Wednesday, December 7, 2022

INTERVIEW | 'It's Been Nothing But Fun' - Protect Your Heart's DIY Journey to Releasing Debut LP '[re]Introduction'


This year saw pop-punk band Protect Your Heart finally drop [re]Introduction, their sizzling debut LP that had been years in the making, one that had seen the outfit's members shift genres to come together and push on through the pandemic to craft and produce all by themselves.

They are Jake Bratrude, Anthony Palazzole, Kean Bartelman and Matty McDonald, and their graft and grit culminated in a record packed with great songs and a greater amount of love, the epitome of Do-It-Yourself.

Matty, Kean and Anthony were kind enough to take some time out of their day (even while feeling under the weather) to talk about Protect Your Heart’s origins, goals and inspiring determination to get their music out into the world.


I find the origins of Protect Your Heart very interesting. You all had established backgrounds in the realms of dance but, here you are, a pop-punk band. How did that transition come to be? How did the band form?

Kean: We were trying to find something new and fun to do. We’d spent so much time in dance music producing and DJing and it’d got to this point where it felt more like a job than fun. The scene that we were involved in started to shift a bit, becoming more high school clique-y to a degree - if you weren’t in with the cool kids or crowd [then] opportunities kinda stopped opening up. 

We went to Warped Tour. We all started music in the punk or metal scene or some variation of it. On the way up there, seeing the show and on the way back, we were listening to all those bands and were like ‘it [would] be fun if we try this’. 

The day after we got back, Jake sent us an iMessage with two little riffs. Those riffs opened up Pandora’s Box. We switched gears that day. I finished up some of the dance music stuff I had sitting around, Anthony did as well, but I haven’t made any new dance music since we started working on this.  

Matt joined about two years into the process, after we’d written all the songs.

Matty: Fortunately, you guys were kind enough to not write any vocals so I had a clean slate. It was a breath of fresh air joining the band, not only because of the family that they’d created but for me, just like with Kean, music had become really transactional. It was a way to make income for the Covid years and, for the several years prior to that, it was how I paid most of my bills. Before that I was in a band, and the aspirations of that band…we had such pressure on us that [while] it had its fun moments, it felt like a job. I wanted to have fun again.

When I got the chance to get to know the guys, see the way that they worked and thought about the project, it just clicked. I had actually made a point of [how] I was never going to be in a band again. I didn’t want to be in a band, I was tired of band life. I didn’t want to put all this effort in if it felt like a job…I haven’t felt that at all since I joined this band. It’s been nothing but fun and entirely creative. 

Our motto is: make good shit with people we enjoy making good shit with. Fun is the most important thing. These guys gave me a complete clean slate to be who I wanted to be as an artist, and I love that freedom and trust. 

Kean: It’s really easy for us, as a band, to exist. Everyone individually is very talented in their own right and can function as a solo artist. The combination of everyone coming together with a common goal makes it very, very easy and a lot of fun. It doesn’t feel like there’s one lead songwriter, or that this person is the face of the band. It’s a collective. Everyone comes to the table with ideas and goals. [And] we’re just getting started.  

Matty: The very first time I met the guys, we all agreed on [some] things - never stop letting it be fun; don’t overthink anything; and whoever has the best idea wins. There’s no room for ego, and there’s no room for one person trying to take the lead. It has to be equal. We’ve done an excellent job of maintaining that. It’s been the most enjoyable working experience I’ve ever had in music.

What was it like for you then, Matty, to join the guys who had already embarked on this creative journey? Especially when it would, obviously unbeknown to yourselves at the time, ultimately be impacted by a worldwide pandemic? Did that make things harder as the new guy?  As a new band, too?

Matty: What’s funny is that the day that I met these guys, they were like ‘we have fifty-something instrumentals, let’s give you a Dropbox folder full of all of them and you pick and choose what [ones] inspire you the most’. That isn’t the first time that’s happened to me. When I joined my previous band, they gave me fifty-five instrumentals and said ‘Matt, we have to finish a record -  go pick your favorite eleven’. I had been through that ringer before but, this time, it was much different. I really feel they’re all really similar to me in the way we look at creating music. 

The Covid thing was interesting. We communicate very well, and it made the process really enjoyable. Most people would crumble under the circumstances and not communicate well and not push through. But it gave us the chance to focus on the writing. We didn’t get to do it in the same room together - we look forward to doing that more when we write our next batch of songs. Since we all work, we all prioritize our time well. We work in tandem and consistently make progress. Lockdown helped us finish writing the record faster than we may have otherwise.

Finishing vocals, I had complete freedom to be in my room alone. We were in lockdown, what else could I do besides write lyrics? I busted out the record, we all did, pretty quickly. I was pretty thankful for it, as depressing as it was. It actually also lent itself to some good lyrical content. Songs like ‘Take Control’, ‘Fall Apart’ and ‘Close To You’...‘Closer To The Grave’ is another one…a lot of those lyrics came during the height of my depressive episode during Covid and I’m really happy with the way that they turned out because of it.

Anthony: Thinking back on it, we did two days in the studio with Matty when we first met him. We then hung out for a third day, the day after we were in the studio. We were at a barbecue and listening to a bunch of ideas that Matty had put down over the tracks and we were all jamming to them as if they were finished songs and we knew all the words. As soon as lockdown happened that week, it seemed as if we had already been a band for a long time and knew what we had to do. 

