Hearts and Rockets: “Making things like art and music can contribute to your community as a whole in a good way”

Feminist post-punk-synth-pop bratwavers Hearts and Rockets are one of the coolest bands we’ve found in the last few years! This D.I.Y. duo, Kalindy Williams and Kurt Eckhardt, create drum-machine driven grooves that explore the complexity of the human condition and emotional depths. We love their call and response vocals. We love the 808 drum samples. We love that they’re not afraid to voice their opinions and stand up for what they believe. We love that their shows are the most fun! We also love that they’re the nicest people ever!

How did you first come together to create, Hearts and Rockets?

KALINDY WILLIAMS: We had plans to make a band before we moved to Melbourne, and after living here for a year or two we wrote a few songs together and put one of them online called Sirens.

KURT ECKARDT: I had forgotten about that song! After that, we ended up recording 13 songs at home which would become our debut album Dead Beats, though at that point we still hadn’t played anything live.

KW: Initially we told everyone we only wanted to be a house party band, but once we had played our first party, we realised it was really fun so started playing venue shows. Our first gig was at the Old Bar in September 2016 with Jenny McK from Cable Ties at her first solo show, and it was headlined by Piss Factory.

Why is making things important to you?

KE: I have to keep busy, and for a large part of my life that energy was spent on things that weren’t important to me. Making good things keeps me happy, and also serves as a way to cope with anxiety, while still having something to show for it. I also feel like making things like art and music can contribute to your community as a whole in a good way, and if it doesn’t as long as it’s not a negative then it’s OK.

KW: I want to make things I can’t find in the world – if I want a dress I can’t find, I make it, or a photo that doesn’t exist, I take it. It’s the same for songs!

How did you first discover music?

KW: I had an older sister who I thought was ‘cool’, and she listened to ‘cool’ alternative music. Eventually she grew out of it, but I didn’t. As a teenager on the internet I discovered Riot Grrl and it really spoke to me. I felt a connection to it, even though it wasn’t happening anymore I really connected with the Riot Grrl ethics, and music, and making space for and being a woman in the music scene.

KE: Every Saturday my parents would blast records for a few hours downstairs, while my sister played tapes upstairs. I guess I started to love those sounds and still do. I thank my parents for The Eurythmics and Zeppelin, and my sister for The Cramps and Richie Valens, for better or worse. Then my long-lost step-brother, who I’d end up never meeting, started sending me mix tapes when I was about 9. They had stuff like Pixies and Slayer and Dead Kennedys and X-Ray Spex and Husker Du and The Minutemen… those tapes changed my life.

You’ll be releasing a split single soon with Zig Zag; what can you tell us about it?

KW: Zig Zag are a fairly new band, and from their very first show I fell in love with them. I think I even said on the night, “Kurt, we have to work with them on something”. When the opportunity arose for us to be creating a 7”with Psychic Hysteria and Roolette Records, we thought long and hard about who we would want to be on the  other side of a split record forever, and Zig Zag popped into our minds.

KE: Yeah we played that first show! It was a 40th anniversary show of the B-52’s debut album that we were organising, and they formed just so they could play! We knew from then on that we’d get along.

KW: Our song, which we just call Had Enough,  started as a whinge-song about how the human race can be really uncaring towards each other. We wrote it when we were at the supermarket and people were being jerks. That song never really went anywhere, so we took that idea and thought a bit more broadly and made Had Enough.

Also, I wanted to talk about your LP, Power; what inspired it?

KW: Using the power you have to uplift yourself and others around you. This can mean voicing your opinions or emotions, creating spaces for people who have less privilege than you do, calling out terrible behaviour when it happens, and hating on gossip.

What are your fondest memories from recording it?

KW: My fondest memories are two songs that we changed completely while we were recording. Firstly, Lies Lies Lies was originally a song I used to sing around the house at Kurt, coz I’m such a grub, called My Grubby Girlfriend. Panic Dream was going to be sung like a normal song, but I did one take singing like a cheerleader on a whim and we listened back and loved it. The juxtaposition between the cheerleader type yelling, and the anxiety inducing lyrics, made for a better song.

