“For a long time, I stopped playing music in general…”
It feels very strange to view Joe Hearty’s Frekltan as a new outfit, even though it is. I’ve known Joe for years – he was one of my pal’s brother’s gang, this extremely cool group of teenage musicians who rejected the turgid mainstream rock music of the time and had all these great bands to tell you about. In Aberdeenshire, there wasn’t a whole lot to do beyond skateboarding and forming bands, knowing that just half an hour away on the train, there was a city with exactly one good record shop* and a bunch of small venues where you might see some weirdos from France doing noise sets or a similar bunch of folk from a different corner of the county cutting their teeth as a live band. This gang, by the way, was Copy Haho, arguably Scotland’s most exciting indie band for a time – courted by a number of record labels, touring buddies of Los Campesinos!, Hot Club de Paris and other late noughties favourites, their brand of angular, lyrically incisive and memorable indie rock is still remembered fondly.
After an amicable, if surprising, split following a well-received debut LP, the constituent parts of Copy Haho moved on to other things; Stuart Macintosh and Rikki Will would feature in a number of great bands in Glasgow, while Richard and Joe would pursue other interests in London. Apart from a small sprinkling of tracks a few years back, Joe had been quiet on the musical front, but Frekltan’s two recent releases, ‘Time to Care’ (remixed by John Baillie Jr. of Bossy Love, Dolby Anol and Dananananaykroyd fame) and ‘Where You Are’, a timely, yearning opus that perfectly encapsulates the stomach-turning, desperation of missing a love who’s far away, are astonishing returns to relevance.
“After we stopped the band, I stopped playing certain instruments. I had a couple of projects in London that were more band-orientated, but they were more casual and I was pursuing design instead”, Joe explains to me over Skype. “I started learning how to record a little bit more, getting more interested in different kinds of music, going on this big dance music journey… Arthur Russell, Chicago [House], different kinds of synthesisers and production techniques… I felt like I was a tourist of different genres of dance music.”
The move to London, via a short spell in New York for an internship, had a profound effect on Hearty. In the midst of this musical and geographical journey, Joe explains, he needed to leave home to figure himself out:
“In order to love Scotland again, I needed to leave. Not because there were parts of Scotland I objected to, it just felt quite stifling. In terms of homosexuality, in terms of ambition, in terms of that classic mid-twenties thing of defining your own identity, I didn’t feel like I could do it there. I don’t know why.”
“I think now when I visit the North-East, I like it, because it feels like someone else’s life. It will always be home but I can dip in and out of it, which feels refreshing. And it’s – especially Stonehaven – the antithesis of a large bustling city full of friction.”
To the songs, then. Copy Haho this isn’t. The spindly guitar lines and robust rhythms are replaced by sparse, twinkling synths in ‘Where You Are’, or siren-esque blaring over snare-snaps in the case of Time To Care’s excellent remix. Lyrically, Frekltan shows both astonishing vulnerability and a wizened, analytical eye; an indication of growing, learning and self-acceptance laid bare. “It took a while to get there”, he explains:
“It took me missing that [musical] part of myself. There’s part of me I surrendered by pursuing the career I had and have, I had this part of my history that loads of my friends didn’t know. Releasing tracks now feels like a rebirth of myself in a really, really profound way. It’s a chance to speak honestly and with some kind of calculated execution in the songs, that I never got the chance to do before.”
‘Time To Care’, in particular, walks the tightrope that any song about current affairs walks; tone is everything.
“Writing songs that are earnest and driven by politics or social issues is such a difficult thing to do… boiling down incredibly complex issues into two lines is sort of impossible and it’s arrogant to think you can do it in a way that’s entirely convincing. My partner Andreas writes about consumer ethics, modern slavery and the care crisis, he’s in this academic group called The Care Collective… they wrote ‘The Care Manifesto’. During the time they were writing it I was reading drafts, I found it really inspiring that they were able to say something with clarity, from a multitude of different perspectives, about the care crisis. How markets care, different forms of care and how they’re articulated in society. I let that sit in my head… as I was writing the lyrics for that track, it just kinda came out and just fit, it made sense and slot together.”
Should we expect a debut LP any time soon? As ever, it seems Joe is in no rush. Maybe, that’s a good thing.
“I have a bunch of songs. I’ve been living in Athens since June and I’ve been writing about a lot of different things here that feel related and cohesive so they may become a thing. But I’m really interested, like I did with John [Baillie Jr.], in exploring different territories and possibilities in production and instrumentation, and also different subject matter. But just as I did with the two tracks that came out, I want to release something that feels valid. Not to culture as a whole, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I don’t want to throw something out that feels half-baked.”
Time To Care and Where You Are are available on streaming platforms. Read our piece on Time To Care.
*RIP OneUp Records