If BENEE likes your music, so much so that she’s been frequently quoted saying that you’re one of her favourite bands, you’re probably doing something right.
That’s a reality for Heavy Chest, New Zealand’s woozy jazz-meets-indie trio. The band even collaborated with BENEE last year on the chilled-out single “Sunday926”. “It makes you feel like you are doing the right things when someone like BENEE is into what you are doing,” Heavy Chest lead vocalist and songwriter Andre Smith told Rolling Stone AU/NZ.
But there’s a reason such a notable artist appreciates the music Heavy Chest are making. Combining the swirling soundscapes of BADBADNOTGOOD, the dreamy allure of Marlin’s Dreaming, and the moody innovation of King Krule when he’s working under his own name, Archy Marshall (who Smith cites as a major influence), the trio have been building up a strong following beyond BENEE over the last few years.
In 2023, they mean business: Heavy Chest relocated from their home country to Melbourne earlier this year, aiming to make inroads into Australia’s music scene. A debut Melbourne show soon followed, the band performing to a packed Northcote Social Club crowd in June (“the first show of many,” Smith insists).
This week, Smith, drummer Josh Brown, and bassist Davin Ojala are back in New Zealand on tour, with stops remaining in Lyttelton, Dunedin, and Queenstown (see full dates below). The tour is in support of the band’s recently released Pre Heat vinyl, a limited-edition run to celebrate five years of their debut album and its 2018 follow-up, Home Turf) with handwritten lyrics and original artwork.
Read our full chat with Smith below.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: How did music influence you in your early life?
Music was a massive part of my childhood and brought me a lot of happiness. Connecting through music with my family and friends is a huge part of my early memories. When we were super young, my sister and I would spend hours performing songs and recreating acts from our favourite Disney movies! We’d blast Aristocats and Aladdin. School choir days definitely helped me with overall confidence, understanding collaboration in music and bringing it to life on stage.
There were so many family car rides with random compilation CDs of dad’s classics where we’d all be singing at the top of our lungs. I started writing songs when I was 11, around the same time I got my first guitar. I was really inspired by seeing my dad play in bands and was obsessed with some of the artists that he exposed me to.
What artists influenced you growing up?
Harry Nilsson’s record The Point! is a vinyl my dad had lying around when I was super young that has had a lasting influence and opened the door to that scene of musicians from that era. Long list here – The Beatles, Dixie Chicks, Richard Hawley, Paul Kelly, The Mint Chicks, The Jayhawks, Rackets (NZ), Tied on Teeth. I remember hearing Real Estate in 2010 on record and live at the Kings Arms in Auckland, that changed everything for me. Beach Fossils, DIIV, PURE X, Archy Marshall. Anything from the WLT series on youtube. I think the NOW CD compilations really opened my eyes to what was happening in international pop music too.
How does it feel to have the support of a huge artist like BENEE? What tips has she given you for your career?
Honestly amazing! It makes you feel like you are doing the right things when someone like BENEE is into what you are doing. It was a special experience to work on a song together, and an experience I am grateful for. She has a special energy which shows in the music she makes. I also think she uses the influence that she has in the best way!
She highlighted how important it is to connect with the community, lift [up] the people around you, and open your mind to the possibilities that are out there if you direct your energy in the right direction.
How was your debut Australian show?
The first show of many I would say! We get a warm response at our shows back home, so taking the step to Australia has got us excited to connect with audiences listening to our music over here.
What did you expect an Australian audience to be like?
Reflective of the beautiful wildlife this country has to offer.
How has the move to Melbourne impacted you as a band?
It has definitely brought us closer together, tested the boundaries of our relationships, and allowed us to grow in a good direction. Our communication has certainly improved in the last few months. Overall, we are feeling very inspired and energised to be in a new space with a fresh vision and energy for Heavy Chest. It’s pretty amazing for us to have moved over here together as a band and we are excited to make the most of being in this beautiful, creative city.
What do you miss most about New Zealand’s music scene?
Community, familiarity, and being able to hang out and jam with the friends we have made over the years.
What are some other career highlights so far?
Hearing crowds sing your words back to you is always such a buzz! Recording a live session on a rooftop in Wellington (watch below). Touring around Europe working, living and playing along the way! Playing a show in Amsterdam with Mild Orange a few years back was amazing! Also around the same time acting in one of their music videos was hilarious! Collaborating with Kip Nelson, an internet friend who is living in Texas, and of course the BENEE collaboration! We are really looking forward to making more memories with Heavy Chest in the future.
What kind of personality traits and values do you believe it takes to succeed in the music industry?
I think you need to have a huge amount of resilience, trust in yourself, self-belief, the ability to start again and to not be deterred when you don’t get the results you want straight away. It’s good to value those around you who support you, value the process of making music and building ideas the way you want. Most importantly, making music that you like! Regardless of how you think it’s going to be perceived.
How would you describe your music to a potential fan?
I always struggle with this question. We used to say ‘BeachJazz’, we’d joke and call it ‘shitJazz’, but really it’s just our sound with jazzy and indie rock elements. As all art is, it’s an ever-evolving sound which is just the fruit of all of our moving and changing influences.
What are your goals for 2023 and beyond?
We are writing and working towards a new album together as a band. Hopefully a single or two from our next album will be out later in the year! To grow in new directions sonically and continue to improve the experience of our live show. We want to share our music to as many new audiences as possible, both in Australia and further out in the world.
Continue to push the boundaries of what we can achieve as Heavy Chest. Now that we live in Australia, a few things like getting a triple j Like A Version or a Splendour in the Grass slot would be epic!
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Heavy Chest 2023 New Zealand Tour
Tickets available here
Thursday, August 17th
Friday, August 18th
Dive Bar, Dunedin
Saturday, August 19th