KE: We recorded the whole thing at home, partly because we’re broke but mostly because we can. It’s pretty great to be able to record when you want, in a comfortable space, in your own time. There have been takes we haven’t been able to use because you can hear our dog’s collar jingling, which is way cuter than it is annoying, so they’re my favourite memories. That, and when Kalindy would just nail a guitar part even though she’d only just started playing guitar. She shreds on this album!

Hearts & Rockets have a couple of songs about anxiety “Feelings” and “Panic Dream; is anxiety something that you’ve personally dealt with? I ask as it’s something I’ve lived with in my own life and I feel it’s important to have open honest conversations about important stuff like this. Anxiety can be so debilitating. How do you cope?

KE: We both suffer anxiety. I have weird triggers, and if we’re being honest, I often ‘cope’ by drinking beer, which is something that I need to keep in check. Coping is different one day to the next for me, and the only thing I’ve gotten better at or that might help others to discuss, is coming to the realisation that I am in control of my own life (even though it doesn’t always feel like it). If I am finding it too hard to be somewhere, I leave. If the thought of going somewhere is too much, I stay home. This is coming from someone with a lot of privilege and a good relationship and homelife, so I am hyper-aware of how lucky that makes me, but letting go of the imagined expectations of others has really helped me.

KW: When I was younger, one of the things that made anxiety and depression easier was knowing that other people out there are going through similar things. And I feel like making songs like Panic Dream and Feelings, maybe we can be that for other people. I have had frank conversations with people about anxiety and depression since those songs came out, and it’s good to talk about your feelings!

You’ve said that the song “Dance Off” is a call to arms for non-men to start taking up space at the front of gigs; what motivated you to write this song?

KW: Just going to gigs my whole life! Making a safe space for friends and fans to enjoy our music is really important to us. SO many times in my life going to gigs, if I even got to the front of a packed out venue i’m either squished or groped, and people shouldn’t have to go through shit experiences just to see their favourite band. There should and can be space for everyone.

KE: Yeah guys we can do better. Don’t be that guy. #tallboystotheback.

Can you give us a little insight into the song “Haunting”?

KE: That song is actually about the (not real) haunting of me by my Dad’s ghost. He died a few years ago, and it’s really more about feeling like he’s still with me, everywhere I turn. It sounds weird and creepy, but to be honest I find it really comforting. That said, it’s also a funny song, and we like spooky stuff, so I don’t think I’ve ever told that story before!

I really love the song “Hot Tea” which is about gossip. You’ve previously commented that “If people spent half the amount of time and energy that they spend gossiping creating something positive, the world (and Melbourne) would be a much better place to live” … know them feels. What helps you stay positive?

KW: I stay positive by going to shows, seeing friends, making art and seeing bands, and only playing in nice venues with nice people, walking our dog every day, and riding a bike everywhere is super fun.

KE: Staying away from drama. Everything is political, it doesn’t mean you need to involve yourself in the politics of everything. Live your life in a way that benefits your community, directly and indirectly, and support those around you. Pick your battles.

What’s one of the coolest positive things you’ve seen, heard or experienced lately?

KW: Recently we discovered a bunch of animals we never knew existed, and it’s brought us so much joy! That there can still be animals that I’ve never heard of in my life that can be so weird and cool and cute and ugly. Like the Chinese Water Deer – have you seen this thing? It has fangs?! Why? It’s so cute. So let’s look at it and be happy.

KE: Those animals and dogs. Just all dogs bring me joy. I also feel like working with more people in our community on this release has really made me happy and made me feel the love. Working with Carsten and Kahlia from Roolette Records, and all the members of Zig Zag who are all so great and inspirational, has humbled me a bit and made me realise how lucky we are to be a part of a bigger thing than our band.

Hearts and Rockets have a strong visual component, your film clips and album art. I especially love Power’s still life photo cover. How did you arrive at this concept?

KW: I make weird art allllll the time. I’m a photographer and illustrator, and it all feeds into each other. I made a series of photos for this album that you can see on our bandcamp, one cover for each song. I wanted to portray something really soft and colourful to show that there can be power in being gentle.

