Self HEELP: HEELS Release Motivational EPs 

Memphis duo breaks into lucrative ASMR/comedy/garage band market.

Have you entertained fantasies of sleeping with a rock star? Have you ever lowered your standards considerably and fantasized about sleeping with a grimy star of the underground music scene? Well, dreams do come true because now listeners can Sleep with HEELS — and Wake Up with them, too. Rather, fans can listen to a pair of day- and night-themed self-help EPs by Memphis-based punks HEELS.

Last year, the band released Good People Even Do Bad Things via Altercation Records, but the move to release motivational music as a followup is somehow an unsurprising one.

The duo, with Brennan Whalen on guitar and vocals and Joshua McLane on drums and vocals, has made a habit of being unconventional. Last Christmas, HEELS hosted a holiday-themed variety show, and their live performances have always toed the line between concert and comedy.

click to enlarge HEELS are Brennan Whalen (left) and Joshua McLane. - HOLLY JEE
  • Holly Jee
  • HEELS are Brennan Whalen (left) and Joshua McLane.

"When we started, I think a lot of people took from a lot of the Goner bands that nobody was talking [between songs on stage]. There was no banter anymore, it was just 'Let's get just up there and blow our rock down your face and kick ya in the teeth and be done with it,' which is a great thing," McLane says of HEELS' transformation into a part-band, part-comedy-duo musical amalgamation. "I've been doing stand-up forever, and Brennan's adorable and really funny and nobody knows about it. So we made a rule that you're not allowed to talk on stage unless it's into the microphone."

That comedic banter, though, has primarily been an aspect of HEELS' live performances. Whalen and McLane may be funny when they play their songs, but the songs themselves aren't novelty. That is, until the duo set up at 5 and Dime Recording with producer/engineer Harry Koniditsiotis to record their pair of motivational self-help EPs, Wake Up with HEELS and Sleep with HEELS.

"Brennan and I have been looking for new ideas and concepts to keep us from getting bored," McLane says, "and we liked the self-help angle of helping someone start or end the day. It was important to us to do it in earnest but make it just a joke. We hope it's funny but also actually useful.

"Harry at 5 and Dime was down to help us get what we wanted done and done fast."

click to enlarge 121652684_339078190497489_5749421128316422843_n.jpg

"When they approached me with the concept, I thought it was a hilarious idea," says Koniditsiotis. "I'm not sure music critics will get it. Is this a band? A comedy album? ASMR?"

In this music critic's humble opinion, Sleep and Wake Up borrow from all three categories. While much of HEELS' work finds Whalen and McLane enjoying or lamenting their self-destructive tendencies, the dual EPs are essentially self-help for aging punks. The tinge of humor is a balm to help the usually apathetic typical HEELS fan stomach the relentless positivity characteristic of self-help.

"Josh and Brennan did the spoken word parts all the way through in one take," Koniditsiotis says. "They have this great Johnny Carson/Ed McMahon-type banter, so it was really about riling them up and capturing the spontaneity."

That spontaneity is where the EPs shine. Sometimes one of the pair will surprise the other, with the resulting chuckle lending the enterprise an indisputable air of authenticity. McLane and Whalen may sound absurd at times, as they list breakfast possibilities or alternatives to sheep-counting, but they're sincere in their desire to help listeners navigate through the day.

"Hey, it's your boy, HEELS," McLane says animatedly. "And guess what, dude? It's time to wake up!"

"I know it sucks, buddy, but we gotta do it," Whalen chimes in. "Life is a nightmare, but we're gonna get through it."

"The first rule of waking up — stay off social media!" McLane says. "It's just gonna bum you out."

"Later in the day. That's a lunchtime thing," Whalen suggests.

McLane and Whalen banter over backing tracks in a major key. The band walks the listener through waking up and gives hints to meet the day — avoid fast food breakfast, call your parents, change the car oil, and "throw some air in the back right tire."

click to enlarge 121193595_960279444456502_5811648270043139642_n.jpg

Sleep is the soothing complement to the get-up-and-go of Wake Up. The vocals are delivered in hushed tones over Santo & Johnny-style guitar-and-drums tracks. "Aren't you glad you changed your sheets this morning?" McLane asks in a callback to the morning-themed EP. (In Wake Up with HEELS, the band first chides the listener about making the bed, and then applauds the now-motivated early riser for going one step further and changing the sheets.)

Talk of counting sheep leads to reminiscence about watching herds of cattle while on tour. "God, I love seeing cows on the road," Whalen muses quietly. "That's why we go to Texas so often."

"Every single thing that happened to you today is drifting away," McLane intones over tremolo guitar. Silliness aside, there is something indisputably soothing about having two tattooed, bearded men sing you to sleep. And don't worry, they'll be there in the morning when it's time to Wake Up, too.

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