In 2010, Ryan “Honus Honus” Kattner (Man Man) and Nicholas “Nick Diamonds” Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns) formed the “doom-wop” project Mister Heavenly, rounding out the band with prolific indie rock mainstay, Joe Plummer (Cold War Kids, The Shins, Modest Mouse, The Blackheart Procession) on drums. Longtime friends, Kattner said of collaborating with Thorburn that he, “always thought that the two of [their] voices together would make an interesting contrast since they occupy very distinct ends of the vocal spectrum” and, not unlike The Halo Benders — another indie project formed by a pair of accomplished frontmen who admired each other’s work and sing at different, albeit more extreme, registers (Doug Martsch of Built To Spill and Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson) — the merger of their contrasting deliveries feels as seamless as it has proved complimentary.
In 2011, their sole studio album, Out Of Love was released, and while more attention may have been, unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, paid by the media to the fact that Michael Cera briefly served as the group’s touring bassist, it was still a solid and compelling effort, which earned its own legion of fans that were not ready to simply dismiss it as a one-off. It always felt as if the band themselves never doubted that their was more to be mined from the collaboration, either, but whether anyone wants to refer to the trio as a “side project” or otherwise, the reality is that every one of the members has fairly consistent responsibilities pulling on them elsewhere. From time to time, information would pop up suggesting that they might be working on new material, but it wasn’t until now that it’s been officially confirmed that a full-length follow up is actually finished and will be hitting shelves later this year.
Titled, Boxing The Moonlight, the new album is being released through Polyvinyl with a slated release date of October 6th. How long its production has been in the works, we’re not completely sure, but according to the press release it was crafted by the band members “snatching a few days at a time whenever their cluttered schedules allowed.” In the time since Out Of Love, Kattner pushed out another Man Man album, before venturing into new territory with a solo LP as Honus Honus last year. When we went to catch him touring it with the Honus Honus band, they were opening for Islands, who put out 2 new albums of their own last year alone, with 2 more previously arriving in 2012 and 2013, respectively. That doesn’t even include Thorburn‘s pair of 2015 solo efforts — one a Record Store Day EP under his own name, and the other a full-length as “Nick Diamonds” — or take into account random features on the projects of other artists/friends like EL-P or Giovanni Marks (SUBTITLE). Meanwhile, Joe Plummer has put out albums with The Shins; Cold War Kids; two all-drums releases as part of the trio, Hew Time alongside Dale Crover and Coady Willis of Melvins; teamed with Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession) to release an album as the duo, Built In Sun; and provided drums and percussion for a Toby Beard album, as well as for the Honus Honus LP. Despite all of these conflicting projects and responsibilities — or perhaps partially because of them and the collaborative experience that they’ve afforded to the members — the latest Mister Heavenly release already seems to be sounding as if it might be one of the most cohesive projects they have been involved with, with their styles melding effortlessly together into something that genuinely forges new territory, rather than sounding like a handful of disparate elements that, while impressive on their own, don’t quite successfully lock together, as is often the case with these “super groups.”
“Every time we got together, we had to continually relearn how to the play the songs,” Nicholas Thorburn explains. “When we finally got into the studio, there was such a built up reserve of energy that we were ready to hit it fast and hard.”
There’s also a focus with Boxing The Moonlight, one where it moves away from the subject of “love and affection” that peppered their previous release. Thorburn addressed this by saying, “It seemed like it was a good idea to pivot from the subject matter of the first record.” Adding, “That was maybe a more emotional thing, and I think this record is much more physical.”
Kattner stresses how important it is to him to provide variety on the album, in the press release, which makes references to 60s garage-psych rockers, The Monks and credits both 80s/90s hip hop production and left-field, experimental Kraut Rock pioneers, Faust, as being “a big influence while the songs were being written.” As Ryan, who states that he “personally hate[s] albums where every song sounds the same” puts it, “It all makes sense in the grand scheme of things. People are complicated. People have a lot of different vibes running through them at any given moment.” Of the album track “Crazy Love, Vol. III,” which is cryptically described as “a smooth jam with an ulterior motive,” Honus claims that his “only hope” is that it “can be somebody’s wedding song. But the bride has a shiv hidden in her dress.” Providing additional insight into their motivation, he says, “We’re always trying to write the perfect little nugget,” hoping that, “When you find that melted jukebox, and that Mister Heavenly record is spinning, you’re going to try your damnedest to find a coin to put in it.”
As for Seattle-based Plummer, the sole member not currently living in Los Angeles, he offers, “I don’t know if it’s cliché or not these days to have an L.A. record, but this feels like an L.A. record.” It’s a fair enough assessment, as Thorburn has admitted to using the backdrop as inspiration for some of the characters in the tracks, and Kattner references the city in some of the lyrics.
Our first real sample of Boxing The Moonlight comes in the form of a lyric video for album opener, “Beat Down,” and it’s great to see that one element which hasn’t been lost since their last release is their amazing visuals. One of my favorite things to come out of Out Of Love was the video for “Bronx Sniper” which begins with a Twisted Sister “We’re Not Gonna Take It“-style lecture from a father to his son about getting his act straight, and [d]evolves into the sort of out-of-control, chaotic demolition of their suburban home from a gang of hoodlums that brought to mind the house party scene from Weird Science with the bikers tearing through the living room on motorcycles, only far more intense or destructive than either of them. For “Beat Down” we get a classic martial arts diner brawl which looks to have been swiped out of some late 70s – early 80s exploitation flick. Thorburn and Kattner‘s vocals compliment each other beautifully on this cut, which seems to come from a desperate source stuck in the rut of their numbingly mundane existence, who is openly welcoming any level of pain and discomfort into their life, as long as it means that they could finally feel something and change their trajectory or perspective.
Check it out below and hip us to what film this is from so that we can watch the damn thing. Then check out the track list for the album and Mister Heavenly tour dates below.
Boxing The Moonlight is currently available for pre-order through Polyvinyl in a variety of formats including the limited edition “early bird” color vinyl.
10/21 – Los Angeles, CA @ Resident #
10/22 – San Francisco, CA @ Swedish American Hall #
10/24 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge #
10/25 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza #
11/02 – New York, NY @ Le Poisson Rouge
11/03 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
11/04 – Providence, RI @ Alchemy
11/05 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
11/06 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
11/08 – Toronto, ON @ Drake Hotel
11/11 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall