For seven months of 2016, Goodbye Heart, the Seattle dream-pop duo made up of Sam Ford and Nila K Leigh, came up with a new song every two weeks. Keep Me Close is the result of this feverish activity, an album of atmospheric synths, gritty electronic percussion and heart-wrenching vocals. Drawing inspiration from lush, textural movie soundtracks and their native New York City’s hip-hop roots, Goodbye Heart create an emotional, multi-layered sonic experience for driving, dancing, falling in love, or falling apart; “the kids inside the songs know about working shit jobs, romance, cars, losing, French kissing, scoring-using-selling drugs, the city, the sticks, tonight (not tomorrow), and feelings feelings feelings.”
As such, it’s a stimulating experience listening to what is a pioneering album. The duo excel in building from subdued minimalism to high drama, achieved through innovative sampling (“Lives on Lives”; “Stevie”), startling imaginative range (“Feral”) and lyrical dexterity (“Turnpike”). Unmistakably modern, clean like renewable energy, Goodbye Heart sound like no other band; sometimes it’s hard to believe the levels of intensity are produced by only two as they produce such a dynamic and multi-layered sound. With a self-confessed belief in keeping things “boundless” (in some ways, they say, they “write with their eyes closed”), the album travels through neon city landscapes (“Optimo”; “Born at Midnight”) and has a wide cinematic sweep, frequently taking risks through form, like the spoken word interlude in “Prospect”. If a record has to be about anything, something, this one may overall be about being young: the vivid “Pink Summer” and youthful concern of “Corsica” suggest it’s not necessarily easy but always deeply memorable. Distinctive and subtly charming, Keep Me Close is a stunner.
Q&A with Sam Ford of Goodbye Heart
Q: How challenging was it to write a song every two weeks, and why did you take this approach?
A: Our primary reason for releasing a song every two week was actually necessity. A couple years ago we had switched over from using a simple standalone drum machine to computer software which had an incredibly steep learning curve. The technical education we needed to put ourselves through before we could really pursue a creative experience was time consuming to say the least. So at some point we ended up with songs in completely different stages of development or completion. Some had been written, produced, recorded, and mixed, and some were just skeletal, consisting of some loops and melodies – maybe some words – but in need of real work to get them to be fully realized. So the two week release format really allowed us the time to grow and ultimately finish songs that were deep in the ground.
Q: What is Goodbye Heart’s song-writing process? Do you work together or apart?
A: The process was very challenging. We’d never attempted to engineer (in this case record and mix) our own music before so there were a lot of growing pains. The DIY approach feels very instinctual to us but in this case it was DIY on steroids. I think having deadlines was useful to us for both the technical aspects as well as the creative ones.
The songwriting process usually begins with me alone writing a melody and some words, often on guitar. I may start fleshing it out with some beats and maybe a few other basic arrangement ideas but it really isn’t long until Nila jumps in and adds some deeper compositional elements. She’s phenomenal at identifying counter-melodies and rhythms that can make something simple into something special. Plus because our vocal harmonies are so critical to our sound, we start working on those as soon as we can.
Q: How did you meet Nila and start Goodbye Heart?
A: I met Nila in college back in…let’s just say a while back. We were both studying acting at NYU and I think we had some sort of Theatre As Education class together. We sorta stayed in each other’s orbit for a while and then I fell into songwriting and wanting to be more artistically independent than acting was allowing me to be. So I picked up an acoustic guitar and started out as humbly as one can really. Somehow Nila and I came back around when I discovered (or was told) that she was a pretty killer musician who played a bunch of instruments. I was doing some early and unfocused recording at the time and I brought her in to sing and play everything from upright bass to ukulele to glockenspiel. That experience ended up turning into a band, Cady Wire, and that band ended up moving to Seattle, breaking up, going through a couple more incarnations, and then eventually (and perhaps inevitably) winding up as just the two of us.
Q: Is Seattle still a good place for music, post-grunge?
A: Seattle’s still a great place for music and there continues to be an incredible community here. I don’t think Seattle is as tethered to a “scene” as it was back in the grunge days but I wonder if we are now living in a sort of “post scene” world in general. I think this is a place that values music above and beyond what it sounds like or who’s involved in it. This is also a city that feels politically and socially progressive to an almost pioneering degree, which makes it feel like home in an even bigger way.
Q: Keep Me Close was released digitally. Are there any plans for a physical release?
A: We don’t have plans to release Keep Me Close in a physical format (although we’d be happy to burn a CD for anyone interested). Pressing vinyl gets pretty expensive pretty quickly so for now, unfortunately, we’re gonna let the internet keep doing the work for us.
Keep Me Close is available at Bandcamp