RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AMERICAN BAND SHAKER BLOOMHEART
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
Mike: What made it real for me was when I played my first gig at 16. It was at a place called Lestat’s in San Diego, and I was a last-minute replacement for the band’s regular guitarist. I remember looking into this audience of total strangers cheering, dancing, and having a good time and how that made me feel. I’ve pretty much been chasing that feeling ever since.
Brad: I have been playing music most of my life – and it is certainly not the only creative outlet I’ve pursued. I believe that creativity is, if not the most important thing in the world, certainly in the top 5. Ever since I was young, I’ve been drawn to exploring ways to self express and, hopefully, find the common, empathetic core at the center of that self expression, the place where the artist and the audience meet and say, “let’s feel this together, and draw strength from it”.
Music is perhaps the most immediate form of that self expression – as opposed to writing, or making a film, or painting a great painting, a great, true song can come together relatively quickly.
Rebecca: When I started pursuing the drums, I thought I’d jam with a small group of friends once every few weeks, cover some songs, and maybe write ONE original song.
When Mike and Brad and I started playing music together, I thought we’d write some original songs and maybe play one or two shows if we were lucky.
I thought we’d get discouraged or someone would flake or get detoured by other projects. But it turns out I am working with two genuinely dedicated and creative people and anything seems possible with them. I’m excited to see where this goes.
Introduce us to you all to the members and your musical history.
Mike: Well, I’ve always loved singing, ever since I was a little kid. I’d sing loudly in my room to the cassettes (and later, CDs) that I had. Actually, I guess I still do that. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 13 because I thought it would be cool.
The teacher I had was a total weirdo and taught me a lot of stuff that turned out to be wrong. But after a few months of lessons, I had the confidence to think I could keep up with the talented music kids in my school. I was incorrect.
Fast forward to my early 20’s, playing acoustic covers of songs by The Decemberists and I realized I really wanted to be in a band again (having not been in one since high school). I found a duo of guitarists that were looking for a bass player. I had basically no experience with bass, but I gave it a shot anyway. I ended up loving it and I suppose the rest is history that nobody knows or cares about.
Brad: I started playing the drums in elementary school band class. In middle school I got my hands on my grandpa’s old nylon string acoustic guitar – and since then it’s been a nonstop drive to learn as many songs (and instruments) as possible.
I played my first gig in high school, as a guitarist in a punk band at an old theater in my tiny, rural hometown. Being in bands has followed ever since – in college, and in my 20s, most of which was spent wandering throughout Asia. Shaker Bloomheart, for me, is the culmination of those experiences, impressions, and influences.
I started learning drums in my early 20s. I decided I wanted to graduate from the Rock Band video game to the real thing. I sustained my own independent learning, but never had the time or know-how to join a band. When I finished college, I set out to make it part of my life again in some way.
Mike and I were neighbors in an apartment building in Seattle. I felt like I had hit a ceiling on what I could learn on drums by playing alone in my kitchen and trying not to disturb my neighbors. I thought it was time to join a band or just jam with some people on a regular basis.
A lady named Arnell working in the leasing office introduced us. And in a stroke of pure luck Mike found Brad on Craigslist. That was at the beginning of 2022. We’ve been playing together every week since then.
What was life like for you before music?
Mike: Nothing. As far back as I can remember, music has always been a huge part of my life. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without it. I suspect I’d be a lot more boring than I already am.
Brad: I can barely remember what my life was like before last Tuesday, unfortunately. Life without music feels like the most distant, inaccessible memory there is.
Rebecca: I played harp as a kid, and there was a brief period at age 13 where I tried to learn guitar. Apart from that, I’ve spent most of my adult life just attending local shows and being supportive of my musician friends.
But I spent years watching drummers from afar wondering “How do they do that?” I learned drums in relative secrecy, hesitated to call myself a “drummer,” and was never sure how seriously or how far I wanted to take things. I wasn’t born with drum sticks in my hand. There’s no musicians in my family. I’ve made the conscious choice to make this part of my life. But when you really want something, you make it work.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
Mike: When I was a sophomore in high school, I was helping out backstage with a battle of the bands show. I saw a group of kids I know cover “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I knew I wanted to be a part of that somehow.
