Indie-rock Canadian band Heat’s debut EP won the attention of NME, who starred them as one of the bands to watch out for in 2015. Susil Sharma had been on the Montreal music circuit for a while, when he decided it was time to start writing his own songs. Somehow that impulse turned into a band and then a big deal. Double guitars feel reminiscent of The Strokes, with moments taken from Echo and the Bunnymen or Jesus & Mary Chain. Over the top of it all, Susil Sharma’s warm, late-night smoky bar confessional vocal contains more than a few hints of Lou Reed. Now the band, comprised of Raphael Bussieres on bass, Matthew Fiorentino on guitar, and Alex Crow on drums, is touring and working on new material. Northern Transmissions wanted to hear about the past and the future of Heat. Alice Severin was able to catch up with Susil Sharma on the road.
Northern Transmissions: Hi Susil, how’s it going? Is this a good time? How are you?
Susil Sharma: Very good, yourself? This is a great time.
NT: You’ve got a wonderful speaking voice, great, and low, just as good as your singing voice.
S: That’s very kind of you to say.
NT: It’s not always, the case, you know sometimes you talk to people and their singing voice and speaking voice are very different.
S: Yeah, expecting like a higher register?
NT: Yeah, exactly. So there’s been a lot of excitement about the band. How has it been?
S: It’s been a cool couple of months. It’s definitely given us a lot of opportunities to play, reach out to more people, which is great.
NT: The EP got a lot of attention, and the live shows, and M for Montreal. And I think you just played in Chicago?
S: Yeah, we did Chicago and Detroit, as well as Toronto, and a little bit around Ontario.
NT: How were the audiences there?
S: It was great, yeah, the places were really good. Detroit was sketchy, actually. Make sure you put that in the article. (laughs) No, no, it was fun. A nice little warmup. Hopefully we can do a little bit more touring, so it was nice to know that we work on the road as well.
NT: You’ve been playing in Montreal for a while now. What’s it been like to build up a big following there?
S: Yeah, we’re all based out of Montreal. It’s such an ideal place, to be at the kind of beginning stages of a band. You know, the cost of living there is really cheap. So you can kind of really focus on music even before you’re like a big band that necessarily would be doing it full time. So there’s a lot of opportunity to build a fan base, and take it from there.
NT: It seems like the music scene in Montreal is really taking off. There are a lot of bands, different styles of music. What do you think makes it such a good environment to be creative in?
S: Well, it definitely has to do with the cost of living, like I mentioned. Like for a while, when I was actually first starting this band, I lived in Toronto for a bit, and I was kind of eking out a feasible way for me to start a new band. It takes a while to get going, there’s all that, you’ve got to keep your day job, and Toronto just didn’t make sense. I was working all the time. Montreal – I mean we all have little things we do on the side, but we can still focus on this. Aside from just the whole attitude, you know – in the city, there’s a lot of like-minded people around.
NT: And it’s a beautiful place.
NT: You are originally from New Brunswick, right?
S: Correct. It’s a beautiful, a great place to grow up. But definitely when I reached a certain age, I got a taste for certain kinds of music, and things I knew I wanted to do. It was time to get out of Dodge. (laughs) And Montreal was the closest spot, so I came there, which was great. Fortunate. But it was kind of nice because at the same time I grew up in a smaller place, listened to a lot of bands. For me, a lot of the connection I have to music was forged in my room with headphones on. And it was like a deeply personal thing, to listen to that, to some kinds of music. And I try to always keep that in mind, you know, that whole relationship to music.
NT: And your songs seem to be an interesting mix of energy-infused rhythm and this kind of introspective lyrics, life observations. “Rooms” has a line – “I do these things to keep myself from winning, because I’m winning in my head.” Do you think that mix is important, or is it something that just happens naturally?
S: Yeah, for sure. To some degree, it’s just an extension of who we are. I mean, definitely from me, when I wrote some of those songs, it was just natural, I didn’t try to force anything. You know, we get a lot of comparisons to Lou Reed, or Jesus and Mary Chain, or whatever. A lot of that is just certain rhythms, and stuff that just naturally I’m inclined towards. We’re not making conscious choices to try and ape someone but things are kind of in us. And the lyrics…I don’t know. It’s all just the first thing that…I kind of go with my gut and some of those lyrics convey a conversational sort of thing.
NT: Do you write all the parts to the songs, and then go in and present them? And is that process going to change now that the band is together and touring?
S: Yeah, definitely it’s a process that we’re evolving. Because currently we, I’m sure you know how it is, we’re promoting and talking a lot about an EP that was born out of songs that I wrote all by myself, demoed, showed to some guys, we recorded, then changed line-up. It was about a year ago that we recorded it. So I think a lot of those songs are more, you know, my songwriting, and it’s something that is evolving more and more with the stabilized line-up that’s fairly recently come about. We’ve all gelled, and come together in a really natural, organic way that we’re really happy with.
NT: Do you play all the instruments? How did you do the demos?
