A dark gothic roots project based out of Los Angeles founded by Chopper Franklin of The Cramps, also featuring members of Christian Death, 45 Grave, Kings of Nuthin’, and Radio Noir. The band’s murder ballads, gothic spaghetti western anthems, and darkly romantic tales carve a nitch of Gothic Americana. We had the chance to ask a series of questions to learn more about their sound and roots…
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you each born and where do you live now?
Chopper: Born in the Murder Belt, living now in Los Angeles.
Stevyn: I currently reside near the intersection of Chopper’s strumming and Mather’s voice. Pretty decent place to live and it’s rent-controlled!
Mather: I was born in Connecticut, and have spent the last decade in various parts of Southern California (and currently find myself in Los Angeles).
How would you describe your sound?
Chopper: It’s Gothic roots music, with touches of gypsy jazz.
Mather: Another term that we’ve been hearing lately is “bloodgrass” (which seems to fit our bill, given our affinity for murder ballads and minor chords).
Your perfect melding of lead fiddle, vintage guitar, upright bass, drums, mandolin, banjo and wickedly haunting vocals with an impressive front woman is quite entrancing. What other instruments are there in the mix?
Chopper: A lot of Hammond organ, vibes, various percussion – we try to create a dark wall of sound.
The project is a unique collective of seasoned musicians from 45 Grave to Christian Death. What does each member bring musically to Heathen Apostles?
Chopper: With this band we wanted to infuse a lot of different styles so we got members that brought a lot of that to the table. We are able to switch from a Goth Rock song in drop D tuning to a murder ballad and then play a spaghetti western-tinged song pretty effortlessly.
Mather: Everyone in the band is incredibly open-minded and brings a different genre to the table, so there are tinges of blues, punk, gypsy jazz, psychobilly, goth, and RockN’Roll in the collective sound.
Mather, each music video is beautifully done from costuming, outdoor sets, make-up and storyline. In ‘DARK WAS THE NIGHT’ your characters have some amazing looks. How involved are you in your styling?
Mather: Thank you for the lovely compliment! Ever since the inception of the Heathens, Chopper and I agreed that I should have a heavy hand in the aesthetic of the band. So, I have conceptualized the look of each video with Chopper (with the exception of the “Dark Was The Night” video, which our dear friends Victoria Vengeance and Gris Grimly brilliantly dreamed up and brought to life), and most recently took on art direction for our new album cover. To me, it’s equally important to have a strong visual to match the power of the music, as it’s intrinsically a part of the story you are trying to tell.
You keep your feet in the present while digging from the past, which we love. What draws you to this old western sound?
Chopper: Our tastes run into the Victorian era and the Old West it’s just a different take on that. Most people don’t realize how wild and out of control it was, and we are definitely drawn to that.
Mather: Not to mention it’s such an interesting counterpoint to the underlying formality (and oftentimes repressive nature) of Victorian culture. It was fight or flight in the Old West, and there are endless accounts of murder, betrayal and corruption… all incredibly fascinating subjects to delve into musically. One needs only visit the Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone and read some of the grave markers to get a sense of exactly how wild the Old West was!
Congrats on your second full-length album ‘FIRE TO THE FUSE’, what can fans expect to hear?
Chopper: We expanded our styles a bit after our first album Boot Hill Hymnal. We wrote and recorded that album (BHH) before we had even played one show, and as good as it came out, this one was made after playing together for quite a while. I developed a few more tricks up my sleeve when it came to the production and mixing.
Chopper let us know about some of your history with the Cramps:
Chopper: Lux and Ivy came and saw me play a show with Mr. Badwrench and asked me to join the band. I did several tours with them and played on the last studio album, ‘Fiends of Dope Island’. It was a great experience and a gas to do.
Stevyn you were with Christian Death previously, could you tell us a bit about that:
Stevyn: I had the opportunity to play with Rozz Williams – one of the greatest front persons in the world. It changed the way that I look at playing music. Rozz, like few other people in this world, “walked it like he talked it.” End of story.
Who are some of your musical icons?
Chopper: Bauhaus, Bill Monroe, Howlin Wolf to name a few.
Mather: Always a difficult list to cull down, but certainly Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave, Loretta Lynn, PJ Harvey, and Siouxsie Sioux.
Where in Los Angeles are some cool hang out spots you may frequent?
Chopper: Forest Lawn, Hollywood Forever.
Stevyn: My refrigerator when it’s full of beer is definitely cool and I find myself there quite often.
Mather: Honestly, I’ve come to enjoy traveling outside of LA after being here for a decade now. When I’m in town, I do enjoy hanging out at General Lee’s in Chinatown… there’s a great exotic soul night there on Wednesdays called Shanghai Noir where you’ll hear an amazing collection of curated records by some of LA’s best dj’s.
What is in the future for Heathen Apostles?
Chopper: We will continue to constantly release music and videos, and play live whenever we can, either as the full band or as the duo that Mather and I have been doing.
Mather: We just wrapped up our first tour as a duo act, and certainly will be hitting the road again in 2016 and playing as often as possible. We’re also currently in pre-production for the video for our next single “Drowned in Trouble”, as well as another EP. Those interested in keeping up with all of our releases can sign up for our newsletter at www.HeathenApostles.com as well as “like” us on Facebook and Instagram.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Mather: To me, dark beauty is beauty found in the nontraditional and in the unexpected. For instance, while our culture tends to shun and fear death (and even deny its presence), I personally find there to be beauty in how it is inevitable and universal. Certainly other cultures see this, and choose to embrace and celebrate it. Dark beauty to me also can be the ability for an artist to take something generally regarded as “ugly” or “negative” and transform it into something beautiful through their art. As the Heathen Apostles, we aim to do this with our music – it’s an interesting challenge!