Santen remained tight.
It was in 2012 that they decided to get the band back together, this time under the moniker Hearty Har. A first shot at recording a debut LP in 2014 was drama-filled, leading the boys to shelve it shortly after its release. The story goes that the engineer—a friend—turned hostile halfway through the recording process, bailing on the band and taking the rest of their money. “Another family friend wound up helping us out,” Tyler explains, “they let us record in their studio for pretty cheap, and we finished it. But because of the headache and all this stuff, it was like, ‘We just need to finish this.’ It suffered a little.”
As if that wasn’t enough stress, on the last day before mixing, Shane mistakenly deleted the whole album. “I had to go to an expert file retriever and we got most of it,” he explains, still a bit scarred by the experience, “But we almost lost the album.” Ever the diplomat, he looks for the silver lining, explaining that the nightmare turned out to be the best thing for Hearty Har, introducing them to recording and showing them that most things—they could actually do themselves. He characterizes everyone in the band as “knob-turners” before Tyler adds, “After two years of struggling and learning I think we’re pretty good at it. We can be successful, even in another studio.”
With their latest single, “Radio Man ’56,” they only strengthen the case that you should probably be paying attention to them, crafting a sound that's just as far out as the lyrics. Byrds guitars mix with glammy, Sweet-esque keyboards and flower-child “ahhhh's,”—all swirling around Tyler's off-kilter vocals as he delivers gems like, “You've got to go way out to know you're not alone.”
“There’s the piano that comes in, and it reminded me of something crash-landing,” he explains. “I was like, ‘Ok, I need to write a song that’s about something crashing to earth.’ So I got this idea of an alien and a DJ—the conspiracy of rock ’n roll beginning in the world because of an alien. It was like, ‘That’s it!’ ”
Dig it? There’s more on the way. A full-length LP is due out next year, recorded and produced by the band at Radio Astro Studio—a name they say will most likely use to title the album. In the meantime, you can (and definitely should) catch them around LA, playing wherever there’s enough room for their massive pedal boards and Tyler’s craziest moves.
To close, I ask them what they think sets Hearty Har apart from all the other LA bands trying to make it. “We’re on a quest,” Shane offers up, “trying to build a box of crazy, exotic, but also familiar sounds.” Tyler takes a moment before saying, “It’s weird to answer that yourself.” True, so I’ll take a crack at it. What sets these guys apart is musicianship—more impressive chops than you’re likely to find amongst their peers, coupled with a knack for writing hooks that only dig in deeper when you try to shake ‘em. With all the competition in LA, they know the stakes are high, and they deliver. As Tyler put it when I still had some unmelted ice cubs left in my cup, “If I’m going to play a show, it better be damn good or we’re not gonna be playing the show. I’ll just go see my friends.”
The boys have a rehearsal and it’s time for us to leave. I count it as a win that no one came down with heat stroke, and I say a quick prayer to anyone that’s listening in regards to my imminent sweat stains. As we’re walking to our cars, Shane calls out to me, “Keep in touch.” I leave Little Ground Cafe behind—knowing I haven’t seen the last of Hearty Har.