S: A lot of those songs, all the ones on the EP, I made little demos at home, guitars, and a really awful little drum machine, and stuff. I think on the EP I play a lot of the guitars. It’s also great now, with the lineup – we are all multi-instrumentalists, we’re all songwriters, we sing, so it’s great. It’s never just “I’m going to let the guitar player write the guitar parts” or anything. It’s all very collaborative. It’s all about overall songwriting, the song as a whole is always kept in mind.
NT: Are you recording at the moment?
S: We just finished three tracks, we were mixing today. And we’re really excited to get it out there.
NT: Do you have any idea yet of when you’ll be releasing them?
S: Fingers crossed for this spring. That’d be great, to keep things moving.
NT: Do you have a theory on how music should be, and things that you want to try with the new songs?
S: Yeah, I mean we’re pretty open to anything that will ultimately serve the song, if there’s something that’s even unorthodox. I mean I know a lot of write-ups have gone, whatever, have described us as maybe throwback or maybe some people think we’re sitting around with guitars, saying “there has to be a guitar solo here” like conventional song writing techniques. We’re pretty open to whatever could go on, drum machines, synths, anything. It’s really just creating that vibe. As long as that happens, we’re cool with it.
NT: So do you think there are particular influences that you look to, or people that you listen to, that make you want to play?
S: Yeah, for sure. I mean overall, being in a rock band is such a funny thing. It’s an ideal that a lot of people have, like when I was a teenager. And now I’m producing, in a rock band, touring – doing all this stuff. And it’s cool, I still want to do that but, it’s really, we’re kind of adults now, and you change some values, certain things. There are also bands we admire and stuff, their output. But it’s a completely different musical climate now. Like My Bloody Valentine, I really like the way they did a lot of stuff, and I respect them as artists. But they didn’t exist in 2015, and have to deal with Pitchfork, you know. (laughs) It’s different things. We just try to keep perspective. At the end of the day, as long as you’re creating cool music, that’s cool by us.
NT: It’s a wild world out there of blogs and bands.
S: Yeah, for sure. It’s great. I really think it’s cool that people can put an album out online. I mean we haven’t even released the next EP. It’s cool that people are aware of us and we have some attraction because of that. But I’m also not sure what effect that has on bands cycling through things quicker than maybe it used to be, longevity and stuff. I don’t know. We’ll see.
NT: Is it tricky when you’re creating, because it’s really two separate things – the promotion and the music and just being out there?
S: Yeah, I really think it is. And also, at the end of the day with all this stuff, it’s kind of easy to lose track. I mean, we just all like playing music with each other, and trying to create cool songs. That’s really the most important thing.
NT: I read something that said you used to get pretty wild on stage at one point. What do you think you like best about performing at the moment?
S: Yeah, that’s true, that was fun. At the moment? It’s interesting, because this is like the first band where I’ve been the singer. It’s been, like I wrote the lyrics, you know. So I experienced things, because of my life, it’s kind of like where I was at on stage. It’s cool and interesting, it’s also freeing to be there, to see other people respond to it, they can hopefully take something out of what I’m saying, you know? That part of it to me resonates the most, it’s cool.
NT: When all of you are together on stage playing, do you feel like you’ve got a good connection to each other?
S: Oh, it’s a terrible connection. I hate them so much. You don’t even know how much. (laughs)
NT: That works too for a lot of bands.
S: It does, I’ve heard that. (laughs) But no, seriously, it’s a really tight, solid thing I’m looking forward to expanding on.
NT: And now you’re going over to the UK to tour in the spring?
S: We are going, yes. I think that’s going to be a longer stay in Europe. But yeah, UK shows confirmed, pretty cool. I’m really excited to go. Play on tour – it’s all stuff we want to do for a while. It will be really fun. Until then, there’s a lot of shows around here. We’re actually on the road right now, driving to Sherbrooke, Quebec to play. Then we are going to SXSW in Austin, in March. Beyond that, there are little things we’re kind of working out, you know, standard touring routing.
NT: Have you got a lot of shows lined up there? It’s supposed to be a crazy time.
S: Well, it’s cool being in Montreal, so many of my friends are in bands, so I know a lot of people who have gone. I don’t know. It seems almost like a rite of passage that all bands do. So I’ve gotten some heads up. So we’ll see.
NT: Any touring plans for the States, aside from SXSW?
S: We’re flying down to Austin – I think every other band is playing through on their way down to Austin, so. But actually, I believe in March, the weekend before, we’re playing in Brooklyn, at Brooklyn Bazaar.
NT: And you were in NYC in October.
S: Yeah, we did five CMJ shows, which was cool. It was great, I mean I love New York. Festivals like that, it’s kind of interesting, you can tell, at the showcases you look out and see a lot of industry people, so kind of a different vibe from a normal show.
NT: And five albums that still inspire you.
S: Just off the top of my head? I guess because we were just talking about My Bloody Valentine, start with that, Loveless is a classic.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
The Clash – London Calling
Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
Jesus and Mary Chain – Automatic
Echo and the Bunnymen – Songs to Learn and Sing