Band Booking: Talking True Crime and Bad Economists With Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate is a rock band based in Brooklyn, New York. Formed after the dissolution of the punk/shoegaze band Sweet Bulbs, their garage-tinged sound boasts driving guitars and clear ringing vocals courtesy of their singer Jess Paps. Composed of members Mike Sheffield,  Jess Paps, Jack Wolf, Patrick Stankard and Alex Cvetovich, they sound like what would happen if My Bloody Valentine had listened to more Gun Club.

I caught up with them backstage at New York University’s Kimmel Center, where they were playing a show with Advaeta and Mt. Eerie. While enjoying the complimentary pizza and beer, I chatted with them about their literary influences and their new EP.

What is the band doing these days?
Mike: We just finished recording an album, which is exciting. It’s going to be our first full-length. It will hopefully be out sometime early next year. And we’ve got some shows.  This one, and then we’ll be playing on the 14th at the Brooklyn Bazaar with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which should be cool. Our seven-inch just came today. It’s been out online for a little while, but we finally have copies. It’s called High Riser.

Nice. How many songs are on it?
Mike: Seven. Seven inches, seven songs!

You guys reading anything good right now?
Mike: I’m reading Resuscitation of a Hanged Man by Denis Johnson. Awesome writer. It’s dark, quirky.

Jess: I’m reading Ann Rule’s Worth More Dead.

That’s true crime. You’re big into that stuff, right?
Jess: Yeah.

Jess: Because when I was a little kid, my Mom used to read me true crime books instead of kids’ books, so I’m really into murder.

Oh, okay. So it really fucked you up.
Jess: No it didn’t, but it’s like my pornography.

Jack: I’m awaiting the arrival of a book by my friend who lives in Poland. It’s going to be called Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Dioramas. His name’s Stefan Lorenzutti, future children’s book author extraordinaire. He grew up here and then married this woman in Krakow and they live with their dog Uomo and go hiking everyday and write stories and take photographs.

That’s pretty cool. What about yourself?
Patrick: I’ve been in the middle of this book Snow Crash for the past four months.

Oh Neal Stephenson.Yeah, that one is amazing.
Patrick: Yeah, it’s really cool. I like it, it’s really tongue-in-cheek. I always heard about it from my friends who were into computer science.

Alex: I’m reading William Kotzwinkle’s The Fan Man. I’m also reading The Economist. Or actually, well I had the subscription but then I cancelled it, because I can’t afford it.

Guess you’re not a very good economist. (To Jess) You’re really into poetry, right?
Jess: Yeah. I really like Adrienne Rich a lot. She’s great, pretty much the best. I’m super into the confessional types, W.D. Snodgrass and Plath and Sexton, I think they’re very underrated. And you know who’s the best – what’s his name?

Alex: Adam Sandler?

Jess: Yeah, Adam Sandler.

Alex: But before Happy Gilmore.

Jess: Oh wait, yeah, his name’s Matthew Zapruder. He just came out with a new poem “Come On All You Ghosts.” I just met him and I made him sign everything. I’m a rapacious reader of Paris Review, so I follow anyone they publish.

What’s up with that song “Pogo”? Tell me about that one.
J: Our whole EP’s streaming on Impose and on Fire Talk Records. “Pogo’s” about being out on a Friday night, being super angry at your parents, and wanting to go out and dance with your friends. So it’s kind of like an adolescent regressive jam, just about wanting to have fun and dance.

Nice. What about the track “Skin Weed”?
J: It’s about burning someone you love on the arm, and smoking drugs and having fun and being in love. The whole EP is a summer love album, but then we all fell out of love and so now everything is horrible and dark.

Oh really, well that’s good. So who writes most of the songs?
Mike: All of us.

When you write, do you have literary influences that affect your lyrical choices?
Mike: Jess writes most of the songs these days.

J:  Mostly Mike or Alex will write a riff and then we’ll jam it as a band. And then I’ll take lyrics from poems or something. The song “Sea Swings” on the new EP is adapted from an Anne Sexton poem called “The Truth The Dead Know”. The line is:  “The sea swings in like an iron gate and we touch. In another country, people die.” The song is based on the poem.

There are a lot of similarities between the literary scene and music scene insofar as both have been changed by technology, and the markets for both have been turned on their heads. How do you feel about being in the music industry, and what it’s become?
J: I think it’s the same situation in poetry nowadays; it’s better to do it yourself, write your own poems, make your own zines, make your own records, maybe a record label will pick it up, maybe a publishing house will pick it up, but do it anyway. That’s how I feel.

Heaven’s Gate’s new EP High Riser is available now from Fire Talk Records. 

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1 comment

  1. Hey man, if these guys are into crime and noir, perhaps they’d dig my new post-apocalypse pulp fiction novella, Grave Digger Blues, out now in Kindle edition (with 100+ photos & drawings) and Blues Deluxe Edition for iPad, with music & audio chapters. I’m a huge, HUGE Denis Johnson fan, so this piece clicked with me.