Ashtray Hearts – Indoor fireworks
Minneapolis can get depressingly cold in the winter. Touring bands stop coming through, local bands get sick of moving gear in the freezing rain, and music fans try and stay warm in their apartments, hopefully with the help of their record collections.
Sounds bleak, huh? Well, if you’re anything like the Ashtray Hearts, you find inspiration from the treacherous outdoor elements in the most obvious of surroundings: hardwood floors, white walls and old, noisy radiators. On their debut Old Numbers, the Ashtray Hearts have created a somber, inviting album that reflects those lonely, hopeless wintry days in a city full of broken hearts, dead dreams and bittersweet memories.
Singer-songwriter Dan Richmond favors the phrase “apartment music” — also the title of a compilation on the band’s label, Free Election Records — to describe the artistic (and social) aesthetic. “For me, this is the music that defines my lifestyle, in a sense,” he says.
Richmond, who also plays guitar, is joined in Ashtray Hearts by Brad Augustine on accordion and piano; Aaron Schmidt on trumpet, piano and vocals; Steve Yernberg on guitar, banjo, piano and vocals; Ryan Huber Scheife on bass; and John Jerry on drums.
The “Apartment Music” concept also apparently appeals to other like-minded, eclectic Twin Cities acts such as Work of Saws, Quillan Roe, Florida, Kid Dakota, the Owls and Mike Brady, all of whom contributed tracks to the Apartment Music compilation.
On Old Numbers, Richmond fleshes out the notion with lyrics such as, “It’s easier to leave than be left behind” from “The One You’re Closest To”; “I take comfort in the things that can’t wait” from “Disaster”; “She’s where the winters aren’t so bad/The colors never leave” from “Country Bar”; “Are you still sad when you wake up” from “Southern Wedding”, and “I gave away everything I promised you” from “Watching Me Try”. His thoughts gather like dust bunnies in a one-bedroom apartment.
Backing up the gorgeous melancholy found in the words are sounds that loom and linger with a warm intensity, tugging tightly at heartstrings. At the center are Richmond’s sorrowful Cat Stevens-like vocals, full of regret with maybe, just maybe, a hint of hope.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily trying to get anything across to anyone but the moment,” Richmond says. “I think there is a general — at least on this record — theme of people coming in and out of your life. And in the last few years, whether it be romantic or otherwise, people have come in and out of my life. And I’ve gone in and out of others. So just by keeping track of those emotions and those feelings, they came through in the songs.”