Mixtape Walkthrough: Hearteyes dissects his adventurous new release, Headbangers 2
The Sydney producer's latest release includes collaborations with Brodinski, Mall Grab's Jordon Alexander side-project, COUCOU CHLOE and more.
The guest collaborators of Hearteyes' new mixtape - Headbangers 2 - are about all the incentive you need to introduce yourself to the Sydney-based musician. Within the space of nine tracks, Maurice Santiago's music project is able to capture some of dance music's pioneering names - French icon Brodinski, Mall Grab's self-titled Jordon Alexander side-project - with glimpses of punk and pop experimentalists, shown through newcomers including Illawarra rising-name Up Late and French one-to-watch COUCOU CHLOE.
It's a diverse collection of names, but one that reflects the project's own versatility and the talent and prowess that Hearteyes is able to show within each of the sounds he approaches. It's something that has long defined Maurice Santiago's musicianship too; the Sydney musician having a long-winding history through music's outer-edges, switching between punk projects and club production throughout the course of his last few years, bringing his distinctive flairs to every sound the musician sets his sights (and ears) on.
This experimental creativity is something that's defining of the Hearteyes project, and something shown through his new mixtape Hearteyes 2, which over the course of its aforementioned nine tracks, captures the highlights of Hearteyes' sound and the forward-thinking boundary-pushing that's showcased within. It's a mixtape that really pushes the limits of music creation, moulding together otherwise-separated sounds with an intricacy that lets them fit together like puzzle pieces destined for one another; Headbangers smashing together genres with such a force that eventually, they all become one.
It's a feeling that envelops Headbangers 2, as the mixtape's duration continues on. The songs veer between crunchy hip-hop, rushing club music and rough-around-the-edges pop; sounds united by the way Hearteyes is able to warp them into his own flavour and transform them into his own. The mixtape is a labour of love that shows through its precision, and how in the realms of hyperpop to punk are able to come together within the context of Hearteyes' versatility - nothing feels too far-reaching for the musician.
"Beginning as a bunch of demos that traversed the peripheries of pop punk, emo, rock and hip hop, HEADBANGERS 2 evolved into something beyond a collection of songs. It’s labelled as a ‘mixtape’ but following the track by track, it may read as a concept record of sorts. Both are untrue – I think this record is a map of the internal destinations I had to confront in search of becoming a happier, healthier, and more compassionate person," he says. "Co-produced and co-written with Nat Sherwood, the record has been the longest I’ve sat on something. Exactly 13 months. There have been about 20+ iterations of this record in that time and it wasn’t until December 2020 that it was completed."
As the musician continues, Hearteyes explains how Headbangers 2 is a reflective journey through his own experiences with bipolar disorder - something he's explored through his music, but otherwise, has kept private to himself. " I was never planning to tell anyone the meaning behind any of these songs, only to let them make up their own mind, but I would be doing a disservice to myself and my experiences over the past two years living with bipolar," he says. "I don’t ever speak on it in my personal life, only my close friends and family know about it, I think that ate away at me more and more last year, and this record became the first step with being honest with myself."
It's an incredible release that really shows how far Australian music can go, and you can take a dive into the mixtape below, alongside a track by track walkthrough from Hearteyes that breaks down Headbangers 2 and its creation one song at a time.
TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT:
This song was the last written and recorded for the record in December 2020. I’m trying to find the words to have this make sense in the grand scheme of the record, lest it become a ‘Momento’ moment where the climax is at the beginning. Anyway, I digress. Since my first manic episode in the summer of 2018/19, I have spent close to three years traversing the unpredictable landscape of bipolar disorder. Sparing the details, the last two years have been marred by substance abuse, catatonic depression, mystical delusions of grandeur, social isolation and agoraphobia, commandeered by an acute practice of punitive, self-destructive behaviour for the shame, guilt and hopelessness I experienced.
Upon reflection, TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT is a coda to the entire record. It was the embodiment of everything I felt and experienced in two years; it ties every song together, having wrote them during different emotional stages in a six-month period. Nat played the guitar, and I knew exactly what I needed to say. I had this stream of consciousness into my Notes app and just told him to start recording ASAP. One take and it was done. I remember screaming the final “take this to your grave” and my eyes welling up. As corny as that sounds it was probably the most truly profound musical experience I’ve had, where I felt like it had a direct purpose to my life. I can only recount the experience as closing a truly negative chapter in my life and beginning the healing process. Ever since writing TWO YEARS UNDER DIRT, I find it hard to write music anymore. I feel like I’ve said everything I needed to say, and I thank Nat Sherwood for bringing that to life every day.
SUPERST4R is about mania’s grandiose delusions, spurred on by narcissism and risk-taking behaviour and how it can be toxic within platonic, and especially romantic relationships. Admittedly I wasn’t present in a lot of my relationships over the last couple of years with friends, family and partners, and I suppose SUPERST4R denotes the unpredictable, high-functioning personality I had in my pursuit to become a superstar. It’s pretty matter of fact when I say “sex, money, drugs, fans it’s all I think about when I’m in your bed.” The duality of recognising this as toxic behaviour through the self-admission of being an asshole speaks to my cognizance of understanding my behaviour was wrong, but there was this fire inside my brain that I couldn’t extinguish. Every waking moment all I thought about was taking over the world, so how do I obtain that feeling? Just synthesise it. This is where most of my days went to being under the influence to do any task. I told someone one time during one of these experiences some bullshit that I thought was the most profound adage, like some “am I living or just breathing?” type shit.