Kean: All of us had a different reaction and dealt with it in a different way. It gave me more time to sit and work on stuff for us and compile it into things we could use later on. Logos, t-shirt designs, album art…all that kind of stuff. It actually gave us the ability to dedicate more focus to what we were trying to finish - well, start and finish.

With Matty joining, quite literally, right before the world shut down, when did you finally first perform together? When was your first show?

Matty: Our first show was in June, and our very first rehearsal was the day before. We crammed it all into one weekend. We’ve all performed for many years in several different capacities. It takes a little time to get your stage legs back and get into your same rhythm but, by show number two, I think we figured it all out. Show one was still great, we were still happy with it but it only got better with show two. It's only going to get better now that we’re getting regular reps in.

Kean: It was a great show, we couldn’t have asked for a better first show. Standing on stage, Jake and I, I don’t know if you guys felt the same, it felt like we were a spectacle rather than a band. We had so many people there, just watching what we were going to do and it felt kinda weird. The last show we played was a totally different vibe.

That rehearsal, we had booked it months in advance. Then a week or two before [the rehearsal] we got hit up to play that show and we were like ‘well, we’re going to find out the day before if we can actually play it’ *laughs* It was very much a trial by fire, but we survived.  

Something that really struck me about you guys, and something that I really like, is how visual Protect Your Heart is - your cover artwork is so different, so interesting. To circle back to what Kean mentioned earlier about designs, you're very hands on in that regard. Why is that so important to you? Is that an aspect you'll always want to be so firmly involved in?

Matty: No matter what happens, we always want to have a really strong connection with every piece of information, art, music, [and] anything in between that comes out of the band. We want listeners to feel that they’re part of the family too, to feel that there’s a human touch from us on everything we put out. It feels more authentic. I’m a little jaded because in some past music, I didn’t feel I was. Now that I have a chance to be that, I want to express it in the best way possible. People take notice, they notice a lot more than we think they do. They definitely know when there’s a special touch, and when we put our love and care into something.

Kean: Before Matt, keep in mind we were writing two years before we even met him, we had many conversations about keeping every part of this process in house as much as possible. That was always the goal. It was always meant to be a one-to-one reflection of who we are as individuals and as a collective. It helps that my professional background is branding, marketing, graphic design and, now, video production. Anthony is also in similar fields, specifically video production. We have the tangible skills to make all of the elements of this creative project. From our perspective, if you’re able to write and record the music, produce the music [and] also produce the merchandise, the album covers, the social media content, all of it…why would you pay someone else to create a representation of you? [They] aren’t going to care about it as much as you do, and maybe not do as good of a job because they don’t have skin in the game. 

The only way that we will stop being obsessively, compulsively hands-on [with] every piece of the puzzle is if we simply get so busy that we literally don’t have the hours.

If you look at all the single art then look at everything as a whole, there are easter eggs in every single thing that, unless you know us, they might just look like little pictures. The album artwork is representative of either a piece of this project or our Polaroids we took while we were writing the songs. Everything that is on everything has a meaning. Some of them are not for other people to figure out, but they are all meaningful to us.

Was making not just your music but also the art and, well, overall project meaningful and reflective and representative of y'all what you set out to do? Or did you find that it just came naturally as you worked on it?

Matty: There’s definitely intent behind it but I think that’s naturally what we wanted to achieve. For me personally, [I came] from spending many years of writing songs where everything was always rewritten twelve to twenty times to try to make it perfect to achieve radio placement or to make it so it wasn’t too much about me so that it [would] have a bigger reach…I always had to sacrifice personal touch, and always had to sacrifice lyrics that I really wanted for what the rest of the band wanted. With this, it’s intentionally the entire opposite. I’m sure many lyrics aren’t perfectly optimized to reach the greatest of the masses but that wasn’t our intent. Our intent was to be honest, let that live and be a snapshot in time.

Kean: We bailed on these other projects that had certain levels of success to pursue this, in search of this creative thing we could do that was wholly unique to us. Could I have looked at other bands in the scene and copied their artwork? Certainly. But what’s the point? Why? If we’re trying to break the mould from what we heard sonically, why would we want to fit the mould visually as well? That didn’t make sense.

Matty: Before joining these guys I didn’t have any intention of joining a band again. I can pretty strongly say that whatever Protect Your Heart does, this is probably the last time I go hardcore into being in a band. I want Protect Your Heart to be my full time career forever. I would not be interested in starting another project from scratch or joining another band. I want to give my hundred percent all and put my heart into it the way that I want to, I want it to be authentic and fun and not lose any of that.

Besides that, very welcome, authenticity that you're bringing to the table, what do you want listeners to take away from Protect Your Heart?

Kean: For me, the biggest thing is if you’re actually invested and dedicated to something, and committed to seeing it through no matter how difficult it is or how long it takes…you actually can do everything by yourself - this record is a testament to doing that, every element. Of course. we brought in people to collaborate with on a couple of the music videos to shoot the music videos because we only have two hands each--

Matty: Working on that!

Kean: It's hard to play an instrument and film yourself *laughs*. Everything you see and hear, every note and lyric on the record, every minuscule detail…is coming from one of our computers. I hope [people] enjoy it. It’s fun for us to make and I hope it’s fun to listen to. 

It’s an example of [how] when you genuinely want to pursue something, nothing should get in your way of doing that - the only person that can fuck you up is you.  


[re]Introduction is out now.

For all things Protect Your Heart, visit their website.

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