Brad: As I kid, I vividly remember two albums that my parents had that I wanted to listen to constantly: Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, and Blue Note Blend, a phenomenal jazz compilation album.
I’d say those two albums have been embedded in my consciousness deeply enough that everything that came after them for me – from the Beatles to the Pixies to my deep love of both bluegrass and hip hop – have rubbed shoulders with them.
Even the songs on the EP wear their DNA – the long song structures, the dynamic jumps, the outsized theatricality of BOOH, coupled with the soulful, textured melancholia of Billie Holiday’s Detour Ahead or Coltrane’s Blue Train, are in the rooted soil of the songs, though they are by now filtered through a million other influences and personal experiences as well, hopefully adding up to a unique, powerful whole.
Rebecca: I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t a particular song that steered me on this path. What happened was I dated a singer in a death metal band and he dumped me for my roommate. So I set out to get revenge by starting a band and making it better than his band.
But if I had to implicate one or two songs as well, it might be “Barbacoa” by Guantanamo Baywatch, or “Sure as Spring” by La Luz. I knew I generally wanted to be in a band or playing music, but those songs made me think “I want to be in a band and I want it to be that band.”
Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?
Mike: On the outside, banging on the glass, trying to get someone to let me in.
Brad: Without. But willing to sell out at the soonest opportunity, and for the slightest gains!
Rebecca: I’ve decided to resign myself early to the fact that I may never understand the giant Rube Goldberg machine that is the music industry and to just be thankful and happy wherever I end up.
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
Mike: Playing at an open mic many years ago, I got off the stage and I was approached by someone who was pretty well-known in the San Diego local music scene. He said “A performance is not a place for you to practice. You have to practice a lot more at home before you play songs in front of people.” That day, I learned that you shouldn’t give a single shit about the opinions of people who want to put you down or tell you you suck.
Brad: I know no one in the industry. Who can you introduce us to!?
Rebecca: A drummer that was playing with a touring Broadway musical showed me how to completely disassemble a hi-hat stand in like 10 seconds. I think about that like once a week.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
I’ve shared a pool with sharks.
I can’t cook eggs.
I got into a bar fight in London.
I speak Mandarin Chinese, and sometimes write songs in it.
I am an avid hiker and mountaineer, and spend most of my free time hanging from bad rocks over long falls.
This one is the lie.
I’m allergic to Guinea pigs
I’m allergic to rabbits
I’m allergic to pineapple
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
Mike: Doing an in-studio concert with KEXP would be a pretty amazing development for us.
Brad: I’d also settle for a spot opening for Taylor Swift on her tour, or selling out Madison Square Garden, if KEXP doesn’t work out.
Rebecca: I think we should get a few songs on a video game soundtrack.
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
Mike: I’m a little split on this. Obviously, I believe in not supporting people who have done horrible shit, but I think it’s important to have all the facts before we make collective judgments. If people say they were abused, assaulted, etc. then we have a responsibility to believe them and see it through. At the same time, I’ve seen people’s lives become flooded with pitchfork-wielding internet jerks over something that turned out to not be true.
Brad: In regards to the band, I don’t worry about this. I hope that at a base level, we’re good, compassionate people, who aren’t treating others badly. But I also hope that if we did do something that could be taken the wrong way, or was in any way harmful to any group or community, we’d have the wisdom to listen to who is bothered by what we said, take the lumps we deserve, and correct.
Rebecca: We do lose control of the impact and meaning of the things we create and say the minute they leave our brains. That’s always been true, even prior to “cancel culture.” The weaponization of the internet and the ability for bad-faith actors to whip up a mob overnight is worthy of concern though.
Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories? If not why not?
Mike: I think the most I engage with conspiracy theories is looking at some of the more harmless ones like the existence of aliens and thinking “That would be cool if it was true.” But that’s about it.
Brad: Nah. I don’t believe in aliens, ghosts, or bigfoot, and on the side of politics, everything kinda boils down to politicians and CEO’s only caring about themselves – and that, unfortunately, isn’t a conspiracy theory.
Rebecca: I don’t think cymbal polish really works.
What was the worst experience on stage?
