The first time I heard about
Portland's The Exploding Hearts I was leading a pretty mundane life in
Long Island. A short mention in the Long Island Press
citing their only full-length Guitar Romantic as the best
a writer had heard all year got my attention. Still, I'd have to wait
over a year to get a hold of that record. Was the year
long wait worthy? Hell no, I wish I had headed to the record
store right away. The recently released compilation Shattered once
again puts this underrated power pop punk band on the spotlight.
Too bad the band isn't here with us anymore. Insider Fred Landeen was close to the band, his insight and experience with
The Exploding Hearts is evident in this tale about his
relationship with the band. Read on.
my best efforts, I nearly missed the first Exploding Hearts
When Adam Cox
told that he was starting a Power Pop band, I told him to let me
know when they were going to play. I had bumped into him on a
bus going into downtown, and he told me all about his new band.
He dropped a reference to Nick Lowe, and I was intrigued. Not
too many folks were talking about playing Power Pop at the time,
so it was exciting to hear that there was going to be a local
band trying it. I made sure that he had my phone number and
email address so that he could keep me posted. He never called.
I got the call
from Amanda Kill, on a rainy weeknight. She was calling from the
Satyricon nightclub, trying to get me to come down to see a
band. “These guys look like they are gonna be good” she
exhorted. When she described their look , lot’s of white denim
and pink neckerchiefs, I realized just who it was that she was
talking about. Twenty minutes later, I was at the club, standing
up front for the debut of The Exploding Hearts.
I was a fan
before the first song was over, it was impossible not to be!
They had so many hooks, so much melody and still retained a
rocking Punk edge to it all. This was ideal Power Pop, they had
exactly what I wanted from the genre. Instantly memorable songs,
with the catchiest possible hooks. There were choruses that
stuck in your head as soon as you heard them and never left.
Keeping it all going was a driving guitar that supplied the
power to the Amphetamine pop. By the end of their set I had a
new favorite local band.
Six was the secret weapon of the band. He could play the
sweetest melodic guitar lines, and then bust out with a lead
that actually rocked, giving the tunes the punch that they
needed. Terry was the most affable member of the band in person,
always quick with a smile and handshake.
I knew Adam
“Baby” Cox from his playing in a Pop-Punk band made up of a
bunch of obnoxious high school kids from Beaverton. He had also
done stints with the hilariously offensive Spider Babies and the
stripper-fronted Coco Cobra and the Killers. I used to see him
at Automatics shows, and we had struck up a friendship around
talking music. He was always really enthusiastic about music,
when he would talk about it his eyes would open up really why
and he’d have the biggest smile on his face. I was surprised at
how good of a singer had become, not to mention the songwriting!
Killer” Gage played with Adam in high school and toured with the
Spider Babies, but I knew him from his time with the ultra lo-fi
Silver Kings and Punk geniuses The Bedpands. He was a kid that I
had always seen around with his skateboard in one hand, a 40
ouncer in the other and a sly grin on his face. He was usually
in the middle of saying something smart-assed.
I had seen
Jeremy and Adam at shows for years. I had always thought that
they were brothers because they hung out together all the time
and sort of looked alike. I remember being genuinely surprised
when I found out that they weren’t related. Jim “Action” Evans,
who was at least a decade older than the other guys, was the
bass player during this time. He had also served time in Spider
Babies as well as being a veteran of the high-octane Garage Rock
band Screamin’ Furys. Jim was the polite stoic who played well
but said little.
This was the
first line-up to play around town, the same line-up that
recorded what is now referred to as the Pink Demo. They gave me
a copy of their demo early in December of 2001. The CD face was
spray painted pink, with Exploding Hearts stenciled across it.
Mine was hand numbered, number eight of one hundred. Four
stunning originals, and a pleasing rough (and very hi hat heavy)
cover of the (Paul Collins) Beat song “Walking Out On Love”.
The group had a
distinct aesthetic, which they unfailingly adhered to. It seems
like it was Adam who decided most of this. He designed all of
the band’s graphics, and owned many of the clothes that the band
members wore for photos and live. Anytime you see a photon of
one of the band members wearing a Boys First Time t-shirt, that
was actually Adam’s. It even went so far as Adam being the
person who cut Terry’s hair! The boys had a great style,
though. Nobody else at the time was rocking pink and yellow
together, with white denim as a recurring fashion motif. They
definitely influenced people around them, as well as their fans
Two songs were
chosen from the demo to appear on what was supposed to be the
Hearts’ debut single on Pelado Records. I say supposed to
because the label kept pushing back the release date, until it
finally came out in January of 2003. Ultimately, their first
recordings became their third record! The single was beat to the
shelves by the Guitar Romantic LP on Germany’s Screaming Apple
Records, and the “(Making Teenage Faces”) single on Vinyl
Warning. The late released caused some confusion among fans,
many thought the the 7” version of “Modern Kicks” was the newer
version. I remember Adam making fun of how slow it was compared
to the LP version by singing the chorus for me in mock slow
motion, yet many people prefer this recording of the song. The
slower speed definitely allows more of the melodic subtleties to
be hear. “Busy signals” was the b-side. A real gem from the demo
is the song “So Bored”, which has often mistakenly been titled
“Waste of Time” by fans who have the traded the tune via the
Over the course
of the winter, the Hearts played some fun shows, built a
following, and had some line-up changes. The first change was to
add New Orleans transplant, “King Louie” Bankston on keyboards.
