Have Heart’s final LP, ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun’, still stands the test of time.
On Sunday, August 19th, my grandfather Ronald Carter passed away surrounded by family and loved ones. A journalist by trade for The Herald Sun, and an Australian Sports writer come his final professional days, he was a man who loved life and loved to live. As a kid, I remember how he was always happy; he always had a smile on his face at any family get-together. As soon as my father called me on the afternoon of the 19th, I knew exactly what it was about and my heart sunk. Since my grandfather’s passing, I’ve come back around to one record in particular. That album being Fiddlehead’s ‘Springtime and Blind‘ LP, released back in April of this year by Run For Cover Records.
For those unaware, Fiddlehead are a passionate punk rock band that borrow sound cues from Hot Water Music and Title Fight for a simple yet effective dynamic of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. And that’s it: no filler, no gimmicks. Just a band smashing their instruments ou and singing about people closest to their hearts. This grungish record’s ten songs lyrically speak of time and loss; of growing old with your life-long partner only to watch them wither and pass on; of being a child and watching your parents turn frail and grey as years pass by; of then being those parents and watching your kids age, move out and eventually find their own life. With perhaps the most affecting take from the album being it’s lead single, the emotionally wrecking ‘Lay Low‘.
By listening through Fiddlehead’s latest – a band fronted by Have Heart frontman Patrick Flynn – this inevitably lead me back to one of my personal favourite records: ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘ (2008). For me, Have Heart’s final studio offering – released via Bridge Nine Records – is one of my favourite hardcore releases ever; standing right up there with Refused’s ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come‘, Defeater’s ‘Empty Days & Sleepless Nights‘, and Counterparts‘ ‘The Difference Between Hell & Home‘, to name just a few.
As Patrick Flynn once described this album some ten years ago, it’s a coming of age story. “It’s about the growing process of a young kid shaking the chains of selfishness, but it’s everything about what you lose and gain in that process of growing up”, he once wrote. All of which are feelings and ideas I think you can also find in Fiddlehead’s music too, just in a more recent, mature way, mind you.
I totally understand why people have so much love for Have Heart’s debut LP, 2006’s ‘The Things We Carry‘ – it’s a good record, for sure. It helped put Boston back on the map for new-age hardcore. Yet ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘ is far more powerful listen through and through, on practically all fronts. Hearing such a record like Have Heart’s sophomore as a younger teenager was such a solidifying moment for me. Not just for my own love of hardcore music at the time (and ever since), but also my emotional growth too. At that time in 2008, the hardcore scene overall was starting to shift ever deeper into the super-charged emotion and empowered meanings that it exists as nowadays; this here Have Heart album being one of the greater releases to really push that transition along, I feel. (Defeater’s ‘Travels‘, Stick To Your Guns‘ ‘The Hope Division‘, and Break Even’s ‘The Brightside‘ also being other records that helped this process move forward too).
Ever since forming in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 2002, Have Heart (now known as Free) merged straight edge and hardcore punk like the very best of bands before them. Bands like In My Eyes, Bane, Chain Of Strength, and Turning Point were and are clearly core influences on their sound, yet in turn, Have Heart themselves became heavy influences on the next generation of hardcore. All because of well-written, impactful records like ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘.
It’s easily the most well-produced of their releases; with the drum mix, in particular, being simply stellar. Converge’s Kurt Ballou gave the band one of the best production foundations to stand tall upon then they ever could’ve asked for. (The snare tone here is also much better, for one). This record also flowed exceptionally well together too. Just look at how well album opener ‘The Same Son‘ barrels over into the break-neck nature of ‘Bostons‘, or how the explosive, feedback-heavy of personal emptiness that is ‘The Taste Of The Floor‘ smoothly transitioned into the heavy live-room space and washy drum sounds of instrumental track, ‘Reflections‘. Arrangement and sequencing play such integral roles in why this album worked as well as it did.
Have Heart’s lyrical range covered the usual hardcore music scene topics; touring, straight edge, being yourself, community, scene politics, etc. However, this record took much darker, bleaker strides into matters of loss, death, friendship, and family. It sure as shit didn’t pull any punches. Something you can almost sorta tell from the double-meaning title. It wasn’t just songs meant to embody an out-pouring of inner frustration – yelling up at the sky in anger, as it were – but also songs to speak of harsh family traumas too. On top of all that, this album had the perfect stage dive moments, rhythmic exercises, anthemic gang-vocal sections, fast guitar work, but also plenty of grim personal stories to share. That’s what made it so crucial back then, and why it’s maybe held up so well over the course of a decade too.
For instance, ‘Bostons‘ is a dire tale of alcoholism, estranged fathers, generational problems, giving your kids better lives then you had, and hard years of growing up in troubled homes within the city the song’s named after. It’s taken from the child’s perspective, and the gruff and rough vocal deliveries from Patrick make the song all the more crippling when paired alongside Ryan Hudon’s and Kei Yasui’s noisy guitar flourishes. While the “sins of the father” lyricism are absolutely hard-hitting, so too is the song’s chorus peaks; huge final moments that have more or less become Have Heart’s “anthem” ever since. I can never not sing along to the final section of: “O’ your friends say boston’s beautiful/But they didn’t hide here, they didn’t cry here/When little boys weren’t allowed to shed their tears.” It’s just so infectious! ‘Bostons‘, as a whole piece, speaks so highly of how much the band improved their songwriting craft and their delivery in such a short time from their debut too. This track is an undoubted modern hardcore classic.
