‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is a career highlight for Nick Offerman

Brett Haley’s gem is a faithful tribute to the power of music.

Advertisements

Frank Fisher (a never-better Nick Offerman) is in love with music; everything about it excites him and ignites a story involving his past. However, he’s fallen out of love with selling music, as in records at his classic vinyl shop that is seeing rent rise and customers decrease. Frank is so old school that he smokes a cigarette inside the store when it is clearly against the rules. He doesn’t care about the rules, because in his eyes, music has no rules. He also drinks cheap beer and straight bourbon.

What Frank would like to do is make music with his daughter, the brilliant Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is about to leave for medical school, but has an incredible voice that shouldn’t be wasted. This father-daughter connection is the heart and soul of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, a heartwarming flick that combines flavors of John Carney’s Begin Again with Jon Favreau’s Chef. This is the kind of movie that will honestly make you feel good while making you blow the dust off your record player for an impromptu night of tunes.

Haley’s secret ingredient in storytelling is simplicity and restraint. We don’t have to know Frank’s entire backstory and what makes him tick, because the filmmakers are going to tell us over the course of 97 minutes. As he did with Sam Elliott in The Hero and Blythe Danner (who has a sweet supporting role here) in I’ll See You in My Dreams, Haley gives a versatile actor the role of a lifetime with Offerman and Frank.

Offerman gives such a convincing performance that it makes you want to go looking for Frank in New York. You think he’s out there, popping cynical anecdotes off like he flicks cigarette ashes on the street. While he won’t win an Oscar or make you reevaluate what determines cornerstone acting, the actor slips on the soul of this retired musician like a broken-in pair of sneakers.

Unlike an actor trying to find his way into a role like a drunk would wander around the perimeter of his apartment building, Offerman’s take on Frank feels lived in and not forced. Haley gave him a fine side piece on The Hero, but serves him an entire pie here. I hope they continue to work together.

Clemons more than holds her own with Offerman, playing a diligent young woman who can’t decide between momentary bliss with her father or a future that looks like a perfectly made, if boring, bed. Sam also happens to be in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), which further complicates her desire to relocate across the country. What if art was knocking on your door even though a proven, if lonely, career was honking the horn outside in a car ready to uproot your entire life? Clemons makes you feel that pain.

Ted Danson puts in solid work here as Frank’s friend, a bartender who is at ease with life and tries to push Frank in that direction. Danson is one of those guys who can pop up in any movie and lend it some comedic wit and grace. Toni Collette is also good as Frank’s landlord and “friend” who sees something in him that still appears blurry and unrealistic to him. As Frank’s eccentric and troublesome mother, Danner plays completely against her part in Haley’s earlier film-and it’s hilarious.

Great acting is when a person doesn’t need prosthetic to make you believe they are someone else. All the actors do that here with ease in roles that were made for their talents. That’s a rare thing.

The music, arranged and written by Keegan DeWitt (who wrote a beautiful song for The Hero), is catchy and unique. An alternative rock with some punk riffs thrown in. Clemons and Offerman sing and perform the tunes, which helps a lot in the convincing department. Frank singing a quiet, sad song for Sam will make you tear up a little because you know it entails their past. Again, the actors convince. If you are going to make a film about music, it better convince.

I liked how the ending didn’t tie a neat bow on things, instead leaving them open to interpretation and conversation. The running time flies by, feeling more like a tease than a “check your watch” convention. As the credits approach, you feel them and wish there was more time with Frank, Sam, Dave and Leslie. The special films make you feel that, like there’s a second chapter that won’t be forced upon your plate.

Hearts Beat Loud is one of the warmest films I’ve seen in a long time. It preaches hope without beating you over the head with a message and calms your soul with the music it presents. Instead of being a mere crutch, the songs exist as supporting actors carrying their own weight.

Like Jeff Nichols, Brett Haley makes simplistic, yet potent, indie films. There are no costumes or special effects. Just people playing music as if it aided their hearts.

Wherever Haley goes next, I’m following. You should to.

Pretty Little Empire’s William Godfred breaks out

Tonight at Off Broadway in St. Louis, Will Godfred teams up with Jessica Lea Mayfield for a show to launch his solo album. Will and I had a chat last week.

 

W Godfred

They say America is the land of opportunity and one must take control of every possible chance dealt their way. That saying carries the most weight in the world of music, where faces come and go as the years pass by. St. Louis native Will Godfred got together with fellow STL music disciple Justin Johnson and helped form the popular Pretty Little Empire and they made great music together. Recently, Godfred had a chance to hitch a ride on Jessica Mayfield, one of the music world’s biggest indie darlings, and her tour.

Strong arming that opportunity has given Godfred a chance to open for Mayfield on January 22nd at Off Broadway. He will be playing song from his brand new solo record. While Johnson may join him on stage for a few, it will be Godfred’s first big night in front of a home crowd playing music that has been rattling around his head for years. This past week, I grasped the opportunity to speak with Godfred about PLE, the time in between, and his new solo album.

KSDK-According to your Facebook page, December marked seven years since your first rehearsal with Pretty Little Empire. Do you ever take a moment, step back and think about how far you have come with your music? 

Godfred-I definitely do. I’m so grateful when I think about all the great opportunities we’ve had as a band. I definitely think we’ve come a long way when I think of all the great people and killer shows we’ve been a part of over the years.

KSDK-When did it all begin? You, music and the need to play…? 

Godfred-I started playing when I was 20 or 21. I played bass casually with a few friends that also played instruments. We ended up buying a digital recorder and I started recording everyone’s songs, including my own. A year or two later I met Justin and we decided to record an album in my apartment and that pretty much became how Pretty Little Empire started.

KSDK-While you, Justin Johnson, and Wade Durbin formed Pretty Little Empire, all of you have your side projects. Johnson recently collaborated with Jim Peters on Fog Lights and Wade has We Bite. This solo album for you. Do you find differences in playing inside a band formed years ago as opposed to putting together your own record? Or is it all just music?

Godfred-When it comes to recording music, I feel as though it’s one of my strong suits. I had a heavy hand in putting together the Pretty Little Empire records, so it wasn’t a foreign place for me. Plus, I made this record at Native Sound with David Beeman who put the last Pretty Little Empire album together. It was a very familiar, open environment to work in.

KSDK-How did you get the opportunity to share a show with Jessica Mayfield?

Godfred-I started working at Native Sound studios and David was tour managing for Jessica. I had the opportunity to go on tour with them and do some stage hand work and see what tour managing was all about. Tour managing has become a part of what Native Sound Studios can provide – David and Ben (our head engineers at the studio) both tour manage and run sound on long US and European tours. It is a great experience to be a part of.    

KSDK-Is there a better feeling playing in front of your hometown? 

Godfred-There’s nothing better than playing in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd!

KSDK-What would you say the theme of this album is? 

Godfred-I don’t know that the album has a single theme. Some of these songs are several years old. I would say the songs are a calibration of my own and my friends’ experiences in life.

KSDK-Pretty Little Empire’s music was recently played on a movie on Netflix. Being movie fanatics, it’s got to be a quiet kick hearing your music in a movie? 

Godfred-It’s a surreal feeing hearing your music on the big screen. We’ve definitely made a few fans from the movie. Me and Justin went to the premier of Last Time We Had Fun at the Oxford Film Festival. Seeing how well the movie played in front of a sold out crowd was a once in a lifetime experience. Me and Justin have also drove head first into film soundtracking and scoring, so it was a great stepping stone for us. 

KSDK-Where can fans buy your solo album if they don’t make it out on Friday, the 22nd? 

Godfred-That’s a good question. I plan to get it in all the local record shops. You can always message me at William Godfred on Facebook.