KE: I watched Kalindy go from this vague idea, to such a strong concept. I have zero to do with the visual element of the band and am constantly in awe of it all. I agree with you that it is a huge part of the band. We have so many video clips! One more to come very soon. I feel like the visuals of the band inform decisions more than being informed by them.

Live you perform with a drum machine; is that out of necessity as a guitar/bass two-piece or do you simply prefer that sound?

KW: The reason we have a drum machine is coz it sounds cool, not because we don’t have a drummer.

KE: We just love using those sampled sounds! It suits the music we make, and was a conscious decision from the start. This new single is actually the first release to feature some live drums at the end, performed by Matt Chow who mixed and mastered the release. All our other drums are 808 and 909 samples, some through filters or re-recorded. We feel like getting through that barrier with people who only like or are used to a traditional rock set up with live drums is difficult, but not one that we worry ourselves with. Plus, it makes travelling easy.

You’re self-described as a feminist bratwave punk band; why is it important to be a feminist?

KW: Because the world still sucks for some! There is still inequality, and there shouldn’t be, that’s why you should be a feminist. That’s why everyone should be a feminist.

KE: And while we’ve always identified as feminists, we actually started making a point of it on our Facebook page and other places to deter dude-bro bands from asking us to play with them. We kept getting asked to play these all male punk line ups with bands that were clearly not centring the ideals that we think are important… Like, if us being feminists scares you off then GOOD we don’t wanna play with you. It worked a treat.

What’s something else that’s important to Hearts and Rockets?

KW: Being brats! Existing. Making stuff we’re proud of.

KE: And being active in our community and participating in a positive way. With the state of the world, it’s really all we have.

In the spirit of your album title; where do you find your power?

KW: In myself, I’m powerful! and the people I surround myself with.

KE: Yesss, this. and in seeing  people I love and admire do the things they love. That inspires me so much. Hearing that Zig Zag song for the first time.

Please check out: Hearts and Rockets. H&R bandcamp. H&R Facebook. H&R insta. Their record label, Psychic Hysteria. Kalindy’s photography and art.

Kathleen Hanna: “I woke up. I was like, oh shit! I wasted 17 years of my life, I need to make up for that lost time. I just started making everything I could.”

Handmade collage art by B.

Our editor has interviewed Creatives and made fanzines for the past 25+ years since she was 15 years old. One of her favourite interviews she’s ever done is this one with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. Currently Kathleen is about to hit the road again with Bikini Kill for an extended U.S. reunion tour. Let’s hope the tour makes its way here to Australia.

Not too long ago she also stated a project called, Tees For Togo. T4T is a project where “100% of the profits go to Peace Sisters a group started by Tina Kampor who has been sending money back to Dapaong, Togo for 15 years so girls in her hometown can attend school.” Kathleen had her husband Ad-Rock and friends like Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon and more contribute art work which became designs for the tees. Gimmie contributor, artist Jhonny Russell contributed art for a shirt too; he’s responsible for the hand-cut collage header of this site.  

When did you first become aware of music?

KATHLEEN HANNA: I used to do dance class when I was a really little kid, when I was about five or six. They had specially made singles for our dance class [laughs]. I remember getting them and playing them. I remember being really into Tony DeFranco and The DeFranco Family, which was kind of like our teen sensation, kind of like our Justin Bieber of the 70s. Probably my biggest record was Carole King Tapestry that my mom had that I just listened to over and over and over again and the soundtrack from Chorus Line [laughs]. I loved music when I was little, I just never really had very much of it. I had the 7 inch of Dancing Machine by the Jackson 5. Probably one of my biggest musical moments was listening to that song over and over again and making up dances to it in the basement.

I used to do that to that same song too!

KH: [Laughs] No way! That’s crazy!

I have two nieces that are close in age to me and we were always making up dance routines in the backyard to the Jackson 5 and then later Janet Jackson and things like that when we were little.

KH: [Laughs] That’s so cute.

Recently you mentioned in a post on your blog that NYC and Brooklyn is having a total renaissance and some of the best art and performance is happening there at the moment.