King Louis, known for playing in savagely raw Garage bands like
The Persuaders and the Royal Pendletons was a great addition to
the band. He not only made it possible to have the keyboards
played live, he also sang back-up vocals and lent credibility to
a band of musicians that people in the rest of the country
hadn’t ever heard of. The pairing of Louie and Adam proved to be
quite productive, as they immediately began collaborating on
songwriting. One of the band’s most memorable Pop anthems, “I’m
a Pretender”, was originally brought in by Louie.
personnel change was more of a reinstatement. Matt “Matt Lock”
Fitzgerald was actually the original bass player for the band,
but had left well before the band played their first show.
Another friend from their high school days in Beaverton, Matt
fit back into the band perfectly. Popped collars, 80’s
sunglasses, a Crime t-shirt (that he seemed to always wear) and
the cool confidence to go with them. Sure Matt played really
well, but almost as importantly, he looked really good doing so.
Hearts took their time recording their LP over the course of the
spring, 2002. Producer and friend of he band Pat Kearns recorded
the album at his small (and now legendary) Studio 13, located in
the basement of a house in Southwest Portland. They has time to
try different things, and some alternate takes and versions of
songs from these sessions are surface in the compilation
Shattered. The LP Guitar Romantic is of course, one of the
all time classic Power Pop albums. It was praised widely and
wildly from the second it was released. Bomp!, Maximunrocknroll,
and a variety of other press called it the best album of the
year. Jessica “Jessicat” Troutman, one of the band’s closest and
most loyal friends, provided vocals on the duet “Thorns in
Roses”. (She is also quite likely the hottest Sunday school
teacher in the world…)
that the relatively low humidity of the Pacific Northwest wasn’t
for him, Louie left the band to return to the South. The Hearts
didn’t seek out a replacement for the vacancy (if you have met
Louie, you know that he is irreplaceable). There was talk of
Louie continuing to contribute to the songwriting, although I
don’t know if this ever had the chance to happen.
The summer of
2002 found the band back in the studio with Pat Kearns, this
time at the much fancier digs of Jackpot Studios. Here they
recorded four original songs and a cover of “Sniffin’ Glue” by
FU2. If you’ve never seen the cover art for the Italian pressing
of the FU2 LP, do yourself a favor and track it down, it’s
pretty crazy! The Hearts’ version has plenty of snottiness
oozing out from it. The song was one of the brightest spots on
the “Dirtnap Across The Northwest” CD compilation.
I was honored
when the Hearts asked me to release a single by them on my
fledging record label, Vinyl Warning. I went over to talk about
the 7” with Terry and Adam at their apartment, which was known
as the Pink Palace. I knew that I was at the right house when I
saw a tire swing out front that had been spray painted pink.
Thir place was super tiny, on the second floor of a house in
Southeast Portland (2021 SE 12th, if you want to make
this pilgrimage.). There was always a pile of skateboards
cluttering up the base of the narrow staircase. Once upstairs,
there were just two small bedrooms, separated by a puny little
kitchen. No living room. It was in the pink kitchen that the
cover photos for Guitar Romantic were taken. When I came by,
the title of the album was still spray painted on the wall
behind the refrigerator! We hung out in Adam’s room, listening
to the Flip-Tops albums and lots and lots of The Supremes.
Adam’e beloved dog Bluto was there too, of course, staring up at
us with his enormous, comically bulging eyes while frantically
humping Terry’s raised arm.
For the single,
I was quick to request “(Making) Teenage Faces”, a live favorite
that to me is a perfect, perfect song. The hooks here are
unstoppable and the chorus instantly unforgettable. The lyrics
still make me laugh every time that I listen to it! I had to
beg the band to record “Your Shadow”, a song that they had
stopped playing. (This band threw away better songs than most
bands will ever write.) They had performed when they played live
on the radio show that I co-host, back in December 2001. I had
listened to the recording of their set over and over, and this
song stood out to me. It’s definitely the fastest, most
straightforward Punk song that the band ever recorded! The
original version had Terry playing all his leads through a
wah-wah pedal. He didn’t use it on the studio recording because
by the time they got to record it, poverty had forced him to
sell the pedal.
