Trip Out To Heron Oblivion


HERON OBLIVION play The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30; photo Alissa Anderson

It was two years ago that I first experienced Heron Oblivion aptly sending minds into ecstatic, musical oblivion.

I was making my way through the overstuffed halls of The Observatory during its annual Burgerama festival when I noticed that I had a gap in my schedule. So, I found myself wandering amongst the unfamiliar sound waves of bands I hadn’t heard of, in search of musical respite. As I pushed and squeezed my way within hearing distance of The Constellation Room, a swirling frenzy of musical sound suddenly filled my senses. I didn’t know who or what it was, but I knew I needed to experience it. I entered the room to find Heron Oblivion.

The magnificent flurry of Noel Von Harmonson and Charlie Saufley’s concurrent guitar solos, Ethan Miller’s chest-rumbling bass, and Meg Baird’s all-encompassing crash cymbal crescendoed into a tonal mountain, which the band then brought crashing down with expert grace. As the musical dust settled, Baird’s ethereal, crystalline voice cut through the newfound silence. It was a timbre so sonorous and beautiful that I was taken aback at first; I had not expected such a voice to follow such gritty intensity. But whatever dissonance I was perceiving was immediately welcomed, the resulting dynamic a novel and mesmerizing one.

Needless to say, by the end of the first song, I had already taken out my schedule and circled the band three times over with red pen.

Labeled as a “supergroup” of sorts, the band features a group of artists coming together from a variety of other groups. As a band, they somehow combine psychedelia’s tendency for sudden shifts, sprawling soundscapes, and “trippy” sound effects (see: wah pedal, tape echo, etc.), with the distortion and face-meltery of hard rock, and the lyrical archetypes and vocal melodies of traditional folk. In a time of infinite access to music, it is all too refreshing to hear such a unique combination of sound and emotion.

Sitting down with Concert Guide Live to speak about the nature of that combination, Von Harmonson recently gave us the inside scoop on the band’s recording history. What follows will surely add an extra layer of appreciation to your listening experience, when you inevitably jam out to their self-titled album later today.

Heron Oblivion

Heron Oblivion self-titled album cover

Concert Guide Live: Having seen you guys play live, I feel like the chemistry you all share is what really makes the experience. Do you remember the moment you realized you had found the right bandmates?
Noel Von Harmonson: So, we got together, and for like the first six times we played together we didn’t really play a song. We just turned on little digital recorders and let loose. A lot of these pieces ended up being 20 minutes long or something, and some of them were kind of cool jammy things based around a riff. And some of them were just completely abstract in terms of tones, timbres, feedback, noises and drums and stuff.

It wasn’t until maybe a couple practices later, we’d listen back to some of the stuff that came out of these jams and there was this one thing that would like kind of resemble a song. Like, if we took that riff and put it with another riff we would have kind of a song thing.

So, then we were like “What if we wrote a song?” We did that, and then shortly thereafter, we were like, “Meg do you wanna try singing, too? Because I know it’s kind of crazy being a singing drummer.” And for me, the minute that she started singing to the music that we were playing, it clicked. I thought, “We’re onto something here.”

CGL: How would you describe Meg’s vocals within the context of Heron Oblivion’s music?
NVH: Brilliant, amazing.

CGL: Agreed.
NVH: Well, we knew Meg’s singing from her older projects. We knew that she had, and I’m sure I can speak for all of us, one of the most beautiful singing voices out of anybody contemporary that we know. Whether or not that was going to fit anywhere within this squally, guitar-based, not really aggressive, but loud sort of environment, we weren’t really sure. But we took some nods from influences we all sort of had in common and put the pieces together, theoretically.

We didn’t do this in a conversation, mind you, these were all subconscious, telepathic conversations that we had while playing together. So, we made sense of [our jamming] and consciously made room for the vocals so that the guitars and stuff could get out of the way and feature Meg’s vocals. Without making it too much of a cookie cutter formula though, where it’s like “loud part, quiet part, loud part, quiet part.” So sometimes we have Meg singing over the loud parts, which is obviously a lot easier to pull off on a record than it is live. But she’s got a really strong voice, too. So, if the house mix is dialed in right, I think she can still come out over the top of all those guitars we’re beating on and swinging around.

CGL: Your first record has that same raw, live feel to it. I have to imagine you guys were playing live together in the studio. Why was it important to you to do it this way?
NVH: The reason why we did that is because it simulated the way that we rehearsed. A lot of our music will have energetic momentum that comes and goes and that’s a lot based on being able to hear each other in that moment. Also, having eye contact, being able to throw a head nod as a cue or something. Just a lot of stuff that’s very inherent and only comes with playing live in the same room. More importantly than all of that, it also captures the essence of — and that’s what you’re talking about — us four playing together, at once, in a room.

Rather than trying to split that up into separate tracks — which is so awkward and disjointed — we wanted that cohesive vibe. Even though I don’t like to use the word vibe. We wanted it to sound like a unified piece of rock machinery, hopefully semi-well-oiled and tuned up and still a little rickety.

Be sure to witness the divine intensity for yourself, at any one of their four stops in the SoCal area: The Constellation Room Jul 27, The Echo Jul 28, Pappy & Harriet’s Jul 29, Space Bar Jul 30.