California trio Heavy Gus dive into their captivating debut album Notions, a beautiful and stunning rush of radiant, warm indie rock ready to soundtrack life’s highs, lows, and everything in between.
Stream: “Paracosm” – Heavy Gus
Maybe the terror of singing all of our apprehensions is something we can all relate to and more so, celebrate that openness.
With music as exhilarating and feverish as it is refreshingly intimate and deeply vulnerable, Heavy Gus have hit the ground running as one of indie rock’s newest – and most exciting – artists to watch this year: A band so full of verve, charm, and raw poetry can’t stay a secret for very long these days, and we’re ripping the Band-Aid right off. Beyond the sheer humanity of their art, the West Coast trio brings considerable talent and a wealth of experience to the table, all of which is felt in full on their debut album: A captivating record built on passion, connection, and love, the heartfelt Notions is a beautiful and stunning rush of radiant, warm indie rock ready to soundtrack life’s highs, lows, and everything in between.
In the heat of my wild ideas
I feel myself spinning round
Hard to tell if it’s all real
or a paracosm I’ve found
Clouds are shaking water off them
like a dog at the pond
Rinse the fever to my feet and down
to seep through the ground
California winter day toward the end of July
Heavy fog and a feeling I can’t quite identify
A melody sings out to me and almost pacifies
Clarity comes in a flash and it passes me by
– “Paracosm,” Heavy Gus
Released August 5, 2022 via Renew Records / BMG, Notions is an inimitable introduction to a band we can’t wait to hear more of in the coming years. The trio of The Lumineers’ Stelth Ulvang, his partner Dorota Szuta, and Blind Pilot’s Ryan Dobrowski, Heavy Gus may be new to the general public – having only released their first single last year – but the three are longtime friends. While Ulvang and Dobrowski are “known entities” in the music world, Szuta is somewhat less known; a marine scientist whose work has taken her to “seafloors everywhere from the Sea of Cortez to Antarctica,” she has also performed onstage with artists such as Laura Gibson and Gill Landry.
And yet, it took the world shutting down for a little while for these three to make a record. “We have been playing songs as a couple for a decade, and only during the pandemic did studio cancellations and our touring schedules completely freeing up allow us to lean into the process and finally see this morphing collaboration into fruition,” Heavy Gus tell Atwood Magazine. “It’s a collection of songs mostly written for or about each other, peppered in with a bit of existentialism and alternating nihilism/optimism.”
“Being a couple that had instruments strewn about our living room is the easy answer (to what brought us all together), although it took Ryan lighting the fire under our butts and being excited to help shape our songs to encourage us to try stuff out in the studio,” Stelth Ulvang explains. “We were all out on tour with The Lumineers, and on a bored afternoon the three of us went into the studio to see what we could do with a couple songs we were chewing on (Dinner for Breakfast and Trees). Once we heard the two songs we decided we had to do a full record.”
“We really wanted to make this sonic archive that could stand as a bit of a collage of our time living in Bishop, CA. It was only once we had started the recording process that our co-producer Parker Cason (Blank Range, Lauren Morrow) knew that we had something worth leaning into more.”
When you are running
I see it you are fearful you are hunted
I’ll be there when you’re thinkin’ you are nothin’
I’ll run there anywhere if it means somethin’
When you get rollin’
You never seem to slow down, you’re a train
The problems with our power are engrained
You never seem to slow down
You’re a train
Still to be
Everything is moving
What can I see
Wavering and growing
Locked on ever changing
Molten ever flowing
Struck a flare and glowing
Pain is still to be
The album’s title Notions is a great conceptual introduction to Heavy Gus’ diverse, no-size-fits-all sound.
“There was an embroidery shop on a small mountain road in Colorado that Ryan and Stelth rode past on a bike tour,” Dorota Szuta recalls. “Stelth sent me a photo of himself next to the store’s mural that read, “quilting, embroidery, and notions.” I immediately thought it was perfect for an album title – as in an idea but also in the sewing sense, of all the loose ends, bobbles, sequins, and finishing touches put onto a project.”
“It’s rare to go into a recording process with no intention for it to be shared broadly, and as such there are songs that are deeply personal, vulnerable, and playful. After our initial humility and hesitations, I think there is no other way to present us.“
While “radiant indie rock” fits Heavy Gus’ artistry in loose, broad strokes, it’s near impossible to define or pin down the character and utter multi-dimensionality of this band’s ten-track debut: From the swampy, ethereal, and atmospheric churn of opening track “Dinner for Breakfast” and their heavy, hearty debut single “Do We Have to Talk?” to the grungy garage rock of the catchy, searing standout “Weird Sad Symbol,” to the more heartland folk rock sound of “Still to Be” and the unapologetic post-punk revival charge of “Try,” Notions fluidly incorporates a vast range of musical elements and influences from rock and beyond. Heavy Gus truly are a “hodge-podge desert collage,” as they colorfully put it. Driven by Szuta’s fiercely expressive, sweetly stunning vocals, a healthy dose of guitar reverb and overdrive catchy hooks, and strong beats, Notions is quite the behemoth.
