At the core of this decision was a two-month nationwide tour, in which Tu Fawning filled in as Menomena’s main support. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity to give Tu Fawning some national exposure, as well as [to] get the new record out there,” says Repp. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, all signs were pointing to a 2011 release if the band wanted to work with outside labels.
“[Polyvinyl was] willing to help us with Hearts On Hold, but on such a minimal level we decided it made more sense to try and put it out by ourselves and to be proud of our work, and not hand it over to someone who liked it, but didn’t seem to love it,” Repp explains.
Listen to “Multiply A House” – DOWNLOAD MP3
Having Tu Fawning tour with Menomena was a natural extension, as Haege is one-third of the democratic music-making project that is Menomena. Still, though, the relationship between the two bands runs deep, revealing itself in much more than just simple favor-granting.
“When Tu Fawning plays in Portland, Danny Seim is at every single show. Kind of crazy, and incredibly supportive,” says Repp. “[Menomena] fought to get us on that tour with them. A no-name band from Portland, Oregon is a hard sell these days, but I think they also loved having friends out with them, too.”
Haege was pulling double-duty for the entire tour, but he handled the pressure without much complaint. According to Repp, Haege had already spent the entire summer balancing his schedule between practicing three or four days a week, playing Tu Fawning shows, working on a movie soundtrack, putting out a record, and managing a bar.
“I think he was exhausted even before he left on tour,” she says. “His life was pretty insane. I think the long van rides were about the most rest he’s gotten in months… but he is such a hard worker in general that is just what he gravitates towards, anyways.”
“It really wasn’t that bad. I love playing music, and I love touring,” Haege corroborates. “Sometimes it seems crazy when you drive all around the country to play 30-45 minutes for people. It’s actually such a small part of the day. Being able to play two shows kind of felt like I was earning my keep a little bit more.”
Beyond the obvious, Tu Fawning and Menomena are nearly perfect tour partners. Both bands approach songwriting with a strong sense of exploration and make themselves at home in the murky spaces between genres. As a whole, Hearts On Hold is a mix of styles, some of which seem conflicting, until you begin to understand the band’s process.
“I seriously think one huge theme that all of us love in music is a quality of something sounding otherworldly. It sent us chasing the past, but almost from a fictitious [or] science fiction approach,” says Haege. He goes on to describe how the band has been affected by “tribal” and “gospel” influences, and those descriptive words are shockingly appropriate. Album opener, “Multiply A House,” is a prime example of the band incorporating these styles. Resounding horns, sultry vocals, and war-like heavy drum beats immediately set the tone for Hearts On Hold, both sonically and visually. Tu Fawning carries itself not unlike Argentine tango or Spanish flamenco dancers, giving off the feeling of controlled bravado and smirking confidence, the music bringing to mind a smattering of reds and blacks.
“Personally, I am a very visual songwriter. When I was a solo performer, I wrote songs from a very personal perspective. Most of the time, a very depressed perspective. That is the beauty of Tu Fawning for me,” explains Repp. “[The songs] aren’t as personal, and it has liberated me to explore unique ideas when writing lyrics.”
Repp penned the lyrics to “Multiply A House” on a long, haunting drive she and Haege took to Montana. With the unfinished track on her iPod, plenty of time, and fitting ambiance, she began writing. The resulting mash-up incorporated both Haege and Repp’s visions for the song.
“I just pictured this almost death march-type walk of giants through a valley,” says Haege, regarding his interpretation. “And it could’ve easily gotten too heavy-handed, but Repp came in with her words and singing and turned it into some kind of sultry R&B song. It’s easily one of my favorite mash-ups of imagery on the album.”
Though Haege and Repp almost exclusively composed the album on their own, Hearts On Hold utilizes methods methods of collaboration.
“Some songs revolve around a sample; another will be a riff that all of us improved on until it became a song, and others were fairly concrete, full-written songs that either Corrina and I had been working on,” explains Haege.
I seriously think one huge theme that all of us love in music is a quality of something sounding otherworldly. It sent us chasing the past, but almost from a fictitious [or] science fiction approach.”
— Joe Haege
Hearts On Hold ranges stylistically from the aforementioned “Multiply A House” to the piano-heavy ballad, “Apples And Oranges,” and the hopeful and progressive “Just Too Much.” “Lonely Nights” is minimal and vocal-heavy, with few frills, while “Hand Grenade” has prominent elements of drone. With such diversity in the tracks, sequencing the album was extremely difficult. Tu Fawning had one sequence solidified and mastered for months, before one pivotal circumstance led to the band’s re-sequencing and re-mastering of the disc.
“We played a show down in Palm Springs at the Ace Hotel during Coachella, and on the drive back, we decided to give the record a listen. It felt off to us and for the first time, it didn’t seem to work,” reveals Repp. When Repp returned home, she had received an email from a good friend, who exhibited his discontent with the album sequencing. “He was basically like… ‘I am going to stick my neck out and be a jerk, but the sequence doesn’t work…’ So he gave us the sequence he thought worked and besides one small adjustment that we made, we stuck with it. From that point on, it made sense to us.”
Due to a lack of funds, Tu Fawning decided to self-record Hearts On Hold, with Haege at the helm. “By kind of mildly strong-arming everyone into that approach, I think we were able to kind of fumble through trial and error a little bit with the more refined layers of our ‘sound,'” says Haege. Throughout the process, Haege and Repp, along with the band’s two other members, Liza Rietz and Toussaint Perrault, learned a lot about working together and turning their loose ideas into completed works. They tried their best to create a cohesive album, which can be difficult.
“All of us love so many different types of music that it seems almost impossible to make a record where every song sounds similar,” says Repp. “I do think, though… that our next record will be more cohesive only in the fact that we have been a band for three years, and have grown more comfortable with each other. We trust each other more.”
Editor’s Note: Apologies for the oversight; Haege is, in fact, not a permanent member of Menomena, but an additional touring member.