Mike: We’re going right back to high school for this one, where one of the bands in the school asked me to do some screamy parts for an emo song they were covering. I practiced with them zero times. They found out about the same time I did (on stage in front of most of the school) that I had no idea what I was doing.
Brad: One city I lived in in China had a small church that asked me to play guitar with them one Sunday morning. When I arrived, they gave me sheet music for the lead guitar in the songs they were playing. I don’t read music. I spent most of that morning with my guitar’s volume knob turned all the way down, and never went back.
Rebecca: Not all venues are created equal. We’ve had some stinker shows because the sound system glitched or something got unplugged or didn’t have batteries. One night, I think Brad and Mike were both struggling badly, and I got stage-fright and forgot a song. But I realized that while we were a hot mess on stage, we nonetheless had the attention of the entire room. It’s like when people slow down to look at a car wreck. So if you’re ever worried that your losing the audience’s attention, just start minorly fucking up. Then win them back with an incredible recovery.
Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about.
As opposed to most people in the Pacific Northwest, when Brad says he likes to hike, he ain’t kiddin’. He spends most days off climbing mountains out in the middle of nowhere.
Rebecca is an anomaly, in that she’s an incredibly talented drummer that somehow isn’t an asshole. In fact, she’s a pretty compassionate and loyal friend. That’s not something you see very often.
I can make a Reuben that will make you see god.
Mike has a very cute pet rabbit, like all true gods of rock.
Rebecca is perhaps the most dedicated person to inspiring younger musicians I’ve ever met, up to and including donating instruments to young musicians.
I am a die-hard Seattle Sports fan. Go Hawks, Go Mariners, Go Kraken and Thunderbirds, Go Sounders and Storm, and, for the love of God, please, please, please bring us back the Sonics!
Brad is such a fantastic cook. He’s made curry and mapo tofu that has made us weep. He is truly an artist in every endeavor he pursues.
Mike has somehow already made friends with every single animal they come across—on land, sea, and air. Mike operates with a sense of respect and humility toward animals that resists anthropomorphisation and appreciates them exactly as they are naturally. That is incredibly refreshing to be around.
I was incredibly opinionated about Oppenheimer well before the 2023 movie, but I’m always here for new Oppenheimer discourse.
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
Mike: I think two things kind of make us stand out. One is Brad’s songwriting. His songs end up on the long-side but we actually like that. They also have a ton of feeling in them that I think is portrayed well. The second is that we collectively decided not to add any further members to the band early on, so we do our best to squeeze every ounce of dynamics out of a trio.
Brad: I like to think we challenge conventional songwriting structures without ever letting the music get old or boring. We take guitar-driven indie pop to epic places without tripping over into cheesiness or artificiality, and without losing the essential humanness or losing sight of the emotional core of the music. We’re not trying to be cool, not trying to be Led Zepplin-esque gods with 10-minute guitar solos and Tolkien-inspired mythologies. We’re coming from a much more humble place, where hopefully the audience can meet us in the music, and we can collectively say, “It’s hard to be happy, and we’re struggling. But we’ll share this struggle together, and find strength, find a connection here”.
Also, unlike most rock bands, I will never write “Ooooh baby” or “Yeah girl” in my lyrics.
Rebecca: Echoing Mike’s sentiment, I think we manage to get a really full sound even as a trio, and we’re discussing ways to get an every fuller sound and presence.
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it?
Mike: I think this is a genuine labor of love. It’s taken us a year to be able to record these 5 songs, but every moment has been worth it. Dozens of hours of recording and probably even more with mixing, remixing, mastering, and remastering have produced something that I genuinely like listening to, which I think should be the goal for anyone who writes music.
Brad: It’s a collection of some of our songs that have been around for awhile – songs we’ve been playing live for a long time and people like, and, of course, we also like. We never really stop learning and playing with new songs, but, this being our first recording together, we really wanted to focus on representing ourselves as best we could. This album does that; it shows all our sides – whether completely rocking out on Mistakes, slowing all the way down for Back & Forth, or doing a little of both with Midnight Lights and Kandy, this album is the essence of Shaker Bloomheart.
