By Brian Tucker
Richmond, Virginia’s Heartracer will perform Wednesday, March 9th at The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington, bringing their synth pop sound just in time given this week’s warm weather.
Across two albums the group, beginning as brothers Chris and Chip Cosby and recently added Bryan Reyes on drums, craft music that bears lush ambiance and emotionally driven songs. Their latest, Summer Gold, is like a nod to the warm days, fun nights, and good times of decades past.
New artists big and small have been breathing modern life into the synth pop or synth-based sound that was popular during the 1980s and the early 1990s – Phantogram, Kisses, Kavinsky, and a slew of underground acts to be found on Bandcamp (VHS Dreams, Beta Maxx, Arcade High, Night Runner, to name a few).
Heartracer’s music has both electricity and reflection while able to songs that have heart-on-your-sleeve substance. The band began as Cosby but due to obvious reasons (tough internet searches, scandal) changed to one of their song titles.
“Most of all though, Heartracer is just a sexy name and it fit’s our style and aesthetic vision,” Chris Cosby said.
Things didn’t begin that way. Chris recorded an alt-country record and Chip pursued a PhD in San Francisco. The two share a strong musical connection and traded song ideas back and forth. When Chip returned to Virginia they began a synth pop duo.
The music isn’t a tribute act or novelty, the brothers were born during the mid to late 1980s – “I think the nostalgia that we feel for that time of our lives is something that is reflected in our music,” Chris said.
It’s an extension or evolution of a sound that grew out of early 80s New Wave groups, like a close relative of bands like Cutting Crew or Honeymoon Suite sans the hard rock aesthetics. There’s guitar, blistering and colorful (especially on the Summer Gold EP), but the result is fun, melodic music with great soundscapes behind them, evoking electronic film scores and danceable material that’s anything but cynical. Below, Chris discusses the band’s music, influences, and more.
The albums have great ambiance – lush, dreamy, energetic.
Chris: For myself music is an emotional experience. I think emotion is really what separates “music” from just “sound.” Striking an emotional chord is definitely the foundation of the way that I write and I think that in many ways that separates us from other electronic artists.
I think for something to be emotional then it must be melodic and in many ways catchy, however that doesn’t mean in any way that there isn’t catchy music the lacks emotion because there is that in spades, especially on mainstream radio.
How long did you play separately? What was the catalyst for playing together?
Chris: I grew up watching Chip play in different bands and that’s what inspired me to begin singing and playing the piano. I had a solo Americana record around 2010 and Chip wrote some guitar for it and overall helped with the production.
Chip then moved to San Francisco to pursue his PhD in Religious Studies. While he was out there I started emailing him songs that I had been working on which were much more atmospheric and “synthy” than anything I worked on in the past.
We think about music so similarly because we don’t care as much about what we are playing or how complicated it is, we concentrate more on how something sounds and again back to the question does this make me feel anything? When Chip moved back from San Francisco in the winter of 2012 we already almost had finished what became our debut record In Flight.
What resonates or drew you to synth pop and 80s influenced music?
Chris: I honestly don’t think there was a conscious decision to do anything retro or 80s. Coincidentally, that time period to us really marked an era of strong pop songwriting where melody wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of production. Whether you love 80s music or not there is no denying it was a decade where music was the defining force of pop culture. Today, music seems to be a little back on the back burner behind TV, video games, and movies.
I don’t hear this music as retro. Are you making retro music, or smartly breathing life into a specific genre? Is Summer Gold meant to be old and new?
Chris: It’s definitely new. We aren’t trying to replicate anyone from the past, however on the same note we definitely owe the inspiration we draw to certain bands like Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, A-ha. We aren’t afraid to wear the inspiration those bands gave us on our sleeve.
Our hope is that maybe we can take what made some of those bands special and carry the torch a little further. As much as love is an inspiration we also all agree as a band that our dissatisfaction with modern pop music is also a strong motivational catalyst. It’s tough for us to really define what Heartracer represents yet but we think we get a step closer to doing so with every record we make.
Did electronic film scores influence your work?
Chris: Yes for sure. It’s actually funny that you mentioned that because my approach to songwriting is definitely more cinematic oriented I guess one could say. The Blade Runner soundtrack is one of my all time favorites. Also Point Break has an incredible soundtrack that is so hard to find even though that film came out in 92′.
What are the great 80s films? Are there a few you return to?
Chris: Oh, for sure. Chip is way into the horror stuff like The ‘burbs, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fright Night. But we are also way into some of the comedies like Weekend at Bernie’s, Caddyshack, really anything back then with Chevy Chase. There’s really too many to name, we could fill an entire page.