INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HOUSTON HEARD
That’s the puzzle!
Though he is still an up and coming rapper from an unlikely music scene, HOUSTON HEARD from Williamsburg, Va. is a name you should know. Finding influences in the alternative hip-hop genre, the rhymes of HOUSTON HEARD are more stylistic and refined, while simultaneously working in element of pop, dance, electronic, and classical music into each well-crafted song he produces. Though he did not respect the classics as a young boy, he has grown to appreciate the art of the piano as he has developed as a songwriter, and it too flows skillfully across the tracks on which it is played. Having established some notoriety in the Williamsburg scene, HOUSTON HEARD has set his sights on playing bigger shows on a much larger scale. Currently, he is busy promoting the release of his debut album Above Below Average, which was released on Jan. 20, 2015 and chronicles some of his struggles in the early years of high school, as well as performing showcases to play this year’s Shaggfest in Virginia Beach, which he hopes will help to bring more attention to his music and help more people relate to it.
What initially got you into rapping and making hip hop?
To be honest, it kind of just happened. I was in sixth grade, [and we had to do] a science project on something. And we made a song. It was absolutely terrible, but it was fun. I just went home that day and found beats on YouTube, and then I started rapping over them. I guess [from that] here I am now.
Who are some of your primary influences, as far as rapping goes?
I guess I just go off what I listen to, mainly alternative hip hop, like what I make. If I had to pick one it would be this guy named GEORGE WATSKY, who is a poet and a rapper from San Francisco. I go off of him for producing, writing, and the general flow of things.
I don’t think growing up in Williamsburg has really affected anybody, to tell you the truth (laughs). Obviously there is not as big of an influence as there would be in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. Obviously, Williamsburg, Va. isn’t really known for its hip hop. So I would say, not really.
I really enjoyed hearing you play piano on this record, in addition to your rapping. How long have you been playing that instrument?
I started playing piano a while ago. I was [about] eight; my mom always wanted me to play. Then my piano teacher actually told my mom that it would be a waste of money to be spending the money on the lessons because I didn’t want to learn any of the classical stuff. I kind of stopped for a little while, and a few years ago, I taught myself again. I like to incorporate it in everything, so I’ve gotten a lot better [throughout] the years.
One of the most standout tacks on your debut EP, in my personal opinion, is “Society,” which is very critical of the norms within American culture. Can you please explain in more detail how this song came to be?
I wrote that last year ; it was actually the first song on the new album that I wrote. I put it out [before] and just redid it for the album. I made another beat for it and stuff. I was going through a pretty tough time … in my first two years of high school. … I was in the awkward, early teenage years. I was so obsessed with what people thought about me, and I got to the point where I just got tired of it. Then I sat down and wrote that song. It got me through it then, but now I’m past it.
Are most of the songs written on Above Below Average from that timeframe?
I think, to be honest, everything I write is going to be effected by stuff of that nature. [On] the album that I am working on now, basically every song has that general feel to it, besides the more nonsensical ones like “Ain’t No Way” and “What’s Up Now.” Those I kind of just wrote to write. But “Hourglass,” “Won’t Be Easy,” “Society,” and “Brain Drain,” obviously, [can be applied to my years in high school].
In addition to performing on your own, you also are a member of the hip hop group DISTORTED AFTERSTORY, which also includes rappers BRIAN B and Chandler Matkins of BIG MAMA SHAKES. Is this more of a side project for each of you?
I hate to say it, but DISTORTED AFTERSTORY is just Chandler Matkins and his friend Ryan Foster, who produces the beats, and BRIAN B isn’t in it either. I just collaborate with them a whole lot. They are good friends of mine. I’m on their stuff, and they are on mine.
I’ve got a friend that has a really nice basement for shows and parties, so last June for the heck of it, we did a concert in his basement. It was my first time performing. We made a stage out of pallets, and about 80 people showed up. It was great fun. On Dec. 20, 2014, we did this [show] called Burg Fest, which was initially supposed to be something like that, but then DISTORTED AFTERSTORY and BRIAN B got on board. And my friend named Colin McGuire, who is a DJ and goes by SHIP WRECK, [got on board as well]. We went all out; we packed the basement. There was absolutely no room, and we had a full sound system with lights. That was all done by Colin Cross, who runs Unkempt & Overcaffinated [Recording] Studio. I’ve also done a showcase, and I have another coming up on March 28 for Shaggfest at Sidelines in Virginia Beach.
In addition to “Society,” which track stands out the most to you as a personal favorite?
I would be lying if I didn’t say “Won’t Be Easy.” So far it is my favorite song that I have ever written. Tommy [Vereb], who sang the chorus on it, just made it fantastic. I just think, overall, it came together really well.
Going forward, what do you hope to accomplish in the rest of 2015?
I am working on an album right now, and I’m gonna try to get that out. I need a little bit of money first so I may do an Indiegogo or something like that. I want to get that out later in the year, and I am definitely trying to do Shaggfest, which is why I am doing the showcases. That would be sweet. Basically, I don’t see myself getting famous to the point where I am selling out huge venues. That was never my intention from the get-go. Obviously, I would love for people to know my name, and I’d love for people to connect to [my music]. That’s one of my main goals, to generally connect to people, because I’m not generally rapping about the “normal” things. I’m trying to be as relatable as possible and write just what comes to my mind. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to nationally known by the end of the year. That may be farfetched, but it would still be cool and my mom would be proud of me for once.
For more updates on HOUSTON HEARD, be sure to “like” his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter, listen to his debut album Above Below Average on Bandcamp, and be sure to check out his next showcase in Virginia Beach at Sidelines on March 28.
On his debut, 11-track album Above Below Average, alternative rapper and composer HOUSTON HEARD delivers sharp, quick rhymes with a flow so eloquent you might forget that he is just a teenager. Based out of Williamsburg, Va., HOUSTON HEARD is unapologetic track after track and the pop synthesized beats are equally captivating.
Following an intro track just shy of two minutes, HOUSTON HEARD introduces us to his skills with a few strokes of his keyboard before initiating his rhymes. The music itself is very bright and melodic, with a syncopated beat that can simultaneously get your head bobbing to the song and put a smile on your face. On the second track, “Tell Em,” he does not miss a beat in bringing the same energy and emotional reactions. The music is very reminiscent of OWL CITY and MC LARS.
The fourth track, “Society,” also features another Williamsburg, Va. rapper BRIAN B and Chandler Matkins of BIG MAMA SHAKES. Together, along with HOUSTON HEARD, they form the group DISTORTED AFTERSTORY. The song itself is very unique in that it criticizes what society considers important, including having to meet expectations set by others, how “people judge you how you dress and the people that you slept with,” and how social media is more important than building real connections with other people. In the end of the song, HOUSTON HEARD has that last word in an a capella rhyme saying, “The only thing changing with the seasons is the weather. As people we’re supposed to get together but our ties are constantly severed, and we’re left on our knees with nothing but our diminished pride.”
After a brief interlude lasting just over a minute where HOUSTON HEARD lets the piano do the talking, he breaks into the eighth track “Won’t Be Easy,” which discusses moving on from a break up. The song is easy going and carefree while reflecting on what he may have done wrong to cause it. But he realizes that he is better off without that person and is happy to move forward. It’s a feel good pop song, and it helps to show more of his vocal range.
The album concludes with “Brain Drain,” opening with more key strokes and cultural criticism. His lyrics flow out so smoothly, and the elements of the song mesh together so cohesively, one might assume that HOUSTON HEARD has a higher status than he currently does in the music scene. Regardless, this album is proof that he will be one to keep an eye on as his career develops.