This was probably one of the more fun songs to write. Nat and I made this back-to-back with ALLBLACK from our first session. I’m not even going to try embellishing anything about these two songs, they are legit just pop songs that lack any substance. I feel nothing towards either of them, but I suppose that indicates where I was at in the early stages of HEADBANGERS 2 – trying to make music that I think a large group of people would like. Observation without nuance.
I actually hate breakup songs; I think they are really corny. The process of taking them from demo stages to their final master was fun, though. Linking with 8485 was cool, I’ve always been a fan of her music and having her on the track took it to that next level that it needed. I think F.U.A. was just a great exercise in flexing my songwriting, production and composition muscles. I don’t take the experience in vain; I just know I won’t be making songs like that again. So why would I include it on the record? Cause it’s too good of a song not to lol.
My friend Macandrew from Phoenix, Arizona sent me this beat while I was driving to the post office, and I immediately turned the car around home to record. I remember pulling over on Cleveland Street in Surry Hills where there was a clearway and blowing his phone up like, “SEND THE STEMS NOW, SEND THE MP3, DON’T WORRY ABOUT MIXING JUST SEND IT ALL NOW.” I’ve known Mac for a long time, we met when the band I was in toured America for the first time in 2016 and ever since then we have become great friends and musical companions in whatever projects we undertake. He has his own project called ‘Separate Ways’, we have done a bunch of songs together in the past over email. Everything just works, we are definitely on the same wavelength when it comes to music, and I think he knew that when sending me the DEATHWISH beat.
Thematically, the song is just an espousal of the antisocial behaviour and antipathy towards responsibility I possessed during that time. I took a lot of unnecessary risks for nothing, only to come out the other end more obnoxious and feeling bulletproof. I really didn’t care if I lived or died with a lot of what I was doing.
I got a beat off Brodinski sometime at the end of last year, having been a big fan of his for years I was excited to be able to work with one of my favourite producers. I sat on the song for ages, I sent him a few iterations of the song, as well as my friend Jordon (Mall Grab) who actually played one of them on his RINSE FM show, which I think is still online. None of the versions were sitting right, I think being so caught up in the process of working with more rock-adjacent sounds had thrown me off. Months later I woke up one day, took the beat and the verses and just fucked them up as much as possible, not thinking I was going to use it for anything, probably a DJ tool or something for random mixes.
I sent it to Coalesce and then they came back with the confirmation of the COUCOU CHLOE feature. A week later we had the verse and that was it. The song is about a bunch of really weird recurring nightmares I was having about me kidnapping a bunch of people and torturing them, but at the end of the dream I find out it’s actually me that I’m torturing. Almost like my own duality fighting to the death to see who will possess my living body. Maybe it means something, I’m bad at interpreting dreams.
This is honestly just a cute song in my opinion. If you listen to the lyrics, you can kind of deduce what it means. It’s pretty on the nose so nothing too meaningful. I did record this in 2019 with iPod headphones, though.
Jordon and I began working on this around November last year. I had an immediate connection to his solo music that is more pop-adjacent, and we spoke at length over FaceTime about working on music together for a while, and when I had the ELECTROBOY verses and hook done I sent it to him to do whatever he wanted. I think the beauty of that song is its ability to assume differing meanings based on its production. I’ve had some people call it ‘slowcore’, like Carissa’s Weird and Low, and others call it indie pop, emo, whatever. I like that about music.
The song to me has a completely different meaning to how Jordon, or how the audience, interprets it. I think by the nature of it being such a bittersweet composition that it can evoke feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, etc. To me it’s a song about regaining power, acknowledging all my shortcomings and recognising that I can only be more compassionate with myself to achieve happiness. The title is a namesake to Andy Behrman’s memoir of the same name, something that I read that helped a lot with understanding how the manic brain operates.
I made a demo of this in June last year and sent it to my friend Max (Up Late). We both grew up going to hardcore shows in Wollongong when we were teenagers and after about 10 years of no contact, we began speaking again based on our mutual interest for the music we were making. I met Nat through Max, he was working out of his studio in Leichhardt, which is where I lived at the time, and invited me to hang out one weekend. I met Nat there and he remade the beat and recorded all the vocals in a couple of hours. The song was the first completed for the record and the one that got Coalesce’s attention. I knew from that moment that Nat needed to have a hand in this record going forward.
I had about nine songs completed for HEADBANGERS 2 in July 2020, pre-empting a September release, but they all got scrapped once I met Nat. He really is one of the best producers, songwriters and engineers I’ve ever met.
It’s actually funny to me how this song ends the record. I had no intention of ever putting it on the record. I think I recorded this just before Christmas. The beat is by Michael Warren, who has produced for a bunch of hyperpop artists and I liked how it sounded like a hybrid of Owl City, The Postal Service and Saves The Day. I originally recorded the vocals for this over another beat around September and it was a lot darker tonally. I didn’t use it and when I got the beat from Michael, I tried writing something completely different, then I was so over it. I just put the old vocals on his beat as they were in the same key and it just hit. It went from super drab to quite uplifting, like it could be in a credit roll in a movie or something.
The realisation of the title’s poignancy didn’t come until probably like two months ago after I looked at the record holistically. It is the perfect end to the record when you listen from top to bottom. It speaks to how since making this record, I’ve simplified my life and created a more compassionate relationship with myself. I’ve been sober for months, exercise daily, don’t use social media much, have found a healthy balance between myself and my friends despite a global pandemic, and have looked inward to really find what it is I seek in the process of not just making music, but existing. To say this record has been exhausting is an understatement – but like I stated, it was a necessary evil for me to close a truly destructive chapter of my life.
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