A band by any other name would sound as…Well, misquoting Shakespeare aside, it’s hard to say whether the tunes of Noel Heroux’s next musical venture will sound sweet, sour, or utterly dour, as its dark name, Mass Gothic, might suggest. Because, as yet, there’s very little music available publicly, and his new label, Sub Pop, is keeping what will be Mass Gothic’s first album under wraps until the release date — slated for next year — comes a little closer. Mass Gothic’s live outing at CMJ 2015 is only Heroux’s fourth gig under the new name, and it’s the highest-profile one yet.
Certainly, Mass Gothic is the polar opposite of the bright, spirited name of his last band, Hooray for Earth, which the Grafton, Massachusetts, native formed in 2005. “The origin is silly, like most band names,” Heroux says of Mass Gothic. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Massachusetts at all. After eight years with Hooray for Earth, clearly I’m not exempt from playing in bands with a super-cheesy name. We had to explain that one constantly. One guy once asked about the name and asked if we were a jam band. The name became more a problem.”
Odd, because there’s nothing wrong with rooting for good old planet Earth. “Right!” agrees Heroux, speaking from his home in Williamsburg, where he recently moved after eight years in the West Village.
Hooray for Earth split last November; it was a messy but agreeable end. “It was kind of my thing to begin with; I was the bandleader person. But it changed and we developed deep friendships and history, and weird shit. It got out of hand, I lost control, and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” he says. “So I told the band we’d make one final album and I’d do the touring, and then I was out. I had created my own world and trapped myself with obligations. I wanted to start over and do something else. But the end came quicker than planned because our label had problems, and we folded a month after the album was released,” he says of HFE’s swan song, their second album, Racy. “It all imploded. It got real crazy.”
But things then went from real crazy to real good, and Sub Pop signed Heroux based on his HFE credentials and the new music he was making. At that point, he didn’t have a name for his new musical project, so he made a list and read them off to his wife and sometime bandmate Jessica Zambri, who heads up her own project, Solvey. “I got to ‘Mass Gothic,’ and Jess was like, ‘I don’t hate [it].’ I talked to a couple of the guys at Sub Pop and they were like, ‘Yep, that’s the one.’ ”
The name is evocative, dark, and broody, so might the music be same? Possibly not, because the chosen moniker could have easily been very different. “At one point before settling on Mass Gothic, I woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had the best name. So I got up and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it and went back to sleep feeling pleased about it,” Heroux recalls. “I woke up the next morning and looked at what I wrote and thought that maybe it isn’t so great. But I did adopt it for a short while; I even changed my Twitter handle for like a week.”
The name was Bunny. “If I had gone with ‘Bunny’ I would have been forced to write really heavy music to offset the name,” he says. A doom metal band called Bunny? Fabulous! So is Mass Gothic powerpop, then? “I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to describe it. It was the same with my old band, I don’t know. I’m way too close to it, so I don’t know what the hell it is.
“The whole process this past year was to not intentionally name it this or sound like that,” Heroux continues. “The idea was to just let go. That’s the whole point: Just let it be that and not feel I have to change anything to please anyone. After all that — ” referring here to HFE’s final days — “I thought, ‘I’m just going to let it sit, and not make a move.’ ”
But he did make one move; he called Jonathan Poneman, legendary Sub Pop label head, and the deal was cut. “I can’t say much about it without sounding like a raving fan,” he says of his new label home. “Jonathan is like my second therapist, but one I don’t have to pay.”
Heroux’s intention is to get back to his roots of creating music alone and realizing his vision in its purest form. And although Mass Gothic is a solo project on record, he formed a band to perform the music — one that includes Zambri on bass and keys. “I’m happy with what we do. I’m not revisiting Hooray for Earth’s situation. I put together a band for shows because it’s necessary. This is definitely my solo project.”
Mass Gothic plays Sub Pop & Hardly Art’s Mutual Depreciation: 2015 CMJ Showcase on October 15 at the Knitting Factory.