Album premiere: The Heart Hunters “American Eclipse”

Just like the buses, we have no album premieres for weeks and then two come along in the one day, and this is rather ace. Heart Hunters is Drew de Man’s new project with his wife, singer/songwriter Brianna Blackbird (surely one of the loveliest names on the planet earth) and their new album ‘American Eclipse’ is produced by Peter Case with some gorgeous two-part harmonies accompanying sparse acoustic folk songs and epic anthems featuring lush string sections, along with some worldly wariness of the capitalist ideal and the crisis it’s engendered.

Drew told AUK: “Our songwriting has taken a lot of different turns over the years. We’ve done this together since 2012. We often write solo and then bring songs to the duo and work on them. Sometimes we write together from the ground up.  Some of our earliest material included things that were vaguely political—abstractions. But the realities of the ongoing police violence against people of color in the US was so glaring by the time we wrote “Angels”, we told ourselves to be as overtly, plainly political as we wanted. It was a necessity. So when it rhymed well to talk about Black Jesus, homelessness, Standing Rock and mass incarceration all in one verse, it was like, “there ya go…that’s how you write a protest song!”

You learn how to be direct, as direct as possible. We may march and protest but we also know the importance of spirituality, mysticism, and art-for-art’s-sake, so topical songwriting can feel too pat, too plain or prosaic. “Normal America” puts it pretty plainly: capitalism works you till you’re all used up; consumerism is an addiction, a hamster wheel; settlers in our part of the country enacted a genocide against the native people and built a society that paves it all over and throws up big box stores and churches on that stolen land. It’s an old story, well known by some but always worth revisiting.

Singer-songwriters tend to write mopey songs about their feelings. We have those too—that’s okay—but in 2018, you damned well better be willing to address racial justice and the hypocrisy of white Christian colonialism. Our old songs were super personal, occasionally abstractly political. The quest on this record was about learning to share a message well, do it with heart and humor and make it artful—direct and immediate but not too mundane or prosaic.  Peter’s (Case, our producer) last record was mighty political and here too he guided us. We agreed we’d have to put a few love songs and some more psychedelic or transcendental stuff on there in order not to be all gloom and doom.

The news is everywhere—people are assailed by it on their phones. We recognize that in addition to justice, equality and liberation, the “revolution” also needs wonderment, bliss, and fun. But for us, the songwriting breakthrough was being able to tell a pretty straightforward political story without feeling like we were yelling it through a megaphone. We only need those at marches and demonstrations. And we are in love so ya get some love songs. Isn’t love also a revolutionary force?

This record, unlike our previous ones, was recorded in a single studio, in a few sessions, with Peter Case producing. The other records we made were collections of songs, done in various studios around the Pacific Northwest, while we toured. We figured we’d sort of build the expansiveness and experience of those tours and journeys into those records and that would be special.  They lacked cohesion and with Drew producing and various engineers engineering, that approach ended up having some limitations. This time was different. Peter has made lots of records and he’s an absolute PROFESSOR of songwriting. We did about a week of preproduction with him at our place, during which we refined the songs — editing lyrics,  changing arrangements, changing keys, talking about fundamental concepts, picking the one cover we put into the mix… We were clear about a lot of things and Peter had a good idea of what he wanted out of each song. That’s great because then, as the artists, we just went in and did takes and took direction and let him guide us. We learned so much.”

‘American Eclipse’ comes out this Friday (July 20th) but you can lap up its heavy-hitting goodness here first.

About Mark Whitfield 2018 Articles
Editor of Americana UK website, the UK's leading home for americana news and reviews since 2001 (when life was simpler, at least for the first 253 days)
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