It was a warm night and a full moon on Saturday, June 22. Two bands I've recently become attached to – Sat. Nite Duets and The Delphines – were playing half a block away from my newly inhabited apartment at The Riverwest Public House. The opening band was called Heartthrob, whom I hadn't heard before.
There is always an internal debate about how early one needs to arrive at a show, particularly when the opening act is a mystery. Choose incorrectly and you're stuck impulsively checking Twitter all night, sucking down cocktails too quickly, and waiting impatiently for the opening act to utter those magic words, "This is our last song." Luckily the opening band was well worth the gamble. It only took a few chords before the conversations quieted and many heads turned. This, everyone's eyes seemed to agree, was going to be a good night.
Heartthrob initially formed in the cold, late months of 2012 and have been out and about only briefly, but they've already got a commanding presence. It took a little bit of coordination but I finally managed to stalk down two members, Ash Goodwin (percussion) and Christian Abler (guitar) at their place of employment, Whole Foods.
"Three quarters of the band works here," Goodwin admitted, a former Seattle-ite who sported a simple black V-neck tee and an asymmetrical, wind-swept coiff, "I've been with Whole Foods for seven years. They're really great about working around our schedules so we can do shows."
The grocery store was the brewing grounds for what would eventually become the band.
"Scott [Anderson] wanted to start a new project. I had just moved here a few months earlier from Seattle. I wanted to start playing music again and he approached me about getting together." At this point Anderson had already found Alicia Shatley via Craigslist. "We weren't really expecting too much. We just wanted to play and hang out, but right off the bat we had a really great connection and we started writing songs really quickly. So we decided to start a band and really go for it."
"Heartthrob is like a shoegaze, ambient kind of sound, and I'm really enjoying it," said Goodwin.
It's a perfect fit for Milwaukee, really. A youthful, blissed out, carefree sound that is perfect for our summers, but deeper down there is this warm, longing sound that's fits our winters. "I was in a couple of different bands in Seattle. Not really the same kind of style. One was an electronic/dance/pop band. The band before that...I guess the best way to describe it is Yeah Yeah Yeahs meets Metric? It was cool. I learned a lot from them."
After a couple of recordings, Heartthrob was on their way, but the band felt it wasn't quite all there. Abler had yet to arrive. "It was really great, the three of us," Goodwin explained, "but we just needed a little something extra to fill us out. There were a lot of spots where the guitar would drop out. It left this weird openness. We wanted something to even it out a little more. Christian was a really great friend, so we decided to give him an audition and see how it sounds."
Sometimes it can be a little rough playing for your friends. "It wasn't so much awkward," said Abler from behind dark rimmed glasses, scruffy beard, and long unkempt hair, "but I was really, really nervous because I liked them from the get go and I really wanted to be in the band."
"The first time he played with us we thought, 'Wow, this is so great,'" Goodwin added. And with an additional guitar, the band became a four-piece.
Abler grew up outside of Chicago. "I've moved around a lot. I lived in Milwaukee for two years and I tried living in Colorado, but I'm back now. There's something special about Milwaukee, especially in the summer time. I keep finding myself coming back here."
The band is still fresh, so their recorded output is at the bare minimum. "We're in the process of figuring that out," said Goodwin. "We want to get at least one or two more singles out and do a music video. But it's money and time. Hopefully by the end of the summer we'll have a few more songs."
"When we play live we have that 'wall of sound' vibe and sometimes that's hard to capture when you're recording," explained Goodwin. "But we also wanted to add little things to a few spots just to kind of fill it in and make it a little more shoegazey and poppier."
At the time of those recordings the band lacked Abler's presence. "I joined a few months after they recorded those. But I'll definitely be on the new ones, once they happen."
To bolster their recordings Heartthrob is also anticipating an upcoming set on July 23 on Local Live, 91.7 WMSE's weekly focus on Milwaukee area bands.
It's hard to predict where things are supposed to go so early in a band's development, but Heartthrob has heart. "If you can turn any hobby into something you can sustainably live off of it's always a good thing," said Goodwin, "But we love playing music together and we have such a great friendship. We want to be successful, but we also just like to play with one another and that's what's important."
"I just want to make awesome music with everyone and share that with our audience," added Abler, "There's really nothing better than someone listening to your music. It's a love, too. It's one of the true loves of my life."
And speaking of performances, that Public House performance? That was such a great show. To expect two fun, exciting bands and get a bonus third, it's hard to ask for anything more.
"That was an awesome show," admitted Goodwin. "It was the first night we played The Public House and we love the Delphines. Hopefully we can get a lot more shows with them. They're super rad."
"We harnessed the full moon's power that night. There was definitely something magic in the air," Abler laughed.
You can catch Heartthrob on Saturday, July 20 at the Bremen Cafe. After that they'll be playing Local Live on 91.7 WMSE on July 23 at 8 p.m. Subsequent dates (there will be a bunch in August) will listed on their Bandcamp page.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.