Band Profile: D.C.’s America Hearts is full of indie spirit
The quirky indie-folk quartet is made up of Jess Matthews as lead vocalist and guitarist, Justin Moyer on bass, Sammy Ponzar on drums, and Kristina Buddenhagen on “Super Shred Guitar.” They have released several EP albums since the band formed in 2010, most recently White Socks 7”. America Hearts is currently on their SXSW tour and will be back in Washington, D.C. late March.
The band began three years ago with the release of the EP Fond Regards. The tracks were written and performed solely by former Edie Sedgwick drummer Jess Matthews, and the group expanded when friends joined and pushed Matthews to take her talent further. Matthews has played drums since she was fourteen and only just began playing guitar and singing when the band began three years ago, saying that the transition to lead vocalist “can be nerve-wracking and surreal, but I have ultimately become more comfortable performing.”
When Vox asked about the band’s style, Matthews says the group “hits on different styles, but what is more important is the whole idea of the song.” The band has been compared to groups with a mellow sound, however, like The Magnetic Fields and The Beach Boys.
“I don’t like it when bands have songs that sound the same, we have something that cuts across different styles,” Matthews added, a testament to the cross-section of musical genres from which the band draws inspiration. Depending on the lyrics and backstory, songs will have country, rock, or Americana influences, though rock ‘n’ roll is Matthews’ particular favorite.
“Out of all the music I love, I think what’s been the most influential is rock ‘n’ roll that’s about contradictions, ” she said. “It’s subversive, entertaining, it’s fundamentally cynical. Adults listen to it, but it’s unquestionably childlike in the simplicity of the music.”
The most acclaimed song played on tour is “White Socks,” a song that Matthews says is inspired by the “uncomfortable, ill-defined relationships” we often find ourselves in and are unable to fully describe. The song builds from a simple guitar rhythm to a catchy, likable tune that has a slight country influence. The clean and engaging instrumentation is a major strength of America Hearts.
Matthews’ style of singing fits the awkward intentions of this song. The vocals are not as polished as the instrumentals and often sound disconnected and out of tune. Because of the intended feeling of discomfort of “White Socks,” the vocals are appropriate, endearing, and match the unassuming lyrics. At first listen, it seems the lyrics are merely about socks, but the band cleverly ties comparisons to a couple that’s not quite in a relationship (a problem Vox is sure many Georgetown students can relate to).
Unfortunately, while “White Socks” benefits from Matthew’s style of singing, in other songs the vocals simply become awkward without intending to be. In “Race Car Driver,” another single by America Hearts, the grating vocals are more obvious and clash with instrumentation, and the lyrics themselves lack substance and become too repetitive.
America Hearts certainly has potential, but overall the budding band needs to work on execution and lyrical refinement. The lyricism lacks finesse, but the group nevertheless has an irresistibly quirky roughness that gives it unmistakable character.
Photo: The Vinyl District