For the guys in Heyrocco, 2014 looks as if it’s going to be the one to remember. A few months back, British record label Vital Music Group offered the Charleston rock ‘n’ roll trio — vocalist and guitarist Nathan Jake Merli, bassist Chris Cool (actual birth name), and drummer Taco Cooper — a deal on the band’s debut LP Teenage Movie Soundtrack. The best part is that Vital sought out Heyrocco, not the other way around.
“They’d heard something of ours online and reached out,” Merli says. “They were gonna put out an EP that we made in Charleston that we ended up moving on from; it kind of fell apart. But they flew out here in February, we went out to eat, and they saw us play, and they won our hearts over. They think they can really make it happen for us over there.”
The wheels were quickly put into motion, and the new label has arranged for Heyrocco to spend the fall playing venues around the U.K. and in some European cities, too. The band will be based in London from September to Thanksgiving. “We’ve never been over there before,” Merli admits. “It’s sort of like a college field trip, but we’re just getting to play our own music, so I couldn’t be more excited. This is only the beginning.”
Work on the new record actually began a few years back — high school to be exact. But it wasn’t until last fall that the band decided to take their collection of songs to the studio. Heyrocco worked with producer Paul Ebersold (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, Sister Hazel) at the Bakery recording studio in Nashville to record Teenage Movie Soundtrack. Merli says the album’s mostly about feeling lame, but there are also a few sweeter songs about love and the difficulties of making a relationship work as a traveling musician.
“It hits on all of the emotions of being 18, which is when we wrote it,” Merli says. “It’s a very honest record. It’s got a lot of different feels to it. It feels kind of grungy at times, and there’s definitely pop songs, but we pull from a lot of different influences. It gets really heavy, and it gets really soft.”
U.K. music magazine Clash premiered the video for the record’s first single “Virgin” last month, and it’s a gritty track that speaks of common high school woes with lyrics like “I don’t ever wanna go back there/ I don’t want to call this home/ ’cause maybe I’m still a virgin,” Merli sings. “What if I am, why would you care?”
Merli’s writing style often focuses on storytelling. “I like to start a song with a purpose, an idea, because for the longest time we were writing together, and it used to be random grooves or jams in the garage that we just turned into songs. But it didn’t have a story, and it didn’t have a message, so I think that’s where it starts,” he says.
One listen and it’s obvious the huge debt the Heyrocco guys owe to the alt-rock era of the early ’90s, back when flannel shirts and slouchy jeans were all the rage. That Cobain-era influence can also be heard throughout the rest of Teenage Movie Soundtrack.
“Right around the time we started to write for the record, we listened to a lot of CDs in the van,” Merli remembers. “We grabbed Best of Bowie — that’s one we spun a ton. Nirvana, too. A lot of Pavement. I’m a big Counting Crows fan, and some people hear it in some songs. A lot of ’90s stuff — our childhood records kind of came back up and came through in the record for sure.”
However, Merli and company aren’t nostalgic for their own past. As the song “Virgin” makes apparent, the awkward and sometimes awful teenage years are nothing they wish to return to. But what they have done is look to those memories as influences for the music the band creates now.
“We always felt a little square in school,” Merli says. “I definitely didn’t have the hot girlfriend and was not that cool, so there are a lot of songs from that perspective. I think our fans really connect to that. But, you know, it’s the square kids who do well in the end.”
Heyrocco has begun its So Dope tour of the States. They’ll travel as far as California, another first for the band, before heading across the Atlantic. Teenage Movie Soundtrack will officially debut in March 2015, but the band promises bootleg copies can be had until then at their live U.S. shows.