KH: Yeah! I just saw this woman, Young Jean Lee’s show, Untitled Feminist the other night and it was absolutely incredible. I was lucky enough to see it develop about a year and a half ago. They had the show in a ‘work in progress’ mode and then they had a Q&A afterwards. It was one of the most interesting/devastating experiences I’ve ever had because the show had a lot of language in it that was talking about the history of feminism and what does feminism mean now. It also had dance performance, female nudity. Afterwards the performers sat in chairs and the audience members asked questions. I was really struck by how the show was called Untitled Feminist and how the audience kept asking questions or making comments like, why didn’t you represent this one certain kind of feminist? How come you didn’t mention this? Or saying, you need to instruct men about feminism more, that’s really your job. Everything was kind of critical comment about how she wasn’t doing enough. It was really interesting to me, I feel like it was because the word ‘feminist’ was in the title. I feel if that word wasn’t there the questions would have been completely different. I’ve heard some of these same critiques of my own work over the years so I felt really sensitive about it. I just saw the new version of the show and a year and a half later it had no language in it, it was all dance; there was some singing, a little bit in Italian. I’ve been really interested in the idea of how do you communicate ideas without language. I really want to ask her if that Q&A just turned her off language forever [laughs]. She’s a performer that has done a lot of stuff in New York that is really, really exciting.

It’s interesting that you mention doing things silently and communicating without language. Are you familiar with the magicians Penn & Teller?

KH: Yes.

Then you’d know Teller is usually silent for most of their act, well, I was reading the other day why he decided to do that and apparently it was because people would heckle him while he was doing his act vocally. He decided to try silence and found people stopped heckling and focused more on the act and what was happening. Letting the piece speak for itself.

KH: Wow that’s interesting. I don’t think that Young Jean Lee’s piece was a copout at all; it said so many things without language. I didn’t think she was afraid like everyone didn’t freak her out about language forever but, I did wonder how much of the Q&A influenced what she did. It also made me think about when I was 19 and in school doing photography. I was so nervous about objectifying women’s bodies that I was afraid to have my friends’ bodies in my photographs. I started doing work about objects. In a way, if you don’t grapple with difficult subjects, if women don’t take pictures of other women ever then we never find other ways of being. If we just say ‘Capitalism sucks! Fuck it!’ you can’t really escape it. We have to find other ways that meets people’s needs that is fair instead of just throwing your hands up in the air and being just like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to drop out and be the opposite. When you’re the opposite of something you just totally reinforce it.

How does singing make you feel?

KH: In public or in private? [laughs]

I guess both, I didn’t really think about singing in private vs. singing in public.

KH: It’s different. When it’s work… right now I’m at the end of finishing our [The Julie Ruin] album and I can’t watch singing on TV, I’m having a weird relationship with it. It feels like work right now. I’m stressed out because I have a little bit of a sore throat and I’m like, am I going to be able to get these songs done? Will the sound how I want them to sound? In general I find singing just lets me explore different parts of myself, I know that sounds so fucking corny but, when I’m standing in front of a mic… when I’ve been singing lately up in my home studio, I might have a rough idea of what the song is about or rough lyrics but a lot of the time just weird stuff comes out and I don’t know what’s going to happen. To me letting something happen and not control it is a real new experience [laughs]. For me that’s what singing is about—letting go and not trying to control an experience. Then there is the technical side of going back in and getting what I want out of it.

How did you learn to sing?

KH: I took lessons when I was in high school because I joined a musical theatre troupe but I got kicked out because I got caught smoking. I probably took three lessons and didn’t really learn much. I just sang at school when I could was in a choir. I joined a church so I could be in a choir. I just always enjoyed it since I was a tiny kid. It just made me feel good.

Did you ever intend on being a musician?

KH: No! [laughs] not at all. Growing up I just thought musicians were men. I thought, oh I could be like Linda Ronstadt or Olivia Newton-John who were kind of my idols. I knew there were female singers but I never thought I could be a singer that people wanted to listen to. I didn’t have that kind of confidence.

Didn’t you once go to a Babes In Toyland concert and that experience opened things up for you and you realised you could do it too?

