Ariel Vega is no stranger to our New Times readership. As the drummer for the Honeysticks in the '90s, he helped pave the way for the alternative sounds of South Florida today. An eternally busy musician with live tried-and-true chops and a penchant for creation within the studio and session setting, his latest musical endeavor involves his wife Tammy Fons, an accomplished and classically trained pianist.
Under the name of Heady & Sullen they're releasing a debut four-song EP replete with atmosphere and melody. Formed by their different backgrounds but catapulted into creation by a symbiotic link, their music is lofty and baroque and full of love without the aegis of cliché.
New Times: Does the couple who play music together actually stay together? Let's be honest here, who calls the shots in the band?
Tammy: There are many things that keep us together and one of the many reasons is the music. So, which came first? The chicken or the egg? No, we won't get into that, but we will tell you guys that we fell in love before we started playing music together. The official seal to tie this romance was the first time we collaborated on a song. Like most musical relationships it's based on mutual love and respect.
Ariel: We equally share the shots when it comes to the final production. Depending on which aspect of the music we are working on, either Tammy or I will "call the shots." When she writes a song, we collaborate to rearrange the song until we both feel it is right. Sometimes it is based on the vocal's melody and lyrics. In the recording process, I'll engineer and produce the stylistic vision. Ultimately, we each add our ideas and work closely together to produce the final version. There's a definite balance when it comes to who is "calling the shots." Nothing gets released unless we both agree.
Tammy: Our first single "New Offer," is a perfect example of how we work together.
Ariel: Tammy wrote the melody on her piano, then I sang playing off of the melody. Later, I added the sequences to the song in a slower tempo than it was originally to give it that spatial feel. We brought out the melodies even further by using both new symphonic and old synthesizer sounds. My vocals and drums then added the live element. We're so proud of it.
On that note, at what point did you guys decide to put the EP together and what was the process like? Who represents the headiness and who is sullen?
Tammy: We decided to put this EP together back in the beginning of 2013. It was a long process of demo writing on my upright piano. We sequenced rhythms using Logic then tracked live drums and keys into Digital Performer to then mix and master. We've had a busy year. We had recently gotten engaged earlier in the year, planned the wedding and actually got married while putting together our first EP.
Ariel: In regards to who is heady and who is sullen, we both are. The name derived from our first song together. It's the first track from our self-titled EP. On top of the fact that one of the lyrics in the song says, "If we are the same, Heady & Sullen, don't pull back," I also thought it made for a more interesting musical duo name than "Mat & Kim" or "She & Him." We wanted a name that described the dynamics in our music as much as it did our personalities.
You've been a drummer for a long time, most notably to our readers with the Honeysticks. Can you tell us about your experience in that band and in the others before and after leading to Heady & Sullen?
Ariel: I started out as a drummer back in 1992 with a band called Eclipse. Some of you may know Pastor Pedro from Calvary Chapel. He was the bass player for Eclipse. Then we reformed as 52 DSL with Jeremy DuBois on guitar who is a well-known engineer now for LMFAO and Dashboard Confessional among others. Also in 52 DSL was Mathew Shippy, who later formed a band called Y.
Drumming for Honeysticks in 1995 was a great experience. Having played all the local venues from Mars Bar, to Roses, Washington Square and Tobacco Road and Respectable Street, we even took the show to West Palm's MoonFest and Orlando. Honeysticks was a tight little band that was formed with Martin Chan from Volumen Zero on guitar (known as Orgasmic Bliss at the time) and Aramis Lorie on keys before Poplife and Grand Central. But it wasn't until we reformed with Joe Miranda of Swivelstick that Honeysticks received some local notoriety.
We even were nominated New Times Best New Band in 1995. Honeysticks, like other bands in the mid-'90s, paved the way for local alternative and indie music in Miami now. I'm proud to have been a part of that. I've had people come up to me years later that have been inspired and influenced by what we did.
After Honeysticks, I did a twenty-seven date tour of half the country as the drummer for Bird Gets a Smile, a Miami band that later moved to Boston. After that, I recorded various projects like Radioimmuno and Vacant Speed in 2004. I took a break then wrote and recorded my first solo album called Veigs In a Weigh in 2009. While looking for local musicians to perform my solo stuff, I met Josh Manes from Tree View Drive. I became Tree View Drive's drummer in 2009. Although this band was short lived, it was the last time I performed live as a drummer. We even received some radio play in NYC on 101.9 RXP.
I also recorded a side project album called Extended Play EP that featured Eddie Perez from the Bureau and guest musicians like Michelangelo and Laisi from Cornerstoners, Danny Garcia from the Swinging Richards, Marisol Garcia from Dreaming In Stereo, and Eddy Roses from Fiera Mia. Then Josh Manes and I recorded an acoustic album called Aggregates - The Rise of Veracity in 2010. During Aggregates, I met Tammy. A couple of months later, we wrote the song Heady & Sullen while I was still working on Aggregates with Josh. You can hear the acoustic version of Heady & Sullen on the Aggregates album.
Over the years, I've evolved to become more of a studio artist rather than a live performer. I get immense satisfaction from the collaborations with others. I grew musically because of it, and recording lets you explore territory not possible in a live setting. I can say that after all the band hopping and ten independent releases, I've found my musical home with my wife and collaborator in Heady & Sullen. Together, we have written over 40 songs and this first EP is just the beginning.
Tammy you're an accomplished piano player, what is your background with the instrument and where else could we hear your work?
Tammy: I've had a love for the piano since I was a child. My mother placed me in piano classes when I was five-years-old. I started participating in the yearly National Piano Playing Auditions with the American College of Musicians when I was eight. I was classically trained by a Cuban piano teacher, Ofelia Novo, and received a diploma from the National Guild of Piano Teachers in 1994.
Ariel: She's a prolific songwriter with tones of pure melodic ideas that stem from the mix of her classical formative years to her modern musical influences like Amy Lee for example. This is the first time she records anything after a lifetime of playing the piano. Her creativity seems endless and exclusive to Heady & Sullen.
Ariel, you're also a bit of a one-man service for musicians, aside from graphic/print services, what else can you offer rising musicians looking for a visual identity?
Ariel: Yeah, I can be contacted to do photography, design identity, or logo, and design album art for print and digital distribution. I can also design a custom website, as well as produce, record, mix and master your audio. I'll even chew gum while I'm doing it. I'm available if you need drums recorded on your project as well.
With this four song EP you're off to a nice start, what are your immediate plans for the band? Any upcoming gigs, recordings in the works?
Tammy: Thanks. We just filmed our first music video for "New Offer" on our YouTube channel. He recently wrote his first ukulele song called "Waves Rollin' Up Your Sleeves," which was inspired by our Hawaