A Conversation With… Heartwork

In the days before the release of his long awaited debut album (which is a bloomin’ STONKER by the way – review here), we sent Dan Buckingham (@DanBuckingham_) to have a chat with his buddy Dan O’Dell AKA Heartwork to chat all things music.

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You’re currently on Aaaah Real Records. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
I’ve known Ian (head of the Label) for a good few years now as he’s been putting shows on in Cambridge for as long as I can remember. Pre-dating this whole Heartwork thing. In fact he was in the crowd for the second ever Dropout Dan (previous project) show back in 2009. In fact, I only found out recently that he stayed for one song and left as he thought it was awful haha. He told me that he likes this much better now! I had self-released two E.Ps (‘Five‘ & ‘Coloured Out‘) in 2014 but they were download only. Ian actually hit me up in the summer of 2015 asking if he could put them out on CD as a double E.P. My buddy Ben (B-Sydes) spoke very highly towards working with Ian as Aaahh!! Real Records put out his album a few months prior so it didn’t really take a lot of persuasion. I instantly said yes and within a couple of weeks we had the CD’s, T-Shirt mock ups and a release show all planned. Ian really put his money where his mouth is and I was impressed. It was a no brainer to go with him for this album release.
Did your decision to relocate to Cardiff, then later Swansea, have any influence on your songwriting?
It had influence in the sense that I had my own space. I moved to Cardiff in February 2015 with my buddy Chris, but with the way his work schedule was, he was hardly ever there. As I didn’t really know anyone, I spent the majority of the weekends in the house with my recording gear and started writing and demoing the songs that would eventually make up the album. Moving to Swansea 18 months later with my girlfriend who I met in Cardiff hasn’t really had an impact on my songwriting yet because as we moved in together, I was recording the album so I haven’t really written anything since. I’ve got some riffs floating around and a couple of lyric ideas but no full songs yet. She’s a great girl and has let me take over the spare room with all my equipment. When the time is right, I’ll start knuckling down and writing again. At the moment I’m just looking forward to the album release and focussing on the shows I have coming up.
You’ve released 2 EP’s previously, but your debut album sees you take a more ‘full band’ approach, was this a natural progression or something that you always intended?
A few months after I killed the Dropout Dan project dead, I played an acoustic show in 2014 under my real name alongside B-Sydes and Dave McPherson. I had booked the show whilst Dropout Dan was still a thing and hadn’t really planned for the show. I played some left over songs that had never been played live or released and the show was, can I swear?…fucking atrocious. Two of my friends actually got on stage and started dicking around to take the focus away from me. I love them for it. It ended up being a funny night but after that show, I didn’t want to pick up an acoustic guitar again. Then a break up happened and I started writing music again. That became the basis of those two E.Ps, but Heartwork was always meant to be more than “singer-songwriter” but I didn’t have a band. I started playing solo shows with the usual line-ups (which is by no means a bad thing as I have a lot of friends in that “scene”) just as a means to play shows and promote the E.Ps I had released. Once I’d moved to Cardiff and started writing the album, the song ‘Water’ was the first to come together and it had this full band/no-acoustic guitar feel to it. It was from that point on that I had the confidence to let Heartwork be the project it was always meant to be. I think it works because I don’t go by “Heartwork“. I always announce at shows “My name’s Dan and this is Heartwork”. That way it can be whatever it has to be. That’s not to say the next album will be straight up gangster rap or the heaviest death metal but if I write a bunch of acoustic songs and want to put it out as Heartwork, I will. It’s quite freeing.
You mentioned you will put out whatever you like under the Heartwork banner, what are some of your influences?
Oh man, that’s a hard one. As I said, the majority of shows I play are with the more “folk-punk” artists and I’m fortunate enough to know a bunch of people who do that kind of stuff really well and it’s always inspiring to be around this people. But it’s not really a genre I listen to. I mean, it’s definitely a style that I have a lot of time for and used to immerse myself in some years ago, but during the writing process for the album, I was listening to a LOT of Braid, American Football, Balance & Composure, Brand New, Frightened Rabbit, Manchester Orchestra, The Xcerts. Things like that. Some of my biggest influences are on the heavier side of things, stuff like Every Time I Die, Converge, Trivium, Gojira, Misery Signals. You might not hear that kind of influence in my music but I love the “huge-ness” and the energy of that kind of stuff. Saying that, I recently got into The Menzingers and their new album ‘After The Party’ and I can’t turn it off. Basically, if there’s guitars, I’ll listen.
Can you tell us a bit more about the recording of the album? I heard it was quite a lengthy process and it took longer than you originally planned.
Sure. In February last year, Ian at Aaahh!!! Real Records and I put together a 2 month Kickstarter campaign to help find the album. By the end of that campaign, it was actually over-funded. Which was completely unexpected and I’m so grateful for that. The plan though was to record the drums in a “proper” studio then I’d record all guitars and vocals myself. The problems arose when I had two drummers back out and another drummer who recorded the drums in another studio and they just weren’t what I was looking for. It was stressful and it may seem quite pretentious but as it’s the first album I’ve ever put out, I didn’t want to settle for anything. It had to be right. So that pushed things back a few months until I teamed up with producer extraordinaire Matty Moon and a session drummer called Jake Hatter and we worked for two days straight on getting the drums sorted. I’d worked with Matty back in the Dropout Dan days and I was kind of kicking myself that I hadn’t just gone with him immediately. When the drums were done, I had to make the time to record guitars and vocals then send off to get mixed and mastered (again, by Matty). All in all, from recording the first drum track, to laying down the final vocals to getting the mastered tracks sent back, it took just under 7 months. When I had initially realised it was going to take much longer than anticipated, I threw together a 10 track bonus album for all pledgers. 5 acoustic versions of songs from the album and 5 crowd-voted covers. That was really fun! Everyone seemed really understandable though. I’m glad that it did take longer than I’d hoped because I think it sounds great. I’m not proud of a lot in life, but I’m damn proud of this album.
Whats the one thing you wish people would ask but don’t?
That’s tricky. Sometimes people ask too much. The worst thing about starting a new job for instance is when colleagues add you on Facebook and then they gradually learn you do music. Then there’s questions like “so what kind of music do you play?”, “if you play music, why do you need this job?” and “do you think you’re any good then?”

1. Just have a listen and make up your own mind.
2. Haha. Very funny. You need money to live. Music doesn’t equal money.
3.  Well, yeah. Kinda. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it. I’ve done it long enough so I think I should be.

That can get frustrating at times but it’s nice when people show an interest.
If there was one thing that I wish people would ask it would be…oh I don’t know. I’ve never thought of that before. I guess it would be nice to talk to people a bit more about the serious side to things. I talk a lot about mental health in some of my songs and during my shows and there’s always people talking to me about it afterwards. Sharing similar stories or opening up personal experiences. I can’t think of what I wish people would ask me. However, I think I wish that more people would ask for help in their every day to day lives. There’s such a thing in the UK about having a stiff upper lip and pride. I hate that. It’s better to talk to people and ask for help if you need it. There’s no shame in it. Ever.
Finally, anything else you’d like to add?
Be nice. Don’t be a dick. Drink responsibly. Say “please” and “thank you”. Get consent. Help out.
Oh and if you fancy it, head over to www.heartworkmusic.co.uk and pick up a copy of my debut album ‘Things I Wish I’d Said’. It’s good. I worked very hard on it. Hope to see you at a show.
Thanks for doing this! This was fun!
Big thanks to both Dans for this interview, and congrats for being in each other’s company for more than 5 minutes without abusing one another. Go buy the Heartwork album, it’s ace.
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