30th October 2022
Interview: Amy Bell
Heavily influenced by 80s post-punk and dark waves, Urban Heat combines striking synths, Hortsmann’s throaty baritone, and unexpected melodies with hints of melancholy fused together for a signature spellbinding journey. The band formed in 2019 when multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jonathan Horstmann enlisted Kevin Naquin and Pixel Foley to form a live show based on his analogue sound design. After running in the same musical circles for years, the three members decided to form a supergroup of diverse rock artists in the Austin music scene.“There's not a ton of other Black musicians in Austin who play rock, and having that representation was important to me. I didn't wanna be the only Black artist in an otherwise all-white band,” confides Horstmann.
Hi guys, thanks so much for talking to Revamp, how did ‘Urban Heat’ come about and how long ago was it since you formed?
I had messed around with synths in previous projects, but it wasn’t until my first daughter was born that I really dived into understanding analogue subtractive synthesis. I needed a way to create headphones while she slept, and electronic production scratched that itch. Initially, I was just making synth-wave and outrun sketches, but I’ve always been a songwriter and it was only a matter of time before I was writing hooks to sing over synthwave beats. I approached Kevin and Pax once I realized I was going to start gigging out. I’ve always liked the band dynamic on stage. Urban Heat didn’t really take its current form until 2019.
Do you remember the first ever song you wrote and how has your sound evolved since then?
It was probably some hook over an outrun instrumental. We’ve since incorporated a lot more guitar, something I wasn’t really planning on doing in the beginning. Now there are some more post-punk and new-wave influences.
Congrats on the new single ‘Have You Ever?’, can you tell us a bit about this single and how did the single come about?
The track was initially written during a flurry of writing I was doing during the pandemic. I use a combination of samples and synth sounds and I came across this bassline sample that really inspired me just right off the bat. It slaps so hard just on its own, so the rest of the track was built around that. “Have you ever seen the face of God?” Was actually the first line I wrote, and initially started the song, but I felt it was kind of too heavy to just jump into that right in the beginning. I thought it could be interesting to have all of these conflicting ideas, instances of times I was mistaken, and then build up to the biggest question about seeing the light and being stabbed in the back. We brought the track to Party Nails to see if she’d want to put a verse on it and basically gave her free reign to do whatever she wanted with the track. I called her from a vintage guitar store in San Antonio and we spoke excitedly about the track for 30 mins. I knew it was a great fit once we got off the call and I couldn’t be happier with what she contributed. It really takes this to this other place that we couldn’t have done on our own.
What was the recording/writing process like and what is your usual routine for it?
I loved the initial sample but wanted to make it our own and add some grit and hair to it so I ran it through an Ampeg SVT bass amp. The drums are from a sample pack that I ADORE, but I’m not going to give away the secret sauce. Every time I open up this particular sample pack I’m incredibly inspired and our best tunes have always had something from there in some way or another. I’m a sucker for a simple synth lead line, and I’m pretty sure we ended up using the very first thing I came up with. I really try not to overthink my songwriting and production. Either something works or it doesn’t, or maybe its just not gonna work that particular day and I should try and come back. You’re either in the flow or you aren’t. Can’t force it. I think the lead line in the recording ended up being a combination of a Prophet Rev 2, Juno 60, and a Moog Sub37.
When do you know the song is completely finished?
When it says it is, and when it slaps from start to finish.
You had a new EP in 2022, named ‘Wellness’, which was about mental health, during the pandemic, what helped you with your mental health when the world changed so suddenly?
Honestly, I think the fan connection helped save me. There was a point in the beginning when I was sending a personal video to each and every fan who followed us on social media. I just felt like it was such a unique thing for the planet to all be having the same experience at one time and there was just a brief moment when we all had something in common.
What is next for you guys?
I’m writing this to you now from the road, and we’ll be on the road quite a bit during 2023. We’re planning on releasing another EP next year and hopefully just levelling up in every way. It's hard to predict what will happen and the ways the road will wind while we're trying to get there, but personally, I just hope that we're just able to grow as human beings and come out of this whole crazy trip better than we went in.