FEATURE: Head North On Their New Record, Personal Growth

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Interview by: Zoe Marquedant

Story by: Zoe Marquedant

Buffalo’s Head North released their new record The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World this past June. A dramatic sonic shift from their last release Bloodlines, this new album is conceptual and more cosmic. It’s a ethereal indie-rock vision of a world in which as drummer Ben Lieber describes it “creation is all that’s left.”

The story takes place in an alternative reality where both God and love are forbidden. This narrative is interwoven with the history of the band, specifically tales of growing up and the related tribulations. However, Head North didn’t set out to create this image, rather it “kind of just happened.”

Previously, Head North had taken the “sit down in a room and [agree]‘ok we have to write some music’” approach. For The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World, they used a more “natural flow” and “trusted each other.” Lieber said this time the band had “a lot more faith in each other.”

This “allowed the songs to grow more naturally and have a stronger backbone.” This organic approach resulted in a shift in sound which was not purposeful as much as it “was really just [the band]letting [their]inhibitions down and running with any idea no matter how weird it was.”

Since Bloodlines, Head North had become “disinterest in being a pop punk band”. They considered the genre a niche, really “something [they]didn’t want to be apart of anymore”. Instead of restraining themselves to the themes and tropes of that sound, Head North just went for it. As Lieber remembers it, they “didn’t actively try not to make music like that. We were just very excited and wanted very badly to push the envelope, explore different sounds.”

Overall, the band “really tried to avoid forcing writing” as they had done in the past. The process of jamming together until something bubbled up was more stifling than it was productive. Instead, they began with a story.

“Brent had the idea, a loose grasp for a bit. It took some time for him to develop the idea of the story, how it played,” Lieber said.

This kernel gave rise to the narrative that would run throughout The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World. In addition to building this world, the band added parts of their own day-to-day.

“There’s a lot of real life influence there too. We talk about the trajectory of the band and what happened with us is in there a lot,” Lieber said.

In particular, Lieber said, the songs touch upon “the personal growth that we went through in our lives, those things needed to happen for this story to have the body that it does and to make sense in this way”. What they created by combining their realities with a made-up one was somehow cohesive. A strange, but believable jaunt that plays out like a stylized movie.
This concept is only strengthened by the band’s determination to try everything. As the drummer, Lieber tried “manipulating the drum sounds and layering different percussive elements on top of the drum track instead of doing one drum take and that’s the song”. It was genre-defying and just what the record needed.

“There are some songs that have like four drum tracks just because we were like, ‘yeah that sounds cool but I feel like it also need this other snare sound on it,’” Lieber recalled. “We’d keep going and keep going and keep going until we had this massive unique sound.”

Lieber could recall exact moments in the recording process, like the drum beat in a verses, and how it was crafted from “a mixture of a hand clap as well as a snare [that was]drenched in towels, tape, everything to mute the crap out of it.” An unorthodox approach, but as Lieber recalled “the sound of those two together is so satisfying to me.”

Despite the fact that the band was breaking new ground, they had plenty of support. The record was produced and mixed by Brett Romnes of I Am the Avalanche. Romnes was a “huge proponent for the weird ideas.” Lieber said lots of those weird ideas on the record were because of him.

“I think having ‘fresh ears’ on a song really allows your brain go down into any sort of alley or direction without any sort of presumption because ideas just pop up and you’re like ‘alright you’re going to do this, you’re going to do this,’” Lieber said. “It was cool because we really just trusted his judgement and I think it paid off for sure.”

Trust, more so than the imaginative force it must’ve taken to create the alternative world, seems to have played a large role in the creation of this album. Although, the band trusted one another, they were still entering all new territory and of course they had doubts.

“Absolutely,” Lieber said. “I tend to be a skeptic. I guess skeptic is the right word. It takes a lot for me to be convinced by an idea.”

Lieber mentioned time in the studio when a someone would play something and he’d find himself wondering, “I don’t know, that sounds really weird.” There were also moments when his bandmates, Brent Martone and Alex Matos, “would say the same thing about a part that I would do.” However, having faith in each other as musicians allowed them to work through their issues and create “awesome and unique” final product. The band experimented with weird, tiny, electronics that became “quintessential” and became Head North’s new sound.
How will this new Head North translate to the stage? Despite the sound, Lieber said “we’re still a rock band.”

“We’re still going to play faster than the record and louder than the record and we still have that energy,” Lieber said. “There will be new stuff for sure it’ll sound different. It’ll sound progressed but at the end of the day we’re a rock band. The live show is just a celebration, a party.”

Every night on their tour was “a vessel to enjoy your time with other people and still feel that cool magic of live music. It doesn’t need to be anything more that that to us.”

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