Interview: Wordplay with L.A.’s Machineheart

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Machineheart

Machineheart performs at BottleRock 2016 at the Napa Valley Expo. Photos: Roman Gokhman.

Stevie Scott’s name is the cherry on top of the sundae. The singer-songwriter and her band, Machineheart, is heavily influenced by Fleetwood Mac, and the comparisons made by music fans and critics are rivaled only by the band’s own narrative.

“Perhaps (the comparison) is self-proclaimed,” Scott said at BottleRock Napa Valley, where Machineheart performed recently. “We love them. I think it’s so important to have those people that you look up to. Hopefully we’re doing us, but at the same time we respect our influences.”

The Los Angeles quintet sounds like many different things, from electropop, to indie rock, and yes, to Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, and other golden-era AM radio groups. Scott, who’s named not for Nicks but for her father, Steve, didn’t even know who Fleetwood Mac were until high school.

“The songs you know, because you’ve heard them a million times in life; you’ve heard them in the grocery store, or Target, or whatever,” she said.

Machineheart, based in Los Angeles, has a wide set of influences. Guitarists Trevor Kelly and Carman Kubanda, bassist Jake Randle and drummer Harrison “Harry” Allen are originally from the Seattle area, and were influenced first by grunge and then ’90s alt-rock like The Cranberries and Smashing Pumpkins.

When they met Scott in 2014, through mutual friends, and started writing songs, they had no style—or even goal—in mind. Scott, a former model, had been working on a solo music project but was excited about the opportunity to work with others.

“I still love making creative things but … without people to do it with, it was kind of lonely,” she said. “When we met and we started jamming together, I was like, ‘This is why I love doing music.’ I just love these boys so much. Each of them have something so special that they bring. There is something very singular in doing your own thing. A lot of people love doing that, but I really enjoy the team dynamic. I’m horrible at sports, so maybe this is … an opportunity to figure out the team player thing.”

Their first fling with success came with their covers of popular tunes that they posted to YouTube, including The 1975’s “Chocolate,” Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally,” and some Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, which they play live still, because, “Who doesn’t have the guilty pleasure?” Scott asked.

Machineheart also has two top singles on Hype Machine. The band released a debut EP, “In Your Dreams” in 2015. The three-track and a remix release was punctuated by “Circles,” a glitchy, syncopated guitar-and-keys jam. A fourth song will be released shortly, Scott said.

The band has been working on a debut album for nearly two years and has dozens of songs in the can, ready to go.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio the last four months,” Kelly said.

But Machineheart has had to overcome several hurdles on the road to releasing a full-length debut.

“I think we’re still trying to figure out,” Scott said, who acknowledged it’s difficult and frustrating to have to sit on completed songs for upwards of two years.

Machineheart

“We definitely want to get them out to rest of the world, but when you’re in the moment in writing, it’s kind of hard to step away from that,” Randle said. “While these songs are coming out of us we don’t really want to stop that.”

In the meantime, Scott and her bandmates are content to be releasing a few songs individually through streaming services like Spotify, letting them breathe and grow the band’s fan base.

“I think is so important nowadays just to be very fluid with your plan,” she said.

Scott is the primary songwriter, but relies on the others to call her out when she’s heading in the wrong direction. She also loves writing in rhyme and pulling songs from her journals. She runs most lyric ideas by Randle, who prevents the band from being structured too stringently.

One of Machineheart’s newest songs, which they have titled “Madness,” has a line Scott considers one of her favorites: “Suddenly it vanishes/ both we turn to savages/ clawing at the thing we love.”

On the other hand, another song saw her try to rhyme “colder,” used in the song as a noun, with “holder,” Allen said, and he calls the Scrabble-whiz a “word freak.”

“There’s something so satisfying about the right word in a spot, like poetry,” she said. “That’s when you get the most raw, natural feeling. Maybe I’m a little OCD. I love puzzles, too.”

Kelly compares Scott’s wordplay with something he heard Eminem say once, about bending words to his will.

Another new song is called “Shelter,” which Randle described as a dark downtempo pop song.

“I would never write something like that, but I love what (Scott and Kubanda) did in the studio,” he said. “After that, Harry and I go in and track the drums and bass. It really kind of pulls it and ties it all together. Those are the songs that excite me; where it’s not over-the-top pop. It’s something a little more moody from what we normally do.”

Talking about the new material excited the band, but the fact remains they only have three songs and a remix that are out in the world now. Scott said they are OK taking baby steps. They feel like the sky’s the limit.

“If anything, the success of the first stuff we ever put out just increased our passion to release the next stuff and our excitement for what’s coming next,” Allen said.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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