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Album Premiere: Pop Circles by Richard X. Heyman

Richard X. Heyman
7 June 2019

Richard X Heyman – Photo Credit: Nancy Leigh

Pop Circles is the 13th solo record from NYC-based power-pop savant Richard X. Heyman (a founding member of The Doughboys). He produced the album at Eastside Sound in New York and the Kit Factory, his home studio. Special guests include cellist Julia Kent (Rasputina) and Chris Jenkins on viola. Pop Circles is being released by Turn-Up Records on June 14th, but The Big Takeover is highly excited to be hosting the LP’s premiere a week before it officially arrives.

Recording sessions for Pop Circles began at Eastside with drums tracking, and then moved to Heyman’s home studio. He laid down keys, percussion, a bit of bass, and layer upon layer of lustrous, ringing rhythm and lead guitar parts with his collection of vintage instruments: Rickenbacker 360 12-string, PRS Starla, Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster, Dan Electro baritone Martin Shenandoah acoustic and D-28, and Yamaha acoustic 12-string. The bulk of bass duties fell to his wife Nancy Leigh and the sumptuous string parts were performed by Kent and Jenkins.

Heyman delves into some details about Pop Circles, revealing, “This album is the latest batch of melodies, chord progressions, drum beats and words that somehow fell together and were recorded for posterity by my lovely engineer and wife Nancy. We started at East Side Sound on the Lower East Side, where I bashed and crashed on their vintage four-piece Rogers kit. After ten hours of that cacophony, we took those drum performances home to our bedroom studio and began trying to make sense out of it all.”

Richard was one of the first one-man-band’ recording artists to emerge on the music scene, along with Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes, and Todd Rundgren. Critical praise began with the release of his first album Living Room!!, which Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed “an undiscovered treasure.” All Music Guide later called him “perhaps America’s greatest unsung hero of power pop, a songwriter of uncommon talent and intelligence and a one-man rock band without peer;” the Hartford Courant proclaimed him to be “a true heir to [Brian] Wilson’s mantle, amid an ocean of pretenders;” and David Wild, writing in Rolling Stone, praised him by saying, “rock’n’roll doesn’t get any better than this.”

In recent years, Heyman has juggled his own work with his activities as a member of the reactivated Doughboys, who first reunited in 2000 to play at his surprise birthday party, and have remained productive ever since, delivering a quintet of well-received albums – Is It Now?, Act Your Rage, Shakin’ Our Souls, Hot Beat Stew, and Front Street Rebels. Their song “Why Can’t She See Me?” (written by Heyman) was chosen as #3 Coolest Song in the World on Little Steven’s Underground Garage Sirius XM channel at the time of its release. Five of the songs on Pop Circles are his versions of tunes originally recorded by the band.

The lifelong passion for music is what’s driven Heyman since his days growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey. He began playing drums at the age of seven and was proficient on guitar and piano by his teens. By then, he had already begun writing songs. He has developed a versatile singing voice, which can range from sweet crooning balladeering to balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll wailing.

Heyman was still in junior high school when he achieved his first taste of rock ’n’ roll notoriety as drummer with fabled garage band The Doughboys, whose raucous live sets won them a rabid following in the New York/New Jersey area during the second half of the 1960s. The Doughboys recorded a pair of singles for the Bell label, made multiple appearances on the local TV show Disc-O-Teen (emceed by legendary horror-show host Zacherle), shared stages with the likes of the Beach Boys, the Buckinghams, Neil Diamond, and the Syndicate of Sound, and served as the house band at the Café Wha? in Greenwich Village during the summer of 1968.

By the time Heyman reemerged as a solo artist in the late 1980s, he’d matured into a singularly distinctive songwriter with an uncanny ability to channel his vintage rock ’n’ roll influences into tunes that are both infectiously catchy and emotionally resonant. Those qualities were prominent on his self-released, home-recorded efforts Actual Size and Living Room!!. Both generated considerable critical positive press and music-industry word-of-mouth, leading to a major-label deal with Sire / Warner Bros., which released the widely acclaimed Hey Man! in 1991.

Recording for a corporate label helped to win Heyman a wider audience and a higher media profile. But it also proved to be a frustrating experience, and it wasn’t long before he was back in indie territory, making and releasing his music on his own terms. His subsequent albums, Cornerstone, Basic Glee, Rightovers, Actual Sighs, Intakes, Tiers/And Other Stories, X, Y, Incognito, and the reimagining of Hey Man! appropriately entitled Yeh Man!, as well as the EP Heyman, Hoosier and Herman (with guest vocalist Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits) chronicled his ongoing musical evolution to name but a few. Heyman also found time to release the career-spanning video retrospective X-Posures, and to pen the vivid rock ’n’ roll memoir Boom Harangue.

Besides working as a solo artist and with the Doughboys, Heyman has performed with a wide array of other artists over the years, including several of musical heroes. He’s played drums behind Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, seminal guitar icon Link Wray, Left Banke leader Michael Brown, and beloved indie troubadour Jonathan Richman. He also served as guitarist in Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss’ band during her recent comeback and played keyboards with soul legend Ben E. King.