END Q&A: A winding road connects Mass Gothic to Seattle, Sub Pop

Get to know Sub Pop's latest gem, Mass Gothic

April 27, 2016

Sub Pop Records


You've heard it before. Husband and wife duo make music and it's cute and all that (see Matt & Kim, Arcade Fire), but Mass Gothic is different. 

The couple didn't set out to play music together intentionally. Rather, it was more of an inevibility. Noel Heroux was playing in a band in Boston, doing the long-distance thing with Jess playing with her own band in New York when after one of Noel's shows in New York, he decided to stay. 

The group stayed together for a bit, but "baggage" as Noel calls it eventually split the group apart. Fortunately for us, he already had his future bandmate living within the same house, he just didn't know it yet.

On a whim and a three-year thread of conversation with representatives at Sub Pop Records right here in Seattle, Noel started his newest project, Mass Gothic. Along with Jess and the rest of the band, the group is making headway with their new self-titled album and single "Every Night You've Got To Save Me," which is available to download on 1077TheEnd.com until May 1

Noel and Jess were in Seattle for Sub Pop's 28th anniversary party a few weeks ago and took some time to sit down with me and talk about how Mass Gothic came to be. I'm a sucker for a good romantic story and an interesting take on music, and this band has both. Check it out.

THE END: From what I have heard it sounds like you are setting up shop in New York for right now? 

NOEL: Yeah, I moved there in 2007. The cute little story is that when I was in my old band, I was living in Boston and we came down to New York to play a show one night. Jess and I had been doing long-distance forever. I brought my clothes in my duffle bag and stuff and threw it in the van with my desktop computer that I had at the time. When we were packing up the band to go back to Boston I just told the guys ‘I’ll see you later, I’m going to stay here’ and Jess was like ‘Oh, you’re staying?’

Moving in was just throwing my stuff in a corner and setting up a computer and I was done. That was it! Been there ever since.

END: So did that put an end to your last band?

NOEL: That didn’t end it. It kept going for a long time, but it shifted gears with me living in NY and them in Boston. We had some old-school baggage we were dragging everywhere we went and I got really, really tired of all that stuff and decided I should try doing something else.

Photo by Addison Post

END: And viola, Mass Gothic. How did the ball get rolling for this current project?

NOEL: It’s kind of a great story. The short version is that with the old band, I was talking to everybody at Sub Pop for awhile in the context of signing my old band. But legal things and the old label made it so we couldn’t get it off the ground. When that wasn’t working out I asked Sub Pop if, when I was free and out of this deal, maybe we could work something out and they just said ‘yeah, let us know.’ Fast forward eight or nine months, I was done with all that stuff and I called them up and asked if they still wanted to do this? It had been like three years since we had started talking and we had the whole thing set up within two weeks. There was no band, no album, so on good faith they just said ‘make a record!’ Because of it being that way, it was really cool because the band was created not only by me, but by this awesome partnership.

END: What was the process like from having no band and no music to writing and producing a record? Did you feel like you needed to legitimize yourself immediately?

NOEL: The whole point of starting over again was just because I wanted to finally just do music uninterrupted. It wasn’t for anybody, it was just all my stuff thrown in. I figured from there all the other stuff would fall together. While I was recording, Jess and I were talking about just being in a band together because we had separate bands for years. 

JESS: Sometimes touring separate works for people. We had friends who are involved with each other and tour separately and do their thing, but that doesn’t really work for us, we figured out.

NOEL: When we got married and had our little honeymoon and everything, the day we got back, I left for a five-week tour. Good wedding! Bye! 

JESS: And when he came back, I went with my old band for three weeks. Living together and doing music together just became something that we would have had to actively avoid.

NOEL: It would be difficult to not end up doing music together when you practically live on top of each other in this tiny apartment. We’re both recording at the same time while I’m doing vocals while she’s recording something in the other room and we have to shut the doors so we can do our thing. 

JESS: It was just easier to call a spade a spade.

END: How did you guys meet originally?

JESS: We met at school. We were actually just best buds for awhile and started working on music together.

NOEL: The first year we were friends she had this boyfriend —

JESS: oh jesus…

NOEL:  who was a nice guy, but I was like, ‘hmmmm….’ But I was dating somebody too. We were both full of shit.

JESS: It was good, though, because we were working on the music together.

NOEL: We started working on music first, but after that first year I had to do something about this. It was a ballsy move, but I dropped her off at the airport to go home for the summer, and out of nowhere I planted a smooch on her. She was like, ‘OK….friend…we’ve been friends all year and you’re gonna do that and now I am getting on a plane and not going to see you for two months?

END: Classic move.

NOEL: It wasn't the best timing I could have chosen.

JESS: You knew what you were doing. It worked out for you…and me.

END: Since you have come to Sub Pop, was the process pretty easy?

NOEL: On paper it was totally easy. The Sub Pop scenario made it real easy on their end. I would hit walls though and not be sure about what I wanted to do. I got in my own head, but it was all very simple at the end. I would call up someone here and they would tell me to get out of my own head and just go play music and chill out, but otherwise it was very simple. 

JESS: I was privy to watching him make a bunch of stuff, and sometimes making music isn’t a pleasant thing, which isn’t a bad thing. From the outside looking in, I saw Noel letting go of some demons, which was a struggle for him. 

NOEL: I keep making this joke that kind of isn’t a joke about this album sort of being an exorcism. It sounds kind of like an exorcism because it has a bunch of different vibes, but it was all blasting out of me at the same time. This album kind of exploded all over the canvas where maybe the next album is going to be more of what I want to do instead of this pent up frustration and musical confusion.

END: The album has a lot of different sounds and flavors from what I have heard, but tell me a bit specifically about ‘Every Night You’ve Got To Save Me’ and how it falls into this album’s paradigm.

NOEL: Well that’s a fun little jam. That’s the only song that existed before I sat down to make an album. The drummer, Seth, and us and Jess’s sister were just goofing around one day and I was playing keyboards and a bass sound with my voice and an octave pedal. They were singing some nonsense lyrics, but the chorus vocals came out of that basically. We had a shitty recording of that that we kicked around for a couple years. When I was doing all this stuff, that song kept creeping back. It was a fun song and I wondered if it worked in this context, but it’s different than a lot of the other songs, but it pulled the whole scene together for me. The whole album is kind of dark. Maybe some things sound more fun, but at least with that song we’re going to get a break. It glued everything together for me, the whole concept came together with that song. 

DOWNLOAD: "Every Night You've Got To Save Me" by Mass Gothic