Urban Heat Releases Wellness
By Jeff McCord
After Austin’s Jonathan Horstman left his previous band, he was not anxious to return to that situation. Yet he still wanted to create music. It was only through necessity -a sleeping wife and infant daughter- that he began to plunge into the world of analog synthesizers.
“I needed a way to work on music in headphones and synths scratched that itch,” Horstman explained. “I learned as much as I could about every synthesizer I could get my hands on, trying one for 3 months and recording as much as I could, then flipping it for another and repeating the process.”
Assuming the Goth-heavy synth sound of Urban Heat was rooted in a love for eighties music, I asked about his influences and got a surprising answer. “ I wasn’t exposed to much music growing up outside of old hymns, so there wasn’t really a reference point. I would just write songs like I always had, except instead of a guitar I would use a synth, and add Linndrum samples. I think that’s what a lot of early synth music was, so that might be why it feels so heavily rooted in the 80’s.”
Still, one thing you notice immediately about the new Wellness ep is how developed their sound is. I mention they sound like a more seasoned band (Horstman only got together with Kevin Naquin and Paxel Foley in 2019.)
“I think we’re still very much finding our sound, but we’ve given ourselves certain limitations that keep everything cohesive. One was deciding not to have a drummer. I had left being in a traditional band and never wanted to put myself through that kind of creative situation again. Programming synths meant fewer musicians to depend on, and fewer egos to navigate – including my own,” Horstman explains.
And the songwriting? “Once I really started digging into subtractive synthesis and sound design in general, some of the songs would sort of write themselves. You’d hear a 3 oscillator sawtooth and a bassline it would just sort of come out of the ether. It’s said that instruments all have songs in them, and I think that’s definitely true for analog synthesizers. I tried working with a couple of musicians to flesh out a live show, but it wasn’t until Pax and Kevin came along that Urban Heat really formed. it isn’t every day that you find a couple of guys who work as hard as they do, and are resolved to help you see your vision come to fruition. I may still do all of the writing and programming, but at this point, it’s become a shared vision.”
Urban Heat has accomplished a lot in its first few years. Veterans of Levitation and SXSW, as well as Seattle’s Freakout Fest, Horstman was also selected as a member of Project ATX6, which saw him performing in Toronto and Thailand. Now signed to Spaceflight Records, Wellness is being released this month. They have an ACL Fest appearance looming this fall, with plans for both regional and national touring.
By nature, synth-rock trends to the gloomy side, so I asked Horstman, why is the EP called Wellness?
“We’re getting better about it, but there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health. In the last 4 years, I’ve been diagnosed with both OCD and bipolar disorder, and I think these songs chronicle the different ways I had tried and failed to make sense of my mind pre-diagnosis. When it came time to name the EP, I looked at the body of work and realized it’s kind of all about wellness. I don’t know if there’s a message there throughout the whole thing, at least not intentionally. It has struck us the number of times people have let us know the music has helped them through something. Honestly, it might not have anything to do with any particular thing we’re doing, though. Music has a way of healing on its own.”