Talking with Joe Montone about Heat Thunder’s hiatus and the new “Wearin’ Black” video
In a way, Doylestown rock outfit Heat Thunder has always been shrouded in an air of mystery. The wandering, dream-like blend of hazy ambient rock and acoustic Americana, the murmuring stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the psychedelic album art. So it’s no surprise that the band’s parting-of-ways is not exactly clear-cut, nor is it a surprise that it comes with one final puzzle: a totally surreal music video for their song “Wearin’ Black.”
As frontman Joe Montone explained over email, “This project started out before I had a band.” He was just a dude with an acoustic guitar and some song ideas who did production at Doylestown venue MOM’s. When his 2012 EP Melody, Love and Soul was used to score a short film by local director Evan Cohen, it was picked up by tastemaking blog Yvynyl, and interest around this thing called Heat Thunder began to swell. Montone developed the project into a live band featuring Matt Phillips on bass, Luming Hao on guitar and William Chamuris on drums, and they gradually began recording and performing more often.
Thing is, Heat Thunder was never prolific. The three-song debut EP was followed up by a standalone single called “Solo World” (released in 2013) and then “River Song” (released last August). Their Key Studio Session had an additional three songs. And while many of Heat Thunder’s peers seem to perform all the time (sometimes to a fault), Heat Thunder took the opposite approach and kept their gigs fewer and farther between. I ran into Phillips at a house show earlier this year, and when I asked what the band was up to, he told me they’d kinda sorta broken up. But even as he said this, there was an air of uncertainty.
Montone prefers to call it a hiatus; he doesn’t want to close the door to future collaboration. But as he puts it, “I was at a crossroads.”
It had been a while since Heat Thunder had gigged, and he’d been writing and recording new songs with Brian Dale Allen Strouse of the Lawsuits. “I’d been writing new songs and have been recording the past 4 months, but didn’t know whether to call it Heat Thunder,” Montone says. The songs felt different. And during this time recording them, “I’ve been just trying to relinquish the controls and let things grow.”
“The band itself came out of nowhere and we went for it as best as we could,” he continues. “Discovering along the way together the whole time.” But due to time constraints, plus the budget constraints of an unsigned band and everybody’s other commitments (Chamuris in Commonwealth Choir, Phillips at Cambridge Sound Studio, Hao in Our Griffins) the journey together had to end.
But Montone wanted to honor the Heat Thunder name and do right by his bandmates with some final output, beginning with the long-in-the-works “Wearin’ Black.”
Made by another filmmaker friend, Elijah Lee Reeder, the David Lynch-esque video unfolds a story in three parts. A hallucinatory sequence follows Montone driving a car in a wooded area while being chased by a vicious dog that morphs back and forth between a dejected skateboarder. Elsewhere, there is a spooky, ritualistic-looking scene seen against a black backdrop as Montone and dancers wear occult attire, mixed in with traditional performance footage.
The video features University of the Arts dance students Rosemary Prendergast, Emily Coulson, Lea Sargiotto and Haylee Warner (who choreographed the dance sequence); skateboarder Austin Leleu; Aubrey Loftus of the Philly fashion and art collective Modern Misfits; and Typhoon the German Shepherd, who was trained by Sondra Rolison of Blitz Pet Professionals. Montone, Reeder and Cohen storyboarded the video over five months early last year and shot it over three day in the spring. “The second day of the shoot, we played ‘Wearin’ Black’ for four hours straight,” Montone says.
His explanation of the video is fittingly mysterious: “The video portrays a skateboarder’s downhill journey through fierce darkness. But in hiding away with nothing left to perpetuate or past to distort… It is asked, could we listen instead? All of the pieces of the video relate inside the head of the skateboarder.”
Watch the video below, check out the “Wearin’ Black” premiere party tonight at Siren Records, and keep on the lookout for Heat Thunder’s A Documentation Of…, the full-length that never was. Montone says it will collect all the band’s recorded songs (including the Key Studio Session recording of “Love”) as well as improv recordings and rehearsal tapes. “It’s something between what we were and could have become,” Montone says. “It even includes a improv from our last practice as a full band…the progression is pretty wild.”