KSDK-Any plans for more shows around the area or a possible short tour? Where can fans find more Godfred at? 

Godfred-There are no plans for any upcoming shows or tours, but there’s always a chance something may come down the pipe line. I’m sure I will play more shows with this lineup.

KSDK-Can fans expect a few PLE covers when Justin joins you on stage? 

Godfred-Not this time but maybe in the future. 

KSDK-In closing, all these years later, what keeps you on the stage? Many people find something stimulating for a short period of time and give it up. You’ve stayed in the ring, found some success and had some fun. What keeps you in it? 

Godfred-It’s really great working with all the great friends I’ve made over the years. Playing with Justin Johnson and all the members of Pretty Little Empire and working David Beeman and Ben Majchrzakat Native Sound has been what keeps me going. Being around such great friends and so much talent, there’s always something exciting and new happening. I owe everything to these folks.  

KSDK-Finally, thoughts on the latest Star Wars film? 

Godfred-I enjoyed it a lot, but it is nothing compared to Empire Strikes Back! 

Some things are born with us. A gift, a need or a will to do something that if you do not partake in, life won’t seem as grand. For Godfred, it’s music. Making it, playing it and creating it for people to enjoy and consume. He doesn’t get to do it as much as he wants but he doesn’t waste opportunities.

When you hear him play live, a comfort and electricity enter your system. Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” When Godfred unleashes his arsenal of singer/songwriter ferocity on you on January 22nd, you won’t just feel good. You will feel fulfilled. Go to the show. Be there for something special.

The Fog Lights Interview: St. Louis musicians rock Blueberry Hill

The Fog Lights are a great new band from The Lou, and their debut album, Manhassett, is not one to miss. See them live July 25th at Blueberry Hill. I had a chance to talk at them about their roots, passion and love for music.

Fog LightsThere’s something about great music hitting your ears for the first time. Like a drop of rain hitting your forehead. Emotions instantly stir and a memory creeps in that has been unleashed due to that tune.

When I listened to Justin Johnson and Jim Peters’ new two piece band, The Fog Lights, harmonize on the new single, “Lead the Way”, I instantly got swept up with the song. A bad day became a distant memory and I was happy. It didn’t hurt that the three of us went to the same high school(Brentwood High School in St. Louis county) or that the album title, Manhassett, references an apartment complex where this album came together and all three of us lived in at one time or another. I didn’t care what genre it belonged to because the feeling was enough.

Justin and Jim are real authentic musicians and when I say that I mean the second you hear their music, the connection is established and you understand they do this because they need to. They do this for a living or in Justin’s case, it’s a calling you mix with a regular job because a world without music is a scary place. It’s a part of who they are and that isn’t always the case in today’s commercially driven digital music world.

This Saturday at St. Louis’ famous Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room, The Fog Lights will have their album release show along with two other bands and they promise a night of great music. This past weekend, I had the chance to ask them each a few questions. Justin was on the road in Texas and Jim was in Kansas City with one of his other bands, Javier Mendoza. The Q&A quickly became a journey of some sorts. Continue reading “The Fog Lights Interview: St. Louis musicians rock Blueberry Hill”

Begin Again Captures The Heart

Music and movies can make a great couple when the right filmmaker is at the controls. Music can elevate scenes inside a flick and take them to another place while transforming the film from a visual pleasure into something with feeling and emotion. John Carney provided audiences with a taste of this wicked combination with Once, a film about two Irish singers who fall in love during the production of an album. It was also about two lost souls coming together and using every ounce of ability they had in order to recapture their lives. Carney takes that easy going formula and broadens the horizons with Begin Again, a tremendously heartfelt film starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. He switches the locale from London to New York and inserts real life musicians Adam Levine and Ceelo Green into the fold.

