Warren Jackson Hearne Keeps on Dancing with Death
Around one in the afternoon on a Thursday in July, young ladies and gentlemen walk into Dan's Silverleaf dressed elegantly in black suits and formal dresses. All of the windows and doors are covered by dark blankets and sheets.
Avoiding the dancers, Warren Jackson Hearne walks into the bar fresh from grabbing lunch at a barbecue joint next door. He's dressed casually — black dress pants, boots and a short-sleeve button-up shirt — a severe departure from the classy suits that form the faceplate of his dark stage persona. He is immediately accosted by his creative director, Heather Barahona.
"How upset will you be if the dancers don't have masks?" she asks.
He chews quick.
"Ask her about the masks," he responds, pointing to a girl 10 feet away.
Evan Stone, whom some might remember from an April 2011 Observer cover story about his mass lawsuit against porn pirates, is producing a video for Hearne, and watches the well-dressed court dance before him. The song, which will be played over and over across the next several hours, is "God Will Strike Me Down," the lead single off Eleutheros!, Hearne's new album with Le Leek Electrique. It's a gospel song, largely about the gravity between good and evil.
Stone produced and edited another video for Hearne, 2004's "The Eclectic Collector," back when his band, The Gloomadeers, was much softer and more reflective in spirit.
"I've been friends with him for a long time, and our kids have been friends since before they could speak," says Stone, who also produced and edited videos for Record Hop, Spitfire Tumbleweeds and Jetscreamer.
Warren Jackson Hearne was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to exceptionally musical parents, Lindy and Lynda Hearne. His father still gets royalty checks from his many appearances on Hee-Haw, and Al Green covered his gospel song, "Holy Spirit Come Down On Me," off his 1982 album, Vessel of Love. His parents toured in the backing band for country music legend Roy Clark, and it was on that tour in 1979 that Lynda became pregnant and the family decided to settle down in Tulsa.
The Hearnes started Warren on music early, enrolling him in piano lessons when he was only 3, but he quit at 6. "I don't think I ever liked practicing, was the thing," he says."It was a combination of not wanting to practice and the fact that I didn't want to learn anyone else's method."
In fifth grade, Hearne picked up the violin, which he loved, then opted to join band instead of orchestra, so he wouldn't have to take a bus trip across town every day. This is what led him to learn the bass and contra alto clarinets, as well as tenor sax.
Lynda moved to Montana shortly after she and Lindy divorced ("She loved Whataburger, but she hated Texas," he says. "Shit, that's a good song title."), and Hearne spent his teenage years between Missoula and Fort Worth, where his father had moved from Memphis.
Missoula was a perfect fit for teenage Hearne, who had added the bass and guitar to his repertoire. "I loved the freedom of it," he says. "And it was a very progressive musical town in the mid-'90s. When I was growing up, there were a ton of great bands." He remembers frequently seeing Colin Meloy, who would eventually front The Decemberists, playing for practically no one in Missoula in 1995.
That same year, he started his first band with high school friends called Tar Fish, a group he labels as "kind of shoegazey, kind of Julianna Hatfield. Lyrics of wrist-slitting glory, but such that a freshman in high school would write."
He remembers the name of the band, but not members.
"It was with Mary Margaret Murphy and Jesse ... Jesse ... dammit! Clayton? What was his last name? Fuck."
It was through him that Hearne learned to play the trap set. He moved down to Fort Worth when he was 21, and spent the first six months in Texas living in the back storage room of his dad's guitar shop, Lindy's Guitar Exchange, where he also worked. He doesn't remember certain details, like how he showered or laundered his clothes, but he remembers the feel and smell of the guitars. He remembers woodshedding, borrowing a guitar from the displays and practicing in the back room. "You'd invite your friends over after closing time, and then you'd just play all night," he says.
Hearne began playing dives like Froggy's and The Wreck Room for little to no money, and was drinking heavily, to the point that he couldn't wake up in time to open his dad's store. He now sees those days of heavy drinking as a misspent period of his life in many ways. "All the years I lived in Fort Worth, I never really took advantage of the museums or the parks, all of that. I mean, it's a beautiful city."
In 2002, Hearne moved up to Denton and formed The Gloomadeers, a band that would make his name synonymous with death-folk. They gigged constantly and toured all over the country. He loved the band, despite calling it a money pit at its worst. Still, the Gloomadeers were perfect for the eclectic scene in Denton, featuring violin and chains rattling beside the drum set. In between songs, bassist Mike McConnell, clad in an S&M mask, would recite novel-length palindromes and homoerotic Irish poems.
Hearne's own discography begins with his solo album, 2001's Vision of a Gloomadeer. The band put out Rusalka Songs in 2004 and Grave Ambitions in 2006, a year after they disbanded. In 2008, he released The Black Mouth EP, and Musa Dagh in 2010, named after an infamous mountain in Turkey.
His new band, Le Leek Electrique, released The Aquaticus EP earlier this year, and are releasing their full-length album Saturday at Dan's Silverleaf. Hearne can pretty much pick and choose the musicians he wants to play with, evidenced by the all-star roster of Le Leek Electrique: Veteran guitarist Dan Dockrill, drummer Tex Bosley, bassist Ryan Williams and keyboardist Zach Landreneau. There is also a contingent of understudies who fill in from time to time on the horns, including the legendary Jeff Barnes.
As "God Will Strike Me Down" again plays over the PA, Hearne heads to the back patio and bums a cigarette from his creative director, Barahona. He seems calm and meditative. Band members sit and converse at tables near the bar and behind the camera, waiting to play their parts. In the searing heat, Hearne is smoking, but the temperature doesn't seem to bother him at all.
In fact, his disposition seems forever one of gratitude and peacefulness, and his approachable demeanor suggests not much rattles him. Two days prior, fresh from his day job at J&J's Pizza, he talked about the vital elements of his present.
"Right now, I'm working at J&J's six days a week, which I love. I love doing it. I'm living in Denton, which I love doing. I got to have my son all summer so far, which I love doing. I'm playing shows with my band, which I love doing. I get to practice with them once a week, which I love doing. I've got my girlfriend Jessica ... which I love doing. If anything gets better, my head might explode."
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