Take another year off, put it in a box
Tuck it away with the ghosts of all the rats
we killed like some weird sad symbol
Spin it in a new light, spin it on a disc, put it in a wish
I wish I was out in space, and could watch the world crumble
It’d be like, ooh like some weird sad symbol
It’d be like, ooh watch the world crumble
I’m following the signs, reading between the lines
The time we waste is lost
but I ought to not exhaust myself trying to keep up
Leave it on a doorstep, climb upon a windowsill,
I will, I’m still a sucker for a sappy novel
And watch the world crumble
“I think as folk musicians historically, all of us had a real great time playing LOUD,” the band say. “Leaning into guitar feedback, distorted cymbal crashes, and low end fuzz, screaming whoops of delight in the studio. It really came through in the end of the song ‘Paracosm’ or in ‘Weird Sad Symbol.’ So much fun to just be big and loud.”
As for lyrical highlights, Ulvang immediately brings up the opening line of the record, in “Dinner for Breakfast”: “’Making plans knowing we’re never gonna keep them. By the time you call I’m already asleep and by the time I wake you’re gone’ is a line of Dorota’s, and somehow all the conversations and couples therapy and email chains and text messages don’t communicate her feelings to me as clearly and succinctly as her lyrics do,” he says.
Notions is equal parts sunny and dusky, dirty and clean, sweet and dusty, feverish and tempered; a grounded, achingly intimate album with love, compassion, raw human connection, and incredibly deep levels of self-reflection and vulnerability at its core.
Early daylight, grey and blue
Pressing forward, thoughts of you
Heavy smoke, idle smog
Put a soft edge, put a soft edge on it all
Mind that wanders when you’re away
When in motion how do you stay?
I think it’s snowing, or is it ash?
Is it too late, is it too late to draw you back?
Do we have to talk?
I’d rather be the moonlight on your cheek on a dark and empty street
Or the breeze against your back when you’re walking down a dusty sunlit path
Water in your bath
– “Do We Have to Talk?,” Heavy Gus
“I hope listeners appreciate the brazen vulnerability of it all,” Heavy Gus share. “Of singing love songs and break up songs to each other, and that that makes people feel like they can be vulnerable too. Maybe the terror of singing all of our apprehensions is something we can all relate to and more so, celebrate that openness. And maybe someone will blast it out of car speakers driving through the desert.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Heavy Gus’ Notions with Atwood Magazine as the band goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut album!
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Stream: ‘Notions’ – Heavy Gus
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:: Inside Notions ::
Dinner for Breakfast
A long distance love song of longing and finding contentment in solitude. It would make sense if y’all could watch the purple sunrise over the desert but ah well, here are words.
Weird Sad Symbol
Ah, the irony of trying to write words about a song that’s mostly about looking into things too much. Thank god we just got to sweat this song out in the studio as if we were in an aerobics class holding 10 lb guitars.
Do We Have To Talk?
Now here’s a song about being tired of verbal communication and wanting to connect with touches and bodies and all the other physical ways instead. This song is a back rub as an antidote to playing phone tag for three days.
Breathe is a collection of photographs from Bishop, CA where we (Stelth & Dorota) live. We wish we could have mentioned the roadrunners, dust devils, and smell of sagebrush, but the mules, melons, and rattlesnakes will have to do.
Still To Be
This song is an offering to a loved one. One of the least spoken love languages is that of tiring support when one person’s energy is depleted and the other has to doggy paddle for two just to keep everyone afloat.
There is this Annie Dillard quote- “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Anyway, it’s absurd we feel worthy of knowing the sound trees make when we aren’t around.
A good ol’ pop song about being blue. Depression, but make it fun!
Inspired by Ursula K. LeGuin and a low-grade fever, this song is the outstretched hand grasping for answers to deep questions, and is ultimately a reminder of how beautiful it can be to remain empty handed. We are small; being alive is purpose enough.
I highly recommend every couple write a break up song together. Follow it up with couples therapy…
This is our final love song of the album, featuring some tips from our own personal rule book as a chorus- “Make it bright, make it good, keep it moving, keep it on, make it bright, make it count, keep on wild, keep it hot.”
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