The last two
songs recorded by The Exploding Hearts from the Jackpot sessions
were earmarked for a 7” on the mighty Dirtnap Records. The
b-side was to be “We don’t Have to Worry Anymore”, a fantastic
song that would have been perfect on the soundtrack of a summer
teen exploitation movie. This was on of the Heart’s many
strengths, being able to make a (really, kinda sappy) line like
“forget about me in the summer…” sound poignant, and then turn
around and blast into the charmingly irreverent lines like “it’s
our summertime, and we’re getting WASTED!/It’s our summertime,
and we’re getting sto-o-ned” without it losing any momentum.
For the A-side,
the band chose what is arguably one of their best songs, the
heart-wrenching “(You Left Me) Shattered”. Tasteful use of
cowbell, and Jeremy’s Clash-like falsetto back-ups compliment
Terry’s twangy leads. This, of all their songs, is the one where
you can hear the most sincere heartbreak in Adam’s voice, for
that reason, it’s the most moving to me, and often the most
difficult for me to listen to. For various reasons, the release
date of this 7’ kept getting bumped back, further and further.
Eventually, it was set to be released in the fall of 2003, after
it was remixed. Sadly, this single never got to happen.
Over the next
several months the world began to take more and more notice of
our homegrown taent. The buzz on the band was increasing, for
sure. Several magazines and websites did interviews with the
band and their records continued to receive praise from the
international press. The folks at Harvard took an interest, and
in May of 2003, they flew the boys out to Boston to play what
would become their only East Coast dates. Several bigger labels
were sniffing around at this point, including some majors. June
saw them play an amazing show with The Buzzcocks at Berbati’s
Pan, in Portland. It stands out as one of the best times that I
saw them, they were at their height of live energy. The gig
offers were getting bigger and more frequent. I was happy for
their success, but I was wondering if I’d ever see them play in
a basement or dive bar again.
was roses, however. Jeremy kept quitting the band, and
surprisingly the search for a replacement proved to be quite
difficult. Inevitably, Jeremy would rejoin, or agree to fill in
for a show, coming to the rescue again and again. This drama
played itself out several times over the first half of 2003. In
the end, I believe that he planned on staying in the band, as he
took part in a photo shoot and joined them for a set of gigs in
the Bay Area.
The band was
received like returning heroes in San Francisco. Their set at
The Bottom of the Hill was videotaped and if you have the CD
versin of this release, you can see the energy and excitement of
the crowd in the footage. While in the Bay, they were courted
by (then) Pop Punk heavy hitters Lookout! Records. The band
decided to jump onto a bill at Thee Parkside before heading back
home. The future seemed to hold very bright things for The
There is no way
to adequately describe the shock of hearing that the three of
your friends have just died. I just can’t put into words how
much that hurt, and continues to hurt to this day. This is the
news that I awoke to with a phone call on the morning of July 20th,
2003. While driving overnight to get back home from their trip
to San Francisco, the band had a horrific accident. Adam, age
23, Jeremy, barely 21, and Matt, still only 20 had all died.
Theye were an hour and a half from home, and now they were gone.
Terry and the Hearts’ manager, Ratch Ramos survived the accident
with what the newspaper described as ‘minor injuries’. I guess
the were only taking the physical injuries into account.
The loss of the
band was a terrible one to the music world, but it pales in
comparison to the personal loss. These boys were sons, brothers,
boyfriends, and dear friends. I miss their band, but never
anywhere near as much as I miss the guys themselves.
a packed memorial for all three of the fallen Hearts. People
came up and spoke about each of the boys for several hours until
we had to leave the church that was hosting the event. Benefit
concerts were staged in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco to
help the families with the funeral expenses. Message boards
filled up with a huge outpouring of grief and sympathies for he
boys and their families. The Hearts’ music had spread further
than we knew, as messages came from all over the world.
time as a band, I referred to The Exploding Hearts as “the best
band in the country”, a statement that I stand behind to this
day. They remain one of my all time favorite bands. They hadn’t
attained stardom in the mainstream world yet, but they made a
tremendous impression on the underground scenes. They continue
to win new fans the world over. Their music lives on, and we cal
all be grateful for every amazing song that we have from them.
The Hearts have attained a very well-deserved immortality
through their music. As a fiend and a devoted fan, I will
cherish their music and the memories associated wit them
forever. Thank you.
by Fred Landeen
Exploding Hearts Official Site
Dirtnap Records Site
Read our review of
DEAF SPARROW Zine would
like to thank Dirtnap Records for granting permission to reprint