It's easy to forget that for a lot of people, the last two years have seen them evolve in ways they never would have expected. For Sydney artist Hearteyes, that's been the case. He's just released his most autobiographical project yet, the wildly eclectic HEADBANGERS 2, and it's a project that's taken a lot of self-realisation. Every ounce of his strength went into the project. "HEADBANGERS 2 was an exhausting record to make and it’s an exhausting record to look back on. I can barely listen to it, but it was a necessary evil in being able to close a truly self-destructive chapter in my life."
As an artist, Hearteyes has always actively avoided labels - his music wildly oscillates between the abrasive and the melodic, all backed by a pop nous that can't be faked. While he frequently departs from the pop space in favour of forays into hip-hop, electronic and even occasionally R&B, his ability to write a hook that's undeniably sticky never changes, even if it's buried under distortion, filters and a myriad of other production techniques. This chameleon-like ability to take listeners on a musical journey is omnipresent on HEADBANGERS 2, from the hardcore opener in TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT to the hyperpop-influenced F.U.A, which features Canadian singer-songwriter and Helix Tears member 8485.
On TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT, Hearteyes embraces the persona of someone processing their grievances in front of a moshpit, while F.U.A transitions between swaying and relaxed vocals during the verses and focused, anthemic vocals during the choruses. It's hard not to get swept up in Hearteyes' lyricism and vocal delivery, and he's mastering a range of vocal styles; because he doesn't want to stick to just one. If you're going into this project expecting something from Hearteyes based on his past releases, or even the singles, then your expectations will be subverted - which is by design. He explains, "I exist literally within my own world and those that find my music, it’s just me. I am within my own world, there’s this whole-ass universe that I want to create. I don’t think that I’d ever exist in a scene, because my music is constantly changing. I can’t ever stick to one thing for more than two or three months."
Hearteyes began his musical life as a producer - content with being the nameless face behind the music. However, as he's found himself wanting to get more off his chest, he's stepped into the spotlight, finding a love of writing vocal parts for other artists. "I think it definitely started with wanting to be behind-the-scenes because there’s no public emotion that you give to the music. You don’t have to put on this mask and be like ‘fuck with me, I’m the best artist’, you’re just a producer who just works for as many different people as possible. You’re a plumber, who owns a freelance plumbing business and when someone wants their stuff taken care of, you go and fix their sink or if someone wants their tap set or a crazy double-headed shower. You just get on with your day, and there’s a lot of work because of it. You’re never bored.
"I think in time, though, as more people have been connected to the lyrics and the meaning of the songs, and I myself have been more connected and wanting to tell my story, I have been more pushed in the direction of wanting to be the artist and wanting to be the face, being less of a producer. Going forward I don’t make beats anymore; I only get beats from other producers... I know if there is a guy or a girl out there who is a crazy producer and that’s what they do all day, make beats, then why am I going to extend my process and exhaust myself further when I can get really good beats from someone else and then just immediately hop on and streamline the song in my own process?"
Of course, he's not going to stop being involved in the production for his music entirely - instead, he's got a slightly different process in mind. "I still have a production mindset, in that when I get beats from people I will go back and be like ‘change this, add this’, or I might add my own stuff to it. It’s more of an executive production role that I might take going forward. I pick the producers that I want to work with because I know what they’re going to bring to the table and what they’re capable of, otherwise I'll end up using YouTube-type beats and running with it."
The music on HEADBANGERS 2 revolves around mental health and hedonism, and while it began life as a mixtape, it's evolved thanks to a couple of things. Firstly, Hearteyes is now part of the Australian label Coalesce Records, alongside Lonelyspeck and Cookii. Together, the three artists are influencing disparate scenes that exist within Australia's musical underground - scenes that, until now, are often ignored. Signing to a label wasn't in Hearteyes' plans, but Coalesce believed in the vision, and together, "we're looking towards the future. We're seeing how we can expand within this weird paradigm of left-field music that’s still pop and exploring how it exists within Australia, but overseas as well. "
The second, more personal evolution of HEADBANGERS 2 came as the result of a diagnosis that was a long time coming. "For the last two years, I’ve only just gone public about this, but I got a Bipolar diagnosis and I’ve been going through the past almost three years of going through mania, catatonic depression and substance abuse and risk-taking behaviour. A lot of my earlier music was partially influenced by that, but I was never upfront about it. [Previous mixtape] Joyride The Stars for instance, I see as a call for help. Songs like Danger To Myself and I Feel Weird were the first time I wanted to say how I was feeling but I didn’t have the confidence and I didn’t understand how to properly communicate it."