KH: Yeah definitely! I was with Tobi and Kathi from Bikini Kill too. We really bonded on the fact that we had just experienced such an amazing, life-changing thing. That show! Kat Bjellend played guitar better than Greg Sage from The Wipers! She was wearing a tiny dress with a huge bow in her hair and she looked so beautiful and so fucked up, she was doing the craziest shit with her voice. Lori Barbero it the drums harder than anyone I had ever seen and Michelle Leon was just sexy as hell and could totally play the bass and I was like, wow! You really can have it all! You can make this amazing music which was about how beautiful anger can be to me. I’d never heard anything like it and haven’t heard anything since like it. It was just at somebody’s house in the middle of the woods. Afterwards we went outside and there was this bonfire and I didn’t really know Tobi and Kathi very well but somehow we ended up standing together because everyone else at that show was talking about how much they hated it and how bad the band was. They were like ‘They’re too pretty.’ That was the big thing, they’re too pretty to be in a band. I didn’t even get it. They were totally stunning women but that wasn’t the main thing to us, it was definitely the music. It was also the fact that they were women and they looked how they wanted to look, they didn’t have to hide the fact that they were women to play this totally intense music; the combination of the femineity with the strength in the music in saying that femineity and strength weren’t the opposite of each other. It was really an intense experience. Me, Tobi and Kathi were like, that is the best thing we’ve ever seen! Everyone else thought it was the worst so it kind of became clear that we were going to be in a band together. No one else probably wanted to be in a band with us!

I recently did an interview with Kate Nash, she does an After School Rock n Roll for Girls program kind of like Rock n Roll School for Girls. She told me she had interviewed the girls in the program at the beginning of it and it broke her heart that a lot of them said they were reluctant to pursue music because they thought you had to be pretty and they felt they weren’t pretty enough.

KH: Wow! I mean it’s a whole different world now. We have American Idol and that new ‘the whole package’ idea where it’s like you have to be a model first and a singer second. I think there’s a whole other way to keep women from playing music, it’s to say that you have to look a certain way. The thing is, there is always some kind of thing. Getting back to the Babes In Toyland show, people were saying that they are too pretty and if Kat was someone that people considered by traditional standards to be unattractive people would have been saying they’re too ugly. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re not a straight white male you’re going to get more harshly criticised than other people so you might as well just do whatever the fuck you want. It really is true that they are always going to find fault but yes, it is totally depressing. It’s depressing to be an older lady who is doing music and is feeling like, is anybody going to want to listen to my music because I’m not a model that has a contract with an agency, who also happens to make music.

I saw a preview of The Punk Singer film about you that is coming out soon. There was a part where Kaia Wilson was talking about you and said that anybody that knew you or that was introduced to you, knew that you were going to be that person to really leave your mark; is leaving your mark something that you’ve ever given much conscious thought to?

KH: That’s a good question. I mean I want to lie really bad right now [laughs]. I want to say that I never think about things like that and that I always live in the present but, I just donated all of my archival stuff to the Riot Grrrl collection at NYU so I would be a complete liar if I said, no I didn’t want to leave my mark. For me, the kind of mark that I want to leave, I really desperately want to be a part of the feminist continuum. I really want to make sure that what my peers have done and will continue to do doesn’t get erased. It took me a long time, in the pre-internet world of the 80s, to find out about feminism and to find out about and to find out about feminist art. It was a difficult process and something that I did on my own. More than making my mark I want to make sure that I leave something behind that is a part of feminist history for better or for worse that people can build on. That part is really, really important to me.

I’ve read in an older interview once that you said that you didn’t really feel like a creative force until much later after high school. When did you first start to realise that you were?

KH: I think when I went to college. I was away from my parents and away from some negative influences in my life. I was able to start making stuff. I was excited about it and I kind of couldn’t stop. It was almost as if I felt like I had been dead. I started college when I was 17 and it really felt like I had been walking through my life numb up until I left for college. It was like I woke up. I was like, oh shit! I wasted 17 years of my life, I need to make up for that lost time. I just started making everything I could. Some of it was really terrible…really terrible! [laughs]

Please check out: Bikini Kill and Tees For Togo.