Mass Gothic: The Catharsis of Honest Songwriting

Mass Gothic is Noel Heroux (above), the emotive frontman of the now-defunct New York band, Hooray for Earth. During the winter of 2014-2015, Heroux wrote and recorded his first music under the Mass Gothic moniker, a mercurial collection of tracks that would eventually become an eponymous debut album. Before his powerfully honest show at Brooklyn’s Palisades, Noel and Jessica—his partner, collaborator, and one of three tour mates—sat down with me in the venue to talk artistic intention, nostalgia for an internet-less world, and the cathartic journey that is Mass Gothic.

When did you come from Boston to New York?

N. It was 2007.

J.  He actually was playing a show and never went back. He just brought his computer, which was a big PC.

N. We were doing a long-distance dating thing for a few years and then Hooray for Earth came down to play a show, and yeah I just didn’t go back with the other guys in the band.

J. I didn’t really know that that was the plan at the time. [laughs]

N. I decided the morning of; I was like, ‘I’m going to bring my computer and my clothes’…my mom was nice enough to dig out some of my old CDs and stuff that were at her house from when I was in high school, mailed those over, and that was about it.

Did you notice any palpable effect on your music when you moved to New York? Would you say that its different energy, the size…did that influence creativity?

N. Yeah, the biggest difference—this is gonna sound stupid—but before I moved here I didn’t have an internet connection, ever [laughs], so when I moved here I all of sudden was like, ‘I live in New York and I have the internet?!’ So I just started discovering so many things.

Yeah it’s like going to space.

N. [laughs] Yeah, it was really wild. Like, ‘oh there are music websites online, not just magazines.’ So it definitely kind of flipped my mind a bit. That did some good things. I was able to listen to some music that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford to buy on records…but then I started pretty quickly learning about how the internet music industry stuff works and getting sad…I do miss the time when I knew nothing, because it was much more enjoyable. You can put anything out there—you can ignore it as much as you want—but inevitably you’re going to be reading everyone’s opinion on everything, and it just takes a lot of the fun out of it.

So I read on the Sub Pop page [about the new record]: “It didn’t matter where any of the sounds came from. I just cared that it sounded big and heavy, and that it was moving when it was done.” Can you pinpoint now where the sounds were coming from, or is just sort of the place you were in and it just felt right?

N. I think when I’m saying ‘sounds’ there, I mean more like…it’s not specifically, ‘I don’t know where that guitar sound came from,’ it’s more like…

J. Well you’re in the middle of—I don’t want to say storm—but you’re in the middle of some sort of weather [laughs], and it could be positive or negative, and it’s hard to navigate what is coming from where, mentally—or melodically or structurally—in the songwriting. This album for me is exciting to play because it has such a journey. When Noel was going to the practice space and recording and coming back with different pieces of beginnings of different demos, it felt like I was witnessing a bit of a story unfolding, because one night he’d come back in this sort of a mood, and the next night it would be this mood, and then oh my god, like, listening to this song is terrifying because you’re fucking drunk out of your mind. The journey is definitely part of the album, I think, and certainly live we can feel that.

Yeah I think that so often people try to categorize music around the sound, and they say ‘oh it should be cohesive—it’s an album, it should evoke the same mood,’ but that’s such a nice thing about this record. There’s a journey…it’s like a storm, it has all the ups and downs, it’s very cathartic.

N. That’s a recurring thing. People will be like, ‘these songs are all different, it sounds like a Best of’—I’ve had that comment before. ‘It sounds more like a Best of, singles collection, from different albums.’

…Yeah for me, the crux of the record, right in the middle, when “Nice Night” comes, and it’s immediately followed by “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me,” and “Nice Night” is really heavy and really dark…hearing that song and then hearing the upbeat, catchy “Every Night”…and then they were the two singles… Was it intentional to have those two back-to-back, with a huge disparity in sounds?

N. I mean not from the very get-go, but when I was starting to put things together it kind of felt like they were a pair—even though most people would be like ‘I can’t fucking understand why you would think that [laughs]—but “Every Night” sounds all jumping-up-and-down fun and doo-wops, but it’s like the same, depressing-ass, soul-crushing lyrical content as “Nice Night.”…But then we thought, when they were first coming out, if they’re going to be the first two things that people hear, might as well strap people in if you want to hear the whole record.

J. …Lyrically there’s such a theme throughout. That song, to me, “Every Night”—which we worked on together—at some point, earlier, it came out of a place that was extremely exciting…even when that was being made, it had this undercurrent of mania, and that’s why it’s fast…to me it’s one of the more violent songs on the record, but I also think, we needed to dance that day, so that’s why it’s that way.


Original Photography for Frontrunner Magazine by Sean Sirota from Mass Gothic Live @ Palisades. Brooklyn, NY. February 27, 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

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