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Dead Heavens: ’70s psych grooves with a twist

In Music
REFORMED PUNKS: Much of the Dead Heavens crew has a background in early hardcore music.

REFORMED PUNKS: Much of the Dead Heavens crew has a background in early hardcore music.

Though the name might not ring a bell, fans of early East Coast hardcore will likely recognize at least some of the personnel behind New York rockers Dead Heavens.

The group is composed of singer and guitarist Walter Schreifels, formerly of Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today and Quicksand; guitarist Paul Kostabi of White Zombie and Youth Gone Mad; drummer Drew Thomas of Youth of Today and Into Another; and bassist Nathan Aguilar, formerly of indie-rock group Cults.

But don’t expect the band to conjure the kind of spastic mosh pit mayhem that the constituent members inspired back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. With their psychedelic-blues riffs and shoegaze textures, Dead Heavens have more in common with Cream, My Bloody Valentine and Black Sabbath than they do with Converge, The Blood and Black Flag.

“That’s kind of how Dead Heavens came to be—all of our different influences and styles came together naturally and fluidly,” says Aguilar, who first met Schreifels back in 2011 at a music festival in England. “None of us ever said, ‘Let’s start a psychedelic rock band,’ it just happened organically, which was exciting.”

The group’s upcoming performance at The Ritz will be a one-off headlining show for the group, which is currently touring the West Coast in support of CRX, a rock band led by Nick Valensi, guitarist for The Strokes.

Though the band has only released a total of six songs on three 7” singles, Aguilar says Dead Heavens have plenty of material to fill out their set. They are planning to release their debut LP sometime next year, he continues—adding that with all members contributing, they may even have enough songs to crank out a sophomore record shortly thereafter.

“Walter is pretty amazing when it comes to coming up with not only solid riffs, but vocal melodies and lyrics,” Aguilar says. “The bulk of it is based on his ideas, but we all have our own personalities that we bring into it: I’m very much into loud, sonic soundscapes, so I use a lot of effects and loops; Drew has a very laid-back, groovy ’60s drumming style that he brings in; and Paul is a wizard on the guitar, so we all riff here and there but it’s very much a collaborative process between all of us.”

In addition to drawing inspiration from ’60s garage and ’70s proto-metal, Dead Heavens are also looking to older recording and promotion models in an effort to keep fans interested in a noisy and fractured digital landscape. Following the lead of The Beatles, Aguilar explains the band aims to release a single and B-side every three months and a full-length record every six months. It’s quite a rigorous schedule.

“We all have our hands in different things, but were all very much focused on this,” he says. “When we’re back in New York, we’re practicing every other day or we’re up at Paul’s studio recording and jamming. But we also all hang out a lot. It’s really cool to be in a band with your best friends.”

That group cohesion shows itself in Dead Heavens’ ability to bring the diverse backgrounds, influences and sounds of each member into harmony. For example: the band’s 2016 recording of Can’s “I’m So Green” is a polished and masterful reworking of the original that maintains the song’s integrity while adding new psychedelic soundscapes and lush guitar tones. Listening to the band’s short but sweet sampling of releases only leaves the listener eager for more.

As for the future, Aguilar says he and his bandmates are just as eager to deliver new tunes to their fans. “We all really love this band,” he says. “And we hope to succeed and make it something that’s awesome for everyone.”

Dead Heavens
Dec 4, 7pm, $10-$13
The Ritz, San Jose

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