Third track ‘Pave Paradise‘ dealt with wanderlust and touring cycles; of moving trees, passing landscapes, millions of miles traversed, and of being taken away from your home for something far from mere simplicity. The barely two-minute-long track has also got to be one of the best Have Heart songs in general. The track’s rapid pacing, Shawn Costa’s urgent drum performances, and finger-pointing/stave-diving song format just makes it such a musically thrilling cut. Even ten years on, this song is a fevered blood-rush; an adrenaline-pumping track and then some.
Not letting off steam after ‘Pave Paradise‘ is the staccato riffs and quick snare rolls of ‘On That Bird In The Cage‘. One thing I’ve always loved about this track is that there’s no way in hell that the band, when writing that “I walk away…” section, didn’t know that it would be a defining, deafening part whenever they performed it live. It’s one of those classic Have Heart moments, really.
The sheer energy and melodic hardcore passion of ‘No Roses, No Skies‘ is a bonafide standout too. The song’s sentiment focusing on the sacrifices and struggles that women in the band’s life have made in order to get by. A sister, a mother, a girlfriend – it doesn’t matter, it’s all relative. This song including and encouraging the women of their lives and those within the hardcore scene as well was something absolutely important to Have Heart. It’s why the band’s last ever show was also used as a benefit gig for a local women’s shelter run by Patrick’s mother. Everything this band believed in – whether about politics, ethics, and morals – was worn all over their sleeves and in how the group operated. ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘ included. It’s what made them special, and why I and so many others still love them to this day.
On the flipside, there is the slower mood of ‘Brotherly Love‘, guided by Austin Stemper’s brooding bass lines, which opens up so much space for the record. It’s more or less your halfway breather. But it’s a harrowing one too. “‘o brother, you leave me like blood from my veins” is one brutal lyric that sticks right with you; especially the way how Patrick articulates it in the song vocally. It cuts deep into how it’s hard to have hope and hard to move on when there’s no family left to hold; just memories, words long since spoken, and old photographs.
Sitting somewhere between these extreme musical sides of Have Heart’s sound, however, is the poetic ‘Hard Bark On The Family Tree‘. The line “Some things just fall apart” is, with the exception of one other key lyric that I’ll get to shortly, one of the most thematic indicative lyrics of this entire record. That sometimes, families, relationships and marriages just don’t work out; that sometimes friendships go nowhere; that sometimes love just doesn’t survive. That while change can be good, sometimes it erodes what we once knew. If you couldn’t already tell, there are two focal points that drive ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘ along, and that’s the vocals and the lyrics.
When the record started with ‘The Same Son‘, it later ends with ‘The Same Sun‘; creating a moment of genuine sonder about how we all experience so much of the same bullshit in life. To shine a big bright light on all that is “Unseen, unsung – under the same sun“. It’s that kind of relatability that I felt always made Have Heart a household name in hardcore at the time, and even nowadays since their end too. ‘The Same Sun‘ also contains what I think was always the intended mantra of this record: “Your sisters are starving, your brothers are begging/Your mothers are mourning, your fathers are folding“. (This being the other key lyric that I mentioned before). Those who share your blood is a massive force behind where this record went in terms of tone and lyrics and just as how ‘The Same Sun‘/’Bostons‘ did at the album’s very beginning, this closing track brought it all down a dim, haunting end.
Slower-burning tracks like ‘Brotherly Love‘ (featuring Verse’s Sean Murphy), the washy, over-bearing cymbal hits on ‘Reflections‘ being one of the record’s least “Have Heart” moments, and the prominence of more dynamic moments probably some critics in 2008 to think this was the band trying way too hard to experiment. As if they were suddenly “too cool” for hardcore or some such crap. Yet I truly feel it’s the opposite regard: that this was the band sounding as natural and as effortless as ever. Making the fact that we never got another Have Heart record came all the more bittersweet; thus not being able to see what they could fully achieve in time with new music. While I do like Free, it’s just not the same. And maybe it never will be ever again. But that’s okay.
Sometimes, the very best bands end prematurely, which was sadly the case with these guys. For on May 13th, 2008, Patrick told fans via a Myspace bulletin that Have Heart would be ending after their scheduled world tour, posting that:
“Once the Fall rolls around, we can’t really do this band the way we would prefer to anymore. Knowing this deadline of ours and having a whole world tour already booked, we’d like to take advantage of the chance to say goodbye to all the people we have met around the world over the years. So, please come check us out in the remaining months on our little trip around the globe. So far Asia has been a wonderful experience and we’re very happy to have had the chance to meet so many kind people and look forward to the rest of Asia. We will be playing our last show on this year’s National Edge Day on October 17, 2009 with a bunch of our friends bands and a sweet guest. It will be somewhere T accessible in the Boston area. It will also be a benefit for a women’s shelter in New Bedford, MA, run by my kind mother. It’s been a nice 7 years and we’d like to thank all the unique hardcore kids and bands we have encountered. And in the words of DFJ, thanks to all the shit talkers for all the material to get off on. But, really….we have met so many wonderful people who we’ll just never forget. It’s been so great. Take care and hope to see you over the next couple months.”
Maybe the fact that I never saw Have Heart live has doubly romanticized my admiration for them and this record. (That aspect has most certainly made me re-watch their final show live DVD many times over the years). But honestly, even if I had have been slightly older when they toured Australia in 2009 and managed to catch them, I think my love for this release would still be as high as it is today. ‘Songs To Scream At The Sun‘ is one of the few records I’ve ever actually bought on vinyl too. Because of my sheer love for this record, I wear my well-worn grey Have Heart Boston Straight Edge hoodie far more than I probably should as a grown-ass man. It’s a record that I’ve continually returned to over the years and always – always – been satisfied with and moved by. If nothing else that should tell you just how fuckin’ good it is.