THIS WEEK I’M LISTENING TO...HEI’AN Live At EastWest Studios (independent)
People like to use their downtime in different ways. Some go fishing, some like to read a book, but Slovenian prog-metallers Hei’An instead chose to book into EastWest Studios in LA. Here, with the assistance of a string quartet, vocalist/guitarist Matic and his bandmates Matevz Pocic (guitar), Peter Smrdel (bass), Gaj Bostic (drums) and backing vocalist (and latest addition to the full band) Aljaz Novak re-recorded four tracks – ‘Can’t Get Out Of My Skin’, ‘Embers’, ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Noises’ – all of which originally appeared on their debut album (and JTo’s 2022 album of the year) ‘Imago’.
The results are nothing short of superb, and are now available on vinyl as well as video clips. Rather than me just banging on about how good it is (although that solo in 'Embers' is nothing short of superb), I asked Matic if he'd be kind enough to explain how it all came about, and where the band go from here.
Q: Why did you decide to record these four songs at EastWest?
Matic: “We knew we wanted to do a video and audio recorded live session in a studio well before ‘Imago’ was released, because we felt it was important for us to not only show the world our music, but also show that we are able to play our music live really well. We’d planned to do that at The Cosmosonic Studios, where we’d recorded our debut album, but in June of 2022, me and Matej Gobec (our producer) went to NAMM in LA. At the end of one day we found ourselves at an after party, hanging out with a bunch of pretty important people from the music industry, one of them being from EastWest Studios. Matej then jokingly said to me, ‘now, if you have the balls, you will seize this moment and arrange to do your live session at fucking EastWest Studios!’ Being a little tipsy at the time, I immediately got the entire idea of doing a live session with a string quartet in such a legendary studio, and so I talked to the right people there and in a matter of 24 hours we had everything planned. I approached Randy Slaugh, who did the programming and co-production on ‘Imago’ and who was also at NAMM at that time, and he agreed to write some new arrangements for a string quartet and piano for a few tracks, and that he would get the session musicians and the videographer, and the rest is history.”
Q: How easy was the session? And how did you pick the songs, by the way?
Matic: “The session was very smooth and enjoyable. The staff at EastWest Studios, the LA Philharmonic session musicians, the entire production team – so Matej Gobec, Randy Slaugh and Cory McCormick – the videographer Paul Bates, everybody was extremely professional, but also very relaxed, nice and fun to be around. We finished the entire thing in one day (we were pretty fast, because it was recorded live, as opposed to the album studio sessions, where each track took several days to finish because of all the overdubbing etc.), and while it was a very tiring and hard-working day, it was a very beautiful and fulfilling one. We only booked the studio for one day, by the way, because the costs involved in this project were pretty high, so we wanted to finish it as quickly as possible to minimize the costs as best we could. We felt four tracks was a realistic number for a one-day live session, and we were right; it still ended up being a sixteen-ish hour studio day, so I’m kind of glad we didn't add a fifth track,” he laughs.
“Now, why these four songs exactly? It’s hard to say. We just felt these would be the tracks that would best showcase what we could do live at the time. We wanted to pick ‘the best’ tracks on ‘Imago’, and although we love the entire album, we still feel like we made the right picks. With ‘Embers’, we really wanted to showcase Matevz’s insane solo played live, for instance; ‘Can’t Get Out Of My Skin’ we picked because of its huge-sounding chorus and the heavy breakdown; ‘Dreamer’ was for similar reasons; and ‘Noises’ is arguably the catchiest (and one of our favourite) track from the album. Plus, we just knew all of these tracks would sound insanely good with a live string quartet and piano, and it looks like we were right, because the live instruments really added a new dimension and depth to them.”
Q. Where does this release take you? Is this indicative of the direction for the next Hei’An album?
Matic: “This release, especially since it came out so close to our debut album’s first anniversary, marks a further development of the ‘Imago’ cycle, and builds on it. In a way, it also marks the epilogue of the cycle, at least in terms of releases. I wouldn’t say it’s indicative of the direction for the next Hei'An album though. We have most of our second album written already, and are planning to go and record it very soon, and with this record we feel we’ve really made a big step from our ‘Imago’ sound. We didn’t really abandon it or anything, we’ve just built on some elements and played around with a lot more electronic elements, leading to a major evolution from our ‘Imago’ sound. So it will sound pretty different from ‘Live at EastWest Studios’ – hopefully even better!”
‘Can’t Get Out Of My Skin’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97Lmw8kQ1Lk
‘Embers’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ra89e8O47A
‘Dreamer’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpiQlw3xygU
‘Noises’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2oBsS9p7fo
© John Tucker October 2023