Naked Hearts might be from Brooklyn, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the band's music. The duo of Amy Cooper and Noah Wheeler don’t use girl-group harmonies, or barely know how to play their instruments, or slavishly ape some other, more popular indie group. Instead, they make bare-bones indie rock more in the mold of the Breeders than the Vivian Girls. It’s thunderous, almost disturbingly moving music, lyrically obsessed with love, sex, and obsession itself. It’s what rock should be about.
As it turns out, the band has evolved along with Cooper and Wheeler's relationship, getting louder as they got closer (until they got really close, then it mellowed out). It’s the sound of their (naked) hearts. Here, Cooper speaks about Naked Heart’s recently self-released debut album, Mass Hysteria, love, and getting the perfect guitar sound.
How did Naked Hearts start and come to be what it is?
I’d put out a few solo records before Naked Hearts, and Noah had played in some other bands, too. We met at Pianos, both playing on the same night in different bands. And he loved my music, and I loved what he was playing, and we were like, “Hey, what’s up?” And we started playing together.
Eventually Noah came on tour with me to play drums. While we were on tour, he showed me some of his songs. We’d just hang around, singing, and he’d sing harmonies with me, and we were like, “Wow, let’s check this out.” And we started writing songs together. The first song was “Naked Hearts.” Once we wrote that song, we realized that we had something together ... musically. And we decided to keep writing songs together as Naked Hearts.
A lot of Naked Hearts' music has a '90s independent-rock flavor. Is that the kind of stuff you were listening to where you were a kid, when you were 15?
I was listening to Heart. I really liked Heart. I really liked the Breeders. I loved PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, the Doves. That’s my side. I think Noah was more Pixies and Radiohead. We both listened to the Lemonheads a lot.
“Boyfriend” on Mass Hysteria really reminds me of Liz Phair.
I had never heard her until I was older, maybe 22 or something, and people were like, “You know, you really sound a lot like this girl.” I’d only heard “Supernova.” I’d never heard Exile In Guyville. And I checked out the record, and I was like, “Are you kidding me? I love this.” We actually have the same birthday. I love her; I think she’s amazing. I love that Exile has like 20 songs on it. It’s over an hour -- it’s so awesome.
Your record is so short, though! Why is that?
We’re into this whole concise thing. We write the songs, and then we cut out whatever doesn’t really need to be there. We were really feeling the tight, rocking, short thing on this record. I don’t know what’s going to happen on the next record; we’ve been kind of mellowing out a little bit.
It seems like you’re a band for which your live show is really important, and you both seem like you’re natural performers. Is the live show the most important part of Naked Hearts?
I think so. I think that’s where we feel the most effective in what we’re doing. The whole recording process is special for us, too, but I think maybe since we do it more often, it’s become the most important thing to us.
Tell me something about one song on the record that you really love.
One particular that sticks out is “Dark Shade,” which is such a moment between us. We wrote that song in about 10 minutes, and I love when that happens. It’s a moment; it’s a bond. A lot of songs you work hard at, you sculpt, but sometimes there’s a song that just ... happens. I think they’re always really special moments.
Also, no one will care about this, but there’s a part in the bridge of “Alpha Beta,” which is a really intense song that Noah sings, where the keys come in, and there’s a guitar sound. I’m really excited about that guitar sound. It’s the guitar sound you hear on records that you think you’ll never really be able to attain.
A lot of your songs are about relationships, and love, but not in a utopian way. Do you believe love exists?
Yes. Definitely yes. That’s why all my songs are about it. That’s what we focus on: connecting and expressing that connection.