By Tyler Fox (@TylerFox585)
Oh boy. I was super excited to do this interview. I stumbled upon a band I truly think the world needs to hear and appreciate. From musical talent, band message, and DIY music ethic, At the Heart of it has everything you could want in a band. And I love every moment of it.
Coming from a seemingly unlikely post-hardcore scene in New Hampshire, At the Heart of it has been at it for a while, just recently solidifying into who they really want to be. And they couldn’t be happier. Following this solidification, they band just completed a weekend tour that brought them back into the public eye, which they plan on staying in for a while.
I had the chance to chat with guitarist Andrew Castellucci and singer Richie Downs about everything the band has going on. They have been the most pleasant of dudes and I am so grateful to have connected with them through their music and through this interview. You can grab their self-titled EP from their Bandcamp and be sure to keep up with news on shows from their Facebook page.
At the Heart of It has been kicking around for a little while now. How did it all begin?
Andrew Castellucci (Guitar) – Rich and I started this band back in 2011, so it’s safe to say we’ve been working on this for some time. After moving a few times and finally getting a line-up that we are confident with, we’ve ended up where we are now.
Richie Downs (Vocals) – The origins were originally conceived as a band called “We Speak” with Andrew, myself, Anthony Gesa (who is now in Long Island’s “Ornaments”) and our good friend Matt Perreault. That band sort of ended before it ever really began, with everyone going their separate ways. Andrew and I eventually realized that making music together was too important to us to just walk away from and we decided to start over again from the ground up. It took a lot of searching for just the right people, but our current line-up feels right. It feels like a family.
When I think of New Hampshire, I don’t normally think of any vibrant music scene, let alone a strong DIY punk/indie scene. What has your experience been calling that part of New England home?
A – New Hampshire is an interesting state. I’ve lived here for a good portion of my life, in many different cities and towns, and honestly, it’s home. There isn’t a huge music scene here at the moment, but it has been starting to come back slowly but surely in the past few years. I feel that most bands in NH have a DIY mentality of some sort, though. There aren’t many labels up here scouting for talent, so a lot of the bands are more grounded in their rock star ambitions, which leads more bands to take the initiative to do more on their own. While not completely DIY, we definitely attempt to keep a lot of things in-house if at all possible. Rich runs a booking company up here so he handles our booking. Ken is a whiz with video so he handles that. I ended up helping engineer our first EP along with doing all of the mixing on it. I also tend to tackle all of the graphics work (with some assistance from my wife, on occasion), and the other guys help out with promotion, among other things.
R – The scene is what you make it. There are very talented bands up this way. Bands like Color Collective, Under Fire or Caster. I’ve been working hard to build a thriving local music community through not only ATHOI, but also through the shows that I book outside of ATHOI’s sphere of influence. Kids around here are hungry and I think that in the next few years, you’re really going to start to see things explode.
You guys had recently taken some time off to fill holes in the lineup and kind of re-group. What was that like? How important was it to you guys to keep the band going and was it difficult to find your way back after taking the time off?
A – Being in a more remote state, it’s definitely difficult finding talented musicians who were on the same page. So yes, finding members is always a challenge and if people aren’t passionate enough about what they are playing, they will always come and go, no matter what band you’re in. I must say, though, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the people I’m playing with these days, they’re a great group of guys and are really willing to put in the hard work necessary to keep this band progressing.
R – For me, this band is not just something I do, but a lifestyle choice. When I was younger, I went through some pretty rough stuff. Music pulled me out of that. In a lot of ways, it saved my life. Somewhere out there, someone is going through the same sort of stuff. If my music has even the smallest chance of impacting that person’s life, then I feel that it is my responsibility to do everything I can to get out there and share it. Making connections with people through our art means everything to us.
The band just wrapped up the first string of shows you’ve played since being back. What was it like getting back out there again?
R – The live experience is a vital one. I feel very strongly that experiencing a band in a live setting is much more important than any amount of YouTube videos. It’s a real connection with the people who are there. It encourages participation and evokes camaraderie between yourselves, the other bands and the people in attendance. They are just as much a part of the live show as we are.
A – Doing a three show run to essentially announce our return was pretty much the best way we could have done it. We all love playing live, touring and all the amazing experiences that go along with it, so we were itching to get out there as soon as we felt we were ready. We played with a bunch of amazing bands all three nights and now have a very special place in our hearts for Bangor, Maine and all the people up there who made us feel at home.
It has been a while since the band has had a new release. Is there something in the works? Where do you guys draw inspiration from when you are writing new music?
A – We have some things in the works, but no official announcements at this time. Influence-wise, we draw from a plethora of bands. My own personal influences are very scattered, everything from Hot Cross and Thursday, to more experimental and instrumental stuff like Caspian and Black Clouds. Honestly anything that pushes my view of what music is capable of, really. Though I have a tendency when I know I’m going to be writing, to block myself off from all music during that time. I’ll only listen to talk radio and just isolate myself from music. I feel it really lets me get in touch with my creative muse subconsciously and allows me to create my own sound rather than being tempted to emulate or take cues from other bands.
R – My biggest influence is life itself. We all go through similar situations. It all defeats us or empowers us in the same ways. Life & death. Love & loss. The human condition. Empathy and compassion are a huge part of what we are trying to communicate through our music. We’ve been sitting on something for months now that we’ve been itching to show the world.
You guys are very passionate about certain political issues, especially ones concerning the LGBT community and equal rights for all people. I find this admirable and was just curious as to why the band is so vocal about this particular issue and if it is incorporated into the music?
A – Honestly activism and punk rock have essentially gone hand in hand since the days of Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and even further back in other genres. There are many bands that utilize their position of influence to just speak about trivial or more easy to consume stances on a host of different things. Like honestly, how many break up songs does any genre really need? Other than focusing on the same things that so many bands before us have hammered into the ground we attempt to reconnect with our genre’s roots. Bands like Thursday and BoySetsFire really broke the mold in the early 2000’s by taking screamo and post-hardcore in new directions by infusing politics and activism into their music and artwork. We all find this very inspiring and decided that we, too, could use what little influence we may have at this stage in our career to start making our own statements in a hope that we could, on some level, make some kind of change in the world around us.
R – Nobody has the right to tell you who you can and can’t love.
A – The LGBTQ+ Community is currently under heavy attack by many closed-minded politicians that keep attempting to create legislature to protect their supposed “right to hate”, which is just asinine and massively destructive on all levels. We all have many friends and family that are part of the LGBTQ+ community and just felt that if any cause could be helped by our limited influence, why not one that’s primary directive is to spread love, acceptance, and respect?
With the new line up set and the band back playing shows, what can we expect from At the Heart of It in the coming months?
A – First and foremost, we will be playing lots of shows.
R – We’re looking to play out as much as possible all over the northeast. 2 or 3 shows a week and maybe some longer runs. If anyone has a basement they’d like us to play in, let us know.
A – We all appreciate the ability to create amazing things in the studio, but we are far and away a band that needs to be experienced in a live setting. Other than that, we have many things in the works and up our sleeves for the remainder of 2016. I can’t really say much else on that right now, but soon enough we will have many more announcements to share with everyone.
We’d like to thank Andrew Castellucci and Richie Downs, along with the rest of At the Heart of it, for their time. We’d also like to thank Vincenza Castellucci (Vincenzadesign.com) for the band photo. We’d encourage you to check out the band at the links provided above.