Original Penguin Local is a series that celebrates artists living and working in America’s most iconic cities.
Noel Heroux is the founder of seminal indie rock outfit Hooray for Earth. The band has released two stellar records in as many years and has toured the country with an array of acts such as Surfer Blood, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Cymbals Eat Guitars.
Heroux left Boston five years and has called New York City home ever since. We caught up with him about his life in New York, his music and how he comes across all those incredible sounds that have gained him so much attention.
You started Hooray for Earth in Boston in 2005 but decided to move to NYC in 2007—what prompted the move?
Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling anything in Boston at that point. I wanted to leave behind everything I’d done and physically cut from my past to start over. My girlfriend was living in Manhattan, and the band had a show in town one night. Instead of going back to Boston with the other guys in the van I just stayed in New York forever.
How do you like it?
I love it. It can be wildly stressful but it works. And I really prefer Manhattan, been in the same place since 2007.
Because of who you’re contemporary with, Hooray for Earth is often considered to be a Brooklyn band, but you actually live in Manhattan, which has a rich history of great inde rock musicians. How do you fit in with that lineage?
The Brooklyn assumption can be tiring. With the exception of having many friends and bands we know who live there, I feel no musical connection. If I’m forced to think about it, I don’t feel I fit in anywhere specific, and I don’t wish to. Aside from all that, I really do love this city as a home and a place to work. I don’t feel there’s anything to live up to here being that the vast mass of spectacular things that have come from New York will always cast a shadow over any one thing. It probably makes me work harder.
What are some of your New York rituals? Where do you hang out?
Oh man, I don’t know. The only bar I regularly go to is called Kettle Of Fish. Sunday through Wednesday it tends to be pretty laid back. I have a car in the city and love driving. Driving here is like a video game and I like to think I score points by not hitting cabs and shit. Bonus if you catch the green light “wave” that can happen along the avenues. If I can find an excuse to drive up the Westside Highway I always will.
Hooray for Earth has done a lot of touring since releasing “Momo” in 2010. About how long are you on the road during the year?
The past couple years we’ve been on the road probably 3 or 4 months out of the year.
Two scenarios: a) you’re about to head out on the road for eight weeks and b) you’re about to come off tour and get to relax at home for a while. Which are you more excited for?
If my girlfriend Jessica is on the road with me then either one is equally exciting. Otherwise I’m aching for home.
“No Love” is perhaps your most popular song. The hook is incredible. Where did that song come from? It’s much different than some of the more pulsating, “Loveless”-inspired material on “Momo.”
That song honestly was sort of an in-joke that I had with myself. “Oh, what if I did a track for Beyonce but I sang it instead?” The “True Loves” record was sort of me throwing everything at the wall.
Hooray for Earth is known for experimental instrumentation but with traditional pop song structures and memorable melodies. How do you balance all of this when you’re composing?
I suppose that I don’t. I just let it go. I don’t like thinking about it out loud any way. Hearing myself talk about it always sounds ridiculous to me since I can’t explain in any reasonable way that calculates within my mind.
How does your environment and what all the bands in Brooklyn and New York are doing inspire you? Do you ever feel challenged?
Like I mentioned earlier I think that there’s so much going on here at all times that it sort of cancels out for me. I’m rarely happy with myself so that’s enough challenge right there. I think this city is just a really effective background of constant activity and madness that serves to keep people on their toes.
You DJ’d our holiday party at the Penguin store, and had a really unique set up. I’ve never seen anyone use their footpedals on recorded music before. How much time do you spend experimenting with equipment? Do you stumble upon things, or do you always know where you’re headed?
That just happened as I was getting some requests to DJ parties and I’m not a DJ at all. I originally was like, Why would I DJ anything? But then I couldn’t fight the urge to play music I love really loud in front of a ton of other people. It’s totally self-serving, but I guess I excuse it because other people can definitely enjoy it in the right situation. So anyway, I have a shitty old laptop and, like, 20 Quicktime windows open that I toggle around, and I hooked up some of my guitar pedal stuff so I could play around and make nice transitions. It’s a very impractical way to do it but I enjoy the effort it makes necessary.
What’s up for you and Hooray for Earth in 2013?
We’ll have a new record and all this. I’ll send D+T hot tips.
Noel Heroux photographed by Nicky Digital at the Original Penguin Store in Soho, NYC.
Noel is wearing Original Penguin’s Gunnoy Jacket.
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