Hooray for Earth brings surprising sounds to the ICA
What happens when your breakthrough album ends up feeling like a juggling act? One dropped piece and the whole thing falls apart.
Noel Heroux had to contend with that notion after his band, Hooray for Earth, released what it considered its official full-length debut in 2011. After several self-released demos, “True Loves” marked a fresh start for the group, which formed in Boston and grew out of Heroux’s home recordings.
For a handful of years they were this city’s best-kept secret, until Heroux moved to New York in 2007 and set out to make a widescreen pop album whose glossy veneer inadvertently got Hooray for Earth labeled a synth-rock act.
“This is not that,” Heroux says of the band’s new and long-awaited album, “Racy.” “This is like a steamroller coming through. It’s the clearest possible representation of Hooray for Earth, for better or worse. With ‘True Loves,’ there were a lot of opportunities for people to interpret things in so many ways. Sometimes that’s great. But I was kind of getting tired of this band being wildly interpreted. So we decided to nail it down.”
Now a quartet — with Christopher Principe on bass, Joseph Ciampini on drums, and Jessica Zambri on electronics — Hooray for Earth returns to its stomping grounds on Friday with a show at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Wavelengths series along the harbor. Heroux, who grew up in Grafton and still has a cell number with a 508 area code (“Yeah, man, I’m never going to give that up”), recently checked in from the road.
Q. I love the way the new record opens with that really heavy crunch of electric guitar on “Hey,” as if you were wiping the slate clean. Did you feel like you had a statement to make with this one?
A. I think it was subconsciously me thinking, OK, this is what I’m doing. With all this stuff, it’s me making all the music, but it’s intended to work in the band context. And that’s not something I was focused on the previous two years. With this one, I was just letting the band thing work. The past couple of years we definitely got endless comparisons that just spun my brain: “Recommended if you like this.” “These guys are taking tips from this band.” And I was like, I don’t know who these [expletive] bands are.
Q. There are so many unexpected moments on “Racy” that it feels like you might have surprised yourself in the process of making it.
A. There have been different progressions along the way, jumping from left to right, but I think this album is what the intention of the band was supposed to be. We just let it go, let it be that thing without cutting any corners or season it in any way.
Q. The title track is a real heartbreaker, all minor chords and introspective lyrics, so tender that it made me a little teary-eyed as I listened to it walking in the rain today.
A. (Laughs.) That’s it. I’m not worrying about getting teenagers to freak out. I want to make grown men cry in the rain.
Q. When did you know you wanted to call the album “Racy”?
A. That song is the only song that wasn’t written for the album. When we were going into the studio, I had a few old demos. I don’t typically resurrect old stuff, but “Racy” was always kicking around and people would ask what happened to that one. They prodded me to record it, and it kind of made sense as the centerpiece. With Hooray for Earth, I’ve always thought the music is so intentional and then I’ve purposely allowed the lyrics to be more about stream of consciousness. “Racy” was the first one where I was addressing that. I have some pretty severe anxiety disorders, and the mind is always racing. It’s like scrambled eggs up there. I had a hard time with that for several years, and that song was a simple little representation of that. And that’s what the whole album was becoming — me reflecting on my struggle to think.
Q. Is that you in the album’s cover photo of a guy rocking out?
A. Yeah. I was messing around with ideas and thought, “Let’s just have a photo of a person.” The cover of “True Loves” was beautiful to look at, but I wanted to have some more connection for this one. My buddy Eric White is a photographer in New York, and he came to our rehearsal space. I turned my amp up all the way and was thrashing around. That was basically vodka and guitar solo. We should have called the album “Vodka Guitar Solo.”