Young Heel: Baby Steps

Already generating buzz for their stellar cover of ‘90s classic “Love You Down,” as well as a brilliantly solid debut EP “Falls”— Brooklyn group Young Heel cite their sound as a blend of pop, ambient, and R&B. I caught up with Clay Bassford and JT Norton from the band to find out more.

Young Heel Interview

Tell us a little bit about how you started making music, and how Young Heel came to fruition.
CB: Young Heel grew out of the ashes of a previous project of mine. I was initially doing much more ambient, instrumental stuff at the time, but was always really interested in trying to weave in nods to catchy pop melodies, and the movement and pacing of hip hop rhythm. This concept slowly developed until I became focused on this idea of writing what I was calling “thoughtful pop music.”

My voice was by no means at the level of singing clean pop melodies, and the conceptual novelty of one guy standing in front of a computer playing through a giant bass amp had lost it’s artistic charm, and maybe it’s originality, too. So, I asked JT – my roommate at the time – if he wanted to sing and play keys with me.

We both moved to New York City after graduating from Skidmore College. Along the way we incorporated our guitarist, Pete, who I used to play with in high school, followed by our drummer, Matt, and most recently, our bassist and synth player, Stephen. Each additional musician has improved our sound. I’m incredibly pumped about our rhythm section. Nowadays, we’re honing our sound, trying to develop a hyper-concentrated, clean blend of pop, ambient, and R&B in a way that makes the most sense to us.

Why “Young Heel”? What does the name signify to you?
CB: I came up with the phrase several years ago and for some reason it just stuck in my mind. Here are the possible explanations/symbols behind the name:
A little baby’s soft foot
A woman’s high-heeled shoe
A fictional American-Indian character
A fictional unknown hip-hop MC

The concept that I initially wanted to explore in Young Heel was inevitable change; experiencing life; how it shapes you in ways that are out of your control. But really, it’s up to the listener, so it’s anything.

Would you describe your songwriting process as collaborative, or more individualistic? Has it changed since prepping and releasing a proper EP?
CB: It really varies song by song. JT or I will come up with a riff or idea, and play with it for a bit. Then I’ll usually work on it for a while fleshing it out and tweaking textures, rhythms, melodies, and ideas until something clicks. Then we’ll play with it again until we have something that gets us excited. The most important thing is that we get excited. I’ve always believed that what you don’t play is as important as what you do play.

JT: Clay is the brains behind our little operation. When I first joined, I knew this was Clay’s baby, and that I was just there to help him out. But as we started playing more and more in the city, my confidence grew and I started contributing more ideas to the project. But if this band was just me, you would be left with a handful of 5 second pop melodies and four-on-the-floor beats. Clay takes my ideas and truly brings them to life.

How did you all meet?
JT: That story is embarrassing. We actually met on E-Harmony.

Have you enjoyed recording and playing in Brooklyn? Has it helped shape your sound at all? If so, in what ways?
CB: A funny thing I learned- it’s way easier to get shows outside of the NYC area when you tell promoters you’re from Brooklyn. Within NYC, it’s really unparalleled playing in Brooklyn. There’s so much stimuli in NYC, in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg where JT and I both live- every other person’s a musician or an artist, so it really helps drive you to put out something that you hope will stand the test of your peers and neighbors.

It’s a crazy, chaotic, sometimes-beautiful place, so of course we love making music here. I think the pace of a city this big has guided us towards a more minimal, concentrated sound. We think a lot about time.

If you had to describe your sound in three words, what would you choose?
CB: Blood, sugar, sex-magic.
JT: Cinnamon, Cinnamon, Cinnamon.

What is your favorite song that you’ve written so far under Young Heel and what is your favorite song to play live?
CB: Man, that’s a hard one. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite song that we’ve written- they’re all our babies, ya know? Regarding performance, it’s really influenced by the vibe of the night and the space we’re in.

JT: I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite necessarily, but “Knowing” is a song that hits closet to home for me. As far as playing live, “Dayback” is so much fun to play. I really get after it.

Your EP release show was packed. Can fans expect a full length this year? Are you currently working on more material?
CB: We know we’re planning to release a single via some people we really like soon, and at least another EP. Lord willing, we’ll have a full length at some point later this year.

Where do you hope to see yourselves a year from now?
CB: Time will tell. Obviously we want to keep moving up, and have as much fun playing and writing music as we are now. Let’s be honest, the main goal is to quit our day jobs.

Who are your favorite up-and-coming acts now? Have you played with any bands in particular that excite you?
CB: We share our practice space with Zula and they’ve recently cultivated this Talking Heads/ Krautrock/ Detroit House thing that I’m really digging live. JT and I also love Mas Ysa (formerly Ablehearts- check out “A Name”), who’s a friend and sort of a life & gear sensei for us.

Who or what inspires you the most musically?
CB: Man! What doesn’t? We eat, drink, and dream this sh*t.

Young Heel are Clay Bassford, JT Norton, Pete Smith and Matt Arbeite, keep them on your radar & look for a proper full length out later this year.

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