begin-again-film-2014

The plot is simple. Dan Mulligan(Ruffalo) is a down on his luck music producer and he is on the edge of dropping everything when he stumbles into a bar and hears Greta(Knightley) spinning an acoustic to a clearly uninterested bar of young souls. Carney is a genius here, as he shows Dan coming to the center of the room, drunk and staggering yet clearly inspired and feeling rejuvenated. Greta is simply sitting on a stool singing while producing some light rhythm with the guitar, but Dan sees the drums kicking up in his head and he pictures a cello and violin getting involved into the process. Right before our eyes, Carney is showing us how a simple page of lyrics and a voice can be the beginning of something special. As he tells Greta later, this is where greatness happens and one can see clearly. When you are your lowest point, drunk and seemingly out of options. Dan sees something in Greta and together, they do something nobody has done before. Create a live album around New York City. Everything else is icing on the cake.

The dialogue produced by Carney is spot on. It’s brutal, real and doesn’t ignore the cutthroat mindset that many people run into when working in the music industry. The cast handles it extremely well, with Hailee Steinfield, Catherine Keener, and Mos Def contributing solid supporting work along with Levine in a role that may not turn him into a movie star but reveals that there is more to him than Maroon 5. James Corden provides the epic comic relief as Greta’s friend from London who makes NYC seem a little less serious. Corden is a Tony Award winning performer and brings an array of abilities to the table.

Continue reading “Begin Again Captures The Heart”

Spending A Night With 1917 Soundtrack

“The live set is like stepping into a time machine portal into the 1950’s when R&B, Rock and Roll and Soul were being created.”-Mario Mathon

As a lifelong lover of music, I didn’t hesitate at the chance to watch my good friend and fellow artist Mathon record a session at Utopia Studios in downtown St. Louis1938012_987544336790_1249102921_n with his bandmates Jordan Mays and Amonte Henry. Together, they form 1917 Soundtrack, a group that defies distinction by a single genre and instead lives on the edges of multiple sounds. R&B, soul, blues, and a little rock mixed in there.  Give it a name but know this.  Hearing it makes your body come alive when Henry is pounding the drums, Mays working the guitar and Mathon strutting around the room with a microphone in his hand singing the blues.  Radio and news footage accompany the opening of their tracks and as they play, it’s nearly as if the band is driving a vehicle into a storm cloud of musicianship and taking you along for the ride.   It’s quite the experience.  Confidence flows through anyone’s veins while they watch music unfold. There’s a detailed rhythm to the recording of an album and that night I got to see the steps and work put forth by three men who want to make it big. What other damn reason would you be expressing yourself with so much passion for?

1926142_987498698250_12140651_oEach guy has a story that’s rooted in artistic drive and flawed grace.   As a friend and fan alike, I wanted to get the back story behind the need for this trio to use their free time to create something special. I write in my free time and do so because I feel I have something to offer people and it energizes my soul.  When I talked to Mathon about describing his music, the man was as blunt as a solo at Madison Square Garden.  “Saint Louis old school, birthplace, rhythm & blues, rock and roll, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Muddy Waters influence on the whole sonic and physical vibe of the music.”  Wrap your head around that.

image (4)

Mathon, vocalist and pianist,  hasn’t been easy on himself.  He is one of those artists who will sit there and tell you every day is a struggle.  This is the same guy who signed to a local hip-hop soul development deal as a teenager, eventually selling an urban-radio ad jingle to McDonald’s through local 3rd party producers.  He moved to St. Louis from Chicago at the age of 14, and met Mays based on their shared love of music in Brentwood High School.  Total opposites in personality while Mays was off pursuing his musical ambitions and education, Mathon would dedicate his time to the streets.  Mathon became enclosed in the deadly web of the sale and use of narcotics, eventually doing a two year prison sentence, spending the majority of his incarceration sharpening his musical sword.  Upon release he bounced around from local bands and production teams before hooking back up with Mays to write and record the “I Cant Believe How Much Of An Asshole Im Not Being” EP.

Continue reading “Spending A Night With 1917 Soundtrack”