Things changed with HEADBANGERS 2, and the result is a project that is emotionally confronting. "I found myself writing these songs that made me understand myself better, not in the capacity of looking back in hindsight, but in the moment. For instance, SUPERST4R is a very hedonistic song but when I look back at it, it’s about the delusions of grandeur that mania gives you - thinking that you’re going to be a superstar. When I say 'sex, money, drugs, fans, that’s all I think about when I’m in your bed', it’s true. When I was with partners or with friends, I was never present. All I was thinking about was ‘I’m going to be the next superstar – how do I get there?’. However, there’s also this ability that I have, through the self-admission of calling myself an asshole, to have the awareness to recognise that I was a really toxic person."
One of the keys to the record is Electroboy, the track with Jordon Alexander (Mall Grab's side project). The track is named after Andy Behrman's novel of the same name, which is a memoir about manic depression. Reading the book showed Hearteyes what the realities of bipolar were like - and some of the events depicted in the book mirrored Hearteyes' own experiences. "[Andy] talks about doing things, like missing work meetings and going on six-day benders, buying one-way tickets to Japan and stuff and spending all these ridiculous amounts of money. It is super hedonistic but it is reality. It’s what you go through when you’re manic and it’s okay, but it’s about how you manage the comedown and how you manage never going and reaching that state of mania again."
Opening song TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT took a lot out of Hearteyes - so much that he hasn't really been able to write anything since finishing the track late last year. Fair enough, too, as the track is an auditory exorcism of the demons that he's been battling. Lyrics like "I just wanna talk" and "carve my name into your soul now" are drawn from the depths of Hearteyes' experiences, and the catharsis being felt by Hearteyes as he sings is palpable. "TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT was the last song that I wrote and recorded for the project. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to write any music since then. I’ve done a couple of features and I’ve written toplines for people, but I haven’t done any music for Hearteyes because I feel like I’ve really gotten everything out of my system that I thought that I needed to say.
"I didn’t understand the poignancy of the song in the moment, but upon reflection I’m like ‘holy fuck, this really does symbolise everything that I’ve experienced in the past two years. Suicidal ideation, self-harm, substance abuse, mania, depression, agoraphobia, everything like that. In the moment when we were recording it, it was just a stream of consciousness and it just took one take to get it all down. It wasn’t until only a couple of months ago that I looked at the record, I don’t think I was actually sentient to what I was doing. It was kind of like a weird, universal thing in some way where I was on autopilot and knew that this was what I had to say and do to close this chapter."
Of course, there are still some things left unsaid about the music; things that listeners will never know. He's keeping some cards close to his chest, given just how personal the music on HEADBANGERS 2 is. "I held back a lot. I will tell you what the meanings are and in a track by track I’ll tell you what they are, but the actual narratives of the things that happened, I will never tell anyone. I’m just not there yet. I don’t think I ever will be and I don’t think I actually need to tell anyone." As the listener, you can make your own mind up about what the music means.
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There are many reasons for someone to feel a sense of despair at the moment, especially as a musician. Australia's still a way off returning to the live music juggernaut that it once was - and it's possible that the scene has been altered forever. Yet, Hearteyes is feeling a sense of self-acceptance, and it comes across in his body language. He says, "I’ve been sober for months, I exercise daily, I have a more compassionate relationship with myself. I learned to live with what I have, I don’t let Bipolar define my character, it is more or less just something that I have learned to live with just like anyone else has their own afflictions and personal issues. I think I might touch on it in music in the future, but I feel like I have said everything that I needed to say."
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