Interview: Head North Discusses Band’s New Sound and the Making of Their Breakaway Album

Head North’s debut full-length album The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World represents a new direction for the band. The Buffalo-based quartet has shed their teenage pop punk angst and emerged from last year’s break with an impressive coming-of-age indie rock venture.

Head North. Photo: Eli Ritter

On The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World, singer Brent Martone’s weathered vocals convey a wisdom beyond his youth as he delivers storylines of characters searching for meaning in a dystopian world in which love and God are forbidden. The instrumentation augments the myriad of moods, from the melancholy march in “Sort of Medicine” to the frantic breakdown in “Pulse.” Experimental elements from spoken word segments to a snippet of bird songs contribute to the authenticity in the story. The result is a work that is honest, ambitious, and creative. It’s as intriguing on the first listen as it is on the hundredth. Maybe even more so.

NYS Music sat down with drummer Ben Lieber over a cup of coffee at an unpretentious shop away from the touristy area of Buffalo. We talked about the evolution of the band, the creation of the album, and playing live shows.

Paula Cummings: Head North started as a pop punk band?

Ben Lieber: We had a great year in 2015. We were very busy. We did the country three times that year, and put out two releases. Everything was going great. We were like ‘We got this record deal, we’re going to be on tour with these bands, we’re 18/19 years old, pissed off at the world, let’s make an angry emo record, and it will sell.’ And that’s what it did.

PC: What factors led to changing the direction the band was heading?

BL: The way we operated our band, and the trajectory that we were on in 2015, helped us decide what type of band we wanted to be and how we wanted our sound to reflect that. And I think what it came down to was being genuine. The sonic direction was a result of personal growth as well as realizing what we didn’t want to do.

PC: At what point did you know this was going to be a concept album?

BL: Brent had the basic idea of the story for a long time. He spent a lot of time with himself to figure this out. I also think there’s a lot of the narratives in the record that are true to our lives, which had to happen for there to be a resolve in the story. Our lives needed to happen. It’s comforting because we went through all that shit and it took so long, but clearly it needed to happen in order to make this record.

PC: What was it like to record the album?

BL: We funded the recording ourselves. When we were recording, I feel we were all in this mindset that it had been so long since the band was hyped, we were so far out, that we didn’t care. The record was solely ours at this point, so we could do whatever we wanted. It was very freeing. Previous to this recording, we had always done it in the format of instrument to instrument. That’s cool and allows for speedy work, but it doesn’t allow you to get into the vibe of the song. But with this recording, we had the whole studio for two weeks, and we did it song-by-song. Having that ability made a huge difference.

PC: Head North has played everywhere from basement house shows to large venues. Where do you prefer to perform?

BL: Playing a massive venue, the wall of sound is the coolest feeling for sure, but I still like the intimacy of a small show. The new music is set up for a full stage. We run sample pads and multiple harmonies, and try to create a massive sound. Sometimes we struggle to translate that to a house or DIY show. But the best way to accomplish that is to play it like a punk show like we used to. At the end of the day, it’s about getting energy out, feeling it. It’s a live experience. And I like playing first. I like opening a show. Being the first band is sink or swim. If you’re sick, you’re going to win them over, but if you’re not, people aren’t going to care. I like that challenge.

The Last Living Man Alive Ever In The History Of The World is available through iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Physical copies on CD and vinyl, as well as other merchandise, are available on the Head North webstore.

Head North