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Guitar Pedals and New Wave: An Interview With Healees

Photo courtesy of Healees
21 December 2022

Photo courtesy of Healees
Healees formed in 2015 when Bryan Quinn and Renaud Chauré met and realized they shared a strong interest for guitar pedals and new wave bands. They were joined soon after by Hillevi Robertsson (bass guitar) and Arthur Chen (drums), self-releasing the Heal’s Beals demo in 2018. This Paris-based Breton/American/Swedish/Belgian four-piece developed a beautiful shoegaze-tinted noisy pop more contemporary in nature (Flyying Colours, Cheatahs) than pure nostalgia. Their track The Garden was one of the highlights of the Stratigraphy compilation released by Toulouse-based Hidden Bay Records in late 2020. 2022 saw the band release their self-titled (and copious) debut EP also on Hidden Bay with artwork by Allegra Corbo. With talk of work beginning on the band’s next record, Healees are ones to watch in 2023 and beyond. Special thanks to Bryan Quinn for helping coordinate the Q & A.

James Broscheid: Congrats on the release of your self-titled debut album (I’m calling it an album anyway!). Being a new convert to Healees, could you give us an introduction to the band? Who are the players and how the band came together? 

Bryan Quinn: Thank you! The band is me (guitars, vocals), Renaud Chauré (guitars, vocals), Hillevi Robertsson (bass, vocals) and Arthur Chen (drums). Hillevi and I moved to Paris from Brooklyn in 2015. I was missing my old band Lead Stones so I googled “What is the French equivalent of Craigslist?” and posted an ad. Renaud was like the third person I met up with. It was clear that we were into the same stuff and got along very well, but we had no songs, no proper gear and no place to play. I was an unemployed expat, quickly going broke while waiting for my working visa to come through.
I was actually living in a campsite part-time so that I could airbnb my Paris apartment to make ends meet!  It was not particularly conducive to writing or practicing so it took us a long time to get our shit together, but once we had a handful of songs we brought in Hillevi on bass. Arthur was not even primarily a drummer but I knew he had sat in on drums for a friend’s band during their European mini-tour, so I kind of stalked him until we ended up at the same party where I basically begged him to join the band.

JB: What was the impetus for you and Hillevi to leave Brooklyn for Paris back in 2015?

BQ: Not a very exciting story – we moved because Hillevi’s visa was expiring and she couldn’t stay in the States. Plus I was getting tired of NYC after a long time there so we figured we would give Paris a shot. I had a couple friends there and (speak) a bit of French, plus she could finish her studies there. 

JB: How well have you and the band held up during the era of pandemics and bizarre global politics? How well has France navigated through it all?

BQ: We had just played our second show ever when France locked down for the first time – so beyond the obvious human tragedy of the pandemic, it definitely sucked for the band. Any momentum we had was suddenly gone. On the bright side, it did give us a lot of time to write. Also our practice space is within walking distance and we had some warning that lockdown was coming, so we stashed a bunch of gear there and snuck in to play while pretending to go grocery shopping. That helped to keep us from going stir crazy! 
Politics… as an American of course it has been a nightmare to watch a huge segment of my country embracing fascism, worshipping online hoaxes and basically descending into madness. France has a lot of similar problems to the States: far-right nationalism, corporate neoliberalism, systemic racism, climate inaction … however it also has a stronger culture of social security and workers’ rights/solidarity, so there is maybe some hope that it isn’t just two decades behind the US as usual? Although I wouldn’t count on it. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future wherever you are these days.  
JB: Your first single (Heal’s Beals) came out in 2019 with a second (La Machina) to follow in 2020. Was the time between then and now strictly down to external conditions or was it more deliberate?

BQ: Heal’s Beals – whose title is too nonsensical to even count as a joke – was posted on Bandcamp purely to prove we were a band so that local venues would book us for shows. We didn’t even mean to post it publicly. But apparently some people found it via the hashtags and even paid money for it (!) so we couldn’t very well take it down. Because we are a) very lazy, b) very disorganized, and c) doing everything ourselves, usually at home, it really just took us that long to re-record and finish the half-baked demos we had for the batch of songs that are now on the S/T EP.

JB: Did your approach towards writing/recording change/evolve at all between those two earlier singles to now?

BQ: Not especially – usually Renaud or I will come with a song mostly sketched out in demo form, and then the other one will have some suggestions for a different structure or dynamic in this or that part, add some vocal harmonies, etc. But we tend to bring our own songs more or less ready to go. 

Renaud Chauré: I had already played in different bands a long time ago as a guitarist and I had some ideas about writing. But I always wanted to try to sound like this band or that band, and that just generates dissatisfaction so I pretty much gave up. Bryan convinced me to try just letting ideas develop without judgments or preconceptions and let it happen. If an idea is good, the song comes by itself. He also introduced me to the wonderful world of open tunings, which makes life much easier!

BQ: The judgment part comes later (laughs)!

JB My editor hosts a radio program called The Big Takeover Show here in the states which is where I heard Healees for the first time. Does the band have a good support network in Paris? I hope you are getting the support the band deserves!

BQ: We are now big fans of that show! Paris is not an easy place to be a band, if only because of the extreme population density – it’s tough to get around with gear, there’s limited space to make loud noise, etc.  Still, there are great things happening thanks to the hard work of some very dedicated people. Tom Picton runs Flying Banana Records here and puts out a lot of great music from all over France, he books the International near Oberkampf and puts us on cool shows. Nick Wheeldon is a British expat who has like 18 different musical projects going, as well as booking La Pointe Lafayette – a dank little cave that happens to be our favorite place to play in the city. People have been very nice to us honestly.  

Photo by Cristina Agostinelli
Photo by Cristina Agostinelli

JB: As a fan, being introduced to Healees also afforded the opportunity to learn about Hidden Bay Records and some other artists on that label. How did the relationship between you and the label start? What appeals to you most about working with Hidden Bay?

BQ: Manon (Raupp) from Hidden Bay Records got in touch with us right after we posted our first tracks. She booked us to play a small festival in Toulouse which was subsequently cancelled due to COVID (we are still bummed about that). Fortunately, however, she still wanted to do a release with us on her label. We had to wait almost two years for us to – as we say in French – take our fingers out of our ass, and send her decent mixes of our new tracks. Manon is amazing – she releases all kinds of really interesting bands with a lot of enthusiasm. It’s all very DIY, very honest and sincere, and the stuff she puts out gets heard around the world. She does a fantastic job and she also has a great band of her own, Docks.

JB: Very much agreed. I have been addicted to that label as of late! Any plans to release Healees on other formats (vinyl/CD, etc.)? 

BQ: We’re waiting until we get really famous so we can charge exorbitant prices for the 5 tapes we have left (sorry arbitrageurs, the cassette has since sold out! – JB), unless of course there is a new pandemic or nuclear war. For now though we’re mostly concentrating on putting out new stuff – we have a big backlog of songs that are written but not recorded, and an even longer one of unfinished ideas. So… if somebody wants to deal with putting the S/T out on vinyl, get in touch! Otherwise we’ll be working on the next record. 

JB: What were you like as a child/teenager? Are your families musical or supportive of the band’s work?

RC: My father had an old guitar and I learned to play on that in my teenage years. My parents bought a lot of records and my father made compilations of songs on tape that he would listen to in his car. It ranged from French pop singers of the sixties, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Boney M. or ABBA. He also loved Jean-Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk. My mother loved all the variety stuff that came out at the time. She was the one who introduced me to (Les) Rita Mitsouko (a great French band from the 80’s in my opinion) and stuff like Visage or OMD. When I discovered French punk I had to start listening with headphones under my blanket because they were saying bad words…. standard stuff for a middle class kid.

BQ: I come from a family of classical music connoisseurs, so of course they are profoundly confused and disappointed by this “shoegaze” business. Once again, no we will not be turning up the vocals!

JB: Could you give us some insight into the Paris scene and Healees place within it? Any other bands/artists we should be listening to from Paris and/or France in general? I really enjoy stuff like Dead Horse One and Marble Arch to name a couple! Requiem Pour Un Twister is also a dependable label!

BQ: The Paris scene (that we are aware of at least) seems to lean a bit towards indie-pop at the moment, with some great bands like En Attendant Ana, Eggs and Special Friend. Nick Wheeldon’s band Os Noctàmbulos is fantastic garage psych noir. There’s a lot of excellent noisier stuff happening outside of the capital – we are big fans of our Hidden Bay label mates Sinaïve, who are from Strasbourg. Bordeaux actually seems to have a very lively grunge/shoegaze community around bands like Siz and TH da Freak. Beach Youth is another band we really like, they’re from Caen out in Normandy. As for our place in any scene, we don’t really know!  We’ve only played maybe a dozen shows in our entire existence! 

JB: What was the first record you ever bought and first gig you went to?

RC:  My first concert was a Fest Noz (Breton folk music festival) accompanied by my parents – it’s very possible that the Celtic music of Bretagne paved the way for my appreciation of My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian and Helicon. First show on my own was Pixies touring Bossanova (4AD, 1990) and the first record I bought was Rendez-Vous by Jean-Michel Jarre.

BQ: I will never admit that the first piece of recorded music I paid my own money for was a cassingle of Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine and you can’t prove it. I genuinely can’t remember what my first concert was but I grew up near D.C. at the height of its indie/hardcore period, so I was going to see bands like Velocity Girl, Unrest, Jawbox, and Fugazi, while listening to MBV, Swervedriver, Spacemen 3*/*Spiritualized, etc. We can only hope that those had more of an influence! 

JB: Have any hobbies, day jobs? Any favorite records from 2022?

All: There are many injustices in the world at this dark moment in history, perhaps none so glaring as the fact that Healees does not pay the bills. We all have day jobs. Bryan works for a news channel, Renaud works at a school for the deaf (convenient for singing practice!) Hillevi is an architect and Arthur works in digital music promotion. As for hobbies, does playing in a band count? We are also proud dog parents of Hazel Doggens the Reunionnaise wondermutt and Dada a.k.a. Attilla, the Boston Terrier!  Favorite records of 2022: Alvvays: Blue Rev (Polyvinyl_/_Transgressive), Cate Le Bon: Pompei (Mexican Summer), Melody’s Echo Chamber: Emotional Eternal (Domino), Modern Nature: Island of Noise (Bella Union), Peel Dream Magazine: Pad_(_Slumberland_/_Tough Love Records).

JB: Any plans to tour this year or next? Perhaps a trip to the U.S. (one can only hope!)?

All: We would love to tour – we are in the very early stages of discussing the possibility of a short string of UK dates early next year – to be determined. Our main focus for the coming months though will probably be on finishing the next record and getting that out.

JB: Have any stories from the creation of this EP?

All: We don’t really remember by this point, but we can guarantee that all the tracks were conceived by noodling on an unplugged electric guitar while warbling some off-key gibberish. Everything on this S/T EP was recorded in our living rooms and mixed on headphones – the next record will also be home-produced but now we have a separate room for it, la grande classe! 

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