Driving, atypical dumbeats, bass lines that stretch the instrument to it’s limit, and layered guitar lines and vocal harmonies. Taking simple pop songs and building them out into large, textured tapestries of melancholia that build continuously throughout the EP until the final, cathartic two minute outro of Midnight Lights, where the collision of screams, distorted guitars and melodic, beautiful instrument leads and vocal harmonies leave the listener with the ultimate Shaker Bloomheart message: “Life is hard, but we’ll find the beauty in it, and survive it, together”.
What was the recording process like?
Mike: It was pretty rough at first. Our first attempts at recording didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped, but recording with our current engineer, Chris C. Hill made the process a lot better, even as we were all learning together. So what was the process like? Long, difficult, tiring, and I loved it.
Brad: I admit I can be tough to work with in the studio. I can be a perfectionist and the songs sound very clear in my head – the attempt to capture that to tape can be challenging and emotional, and is never complete. However, being able to work with Mike, Rebecca, and Chris made things a lot easier. We were all focused on staying true to the emotional reality of the songs and not allowing that to get away from us.
A perfect example is on the last chorus of the song Kandy: we originally tried recording a different backing vocal melody, and it wasn’t working. Because of the trust and respect the four of us share, I was able to take a few minutes alone, go for a walk, pick at the banjo, and then sit at the piano, and work out the current backing vocals melody, which is now one of my favorite parts of the album.
Even though every minute of studio time is precious, that space allowed to always be creating and always pursue the best version of the song possible was a beautiful thing that absolutely dwarfs all the small, minute challenges of recording long and complex songs.
Rebecca: My parts get recorded first. It’s nerve-wracking to feel like the course of the rest of the day relies on how quickly you can get the drums recorded.
My worst day in the studio was coming down with a touch of food poisoning and trying to lay on a couch and tough it out. But we were still going over my drums, so I had to lay there fighting nausea while listening to a high-definition playback of myself.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
Mike: Brad is an absolute song-writing machine. The biggest learning curve is probably him having the patience to teach us (particularly me) his new songs and being patient while I fuck everything up the first hundred times or so.
Brad: I tend to write from a very instinctual, go-wtih-the-feeling type place. Part of that comes from being a solo singer/songwriter for many years, and part of that comes from my personality, which doesn’t do well at being tied down. I feel like songwriting is archaeology – the songs are there, just buried. I’m not writing them, I’m taking my little brush and brushing the dirt away, until I can see the whole thing.
But I didn’t create the song. It was always there. I was just lucky enough to find it. Because of that, I tend to struggle with tying songs down to specifics. To wit, it’s hard for me to say “we play the bridge four times”. I’m more like, “we’ll play the bridge until we get tired of it and it’s time to move on”. That’s not very conducive to playing in a group, and recording. Learning to be specific and clear, and to verbalize, what the song is has taken work – and something I am still working on!
Rebecca: Mike and Brad and I aren’t super well-versed (heh) in music theory, and so we’ve had to come up with our own language for talking about songs when we write and practice new material. We’ve got a good system now but I wonder if we can crack that ceiling at some point.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
Mike: I think if my answer to that question were ever a genuine “no”, then that would make me a pretty poor musician. I always want to do things better than the last time I did them. That doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled with the results of our work, though.
Brad: I don’t like to listen to the work after it’s finished. It’s done, it’s great, I want to change everything about it, and want to move past it and forget it exists. It’s for the world and the audience now, not for me.
Rebecca: Let’s just say I’m taking a studio engineer with me next time I go cymbal shopping.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Mike: Don’t be afraid to suck. I’ve had people tell me they’d like to play music or start a band, but they’re afraid to because they think they suck. Good! Perfect! Keep playing and keep sucking at it, because one day you’ll wake up and realize that years of being awful somehow turned into being pretty good without you noticing.
Brad: We love you. We hear you and feel like you feel. Art is expressed empathy, and whether or not you like the music (and I very much hope you do), I hope even more that you feel the three of us behind the music reaching our hearts out to you, and hope that, when life is hard, and challenges abound, you can take solace and strength in knowing you are not alone; no one is alone. That, ultimately, is the goal of the music.
Rebecca: Play an instrument. It doesn’t have to be in a professional capacity. It’s very good for your brain. You have to be very distinctly present when you play music. If you think or worry too much it derails. It kind of makes you stay present in your body so the music can happen.