It’s 11 AM on a sunny Saturday morning in Brooklyn, and the members of HAERTS are tired. I don’t blame them. Committing to meet up with anyone at this hour on a weekend—which, let’s be real, is essentially the crack of dawn—is easily a regrettable decision. Not only is the band recovering from yesterday’s 14-hour music video shoot (and celebratory shots after it ended); lead singer Nini Fabi is nursing a sore throat; and to top everything off, they’re flying to Los Angeles the following day to embark on their fall tour. But if you talk to the Brooklyn-based quartet, this grueling, no-sleep schedule is a small price to pay for the release of their self-titled album.
“We’ve been working on it for three years, but for us it doesn’t feel like we were necessarily waiting a long time to put it out,” Fabi says of the group’s highly anticipated self-titled debut, out this week on Columbia Records. In fact, the band—comprised of Fabi, keyboardist Ben Gebert, guitarist Garrett Ienner, and bassist Derek McWilliams—have been writing, recording, and polishing the LP pretty much nonstop ever since HAERTS’ debut single “Wings” landed online back in 2012.
Featuring soaring vocals and dreamy melodies wrapped around a warm electro-pop backbone, the track serves as the perfect introduction to their cinematic, almost magical sound. Surprisingly, the band didn’t expect that it would spread as quickly as it did. “When we put out ‘Wings,’ we never expected it to be a single or for people to really even listen, but the song meant a lot to us emotionally,” Fabi remembers. “We just wanted to show everyone the music that we were making, like, this is HAERTS.”
While the story of HAERTS the band began a couple of years ago, the real origin of the group’s musical history actually dates back to when Fabi and Gebert were teenagers in Germany. After attending high school overseas together and eventually both ending up in New York, the two reconnected and started jamming. “Benny and I weren’t even fleshed out as a band when we first began,” says Fabi.
It wasn’t until a random meeting with Jean-Philip Grobler of the New York dance-pop outfit St. Lucia—just before their 2011 breakout track “All Eyes On You” hit the internet—that Fabi and Gebert began to whittle down their sound and really consider themselves a unit. From there, they added two more members, McWilliams and Ienner (who also played on St. Lucia demos). The foursome recorded “Wings” with Grobler as producer and put it on Soundcloud. After reaching “Song of the Summer” status for some, major radio exposure, and close to a million plays, it’s safe to say the track—and HAERTS—took off immediately (insert obvious “Wings” joke here).
“It’s crazy, because when we released ‘Wings’ we didn’t have a label or really anything in place to do what we are doing now,” Fabi admits. “After that, we started thinking more about the band, and eventually recorded whenever we had a break from touring.”
This meant sneaking in studio time between shows in cities like Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York, which worked out pretty well. But while they had plenty of material, Fabi said all four members knew they weren’t ready to release a full-length record quite yet.
This breed of patience is rare, especially in a music scene that’s flooded with warp-speed blogs and mediocre one-offs. Then again, HAERTS is a group of self-described perfectionists. And as their album proves, that’s definitely a good thing.
Whittled down from dozens of options, the twelve tracks on the record include prior EP singles like “Wings” and “Hemiplegia,” as well as unheard synth-laden gems like “Call My Name” and “Be The One.” This expansive mix of new and old material is a strategic choice: not only does it allow new fans to dive headfirst into their bewitching soundscape, it reminds old ones why these songs are so special in the first place.
As Fabi puts it, “We always wrote music with an album in mind. So when the EP came out, there were still songs that belonged on the album—it would’ve been wrong to leave ‘Hemiplegia’ off.” The title track off their 2013 EP, this slow-burning anthem hits especially close to home for the group (according to the HAERTS Facebook page, it’s partially inspired by a medical condition of temporary partial body numbness, which Fabi has experienced on and off since childhood). It’s also quintessentially HAERTS: a 80s synth backbone, unexpected bass lines, heartfelt lyrics, and, despite their signature infectious melody, it comes infused with a haunting undertone that’s also prevalent on the LP.
Thanks to a melding of ethereal electro-pop and slick production, this is an album that could soundtrack almost any situation. They make music you can dance to, you can mope alone to, or you can blast in your car while cruising with the windows down. Sure, there’s a high-flying exuberance, but one that’s not without the experience of heartbreak, loss, and hard times (“You know the darkness no one believes, I know there's no relief in these dreams” Fabi croons in the band’s latest single, “Giving Up.”)
But no matter where you play the LP, HAERTS have just one request: listen to the whole thing. “For us it was important to make a cohesive album, a real album, and something that isn’t just a collection of songs,” Fabi says. “We want it to tell a story.” And yeah, theirs is only just beginning.
Liza Darwin is a writer living in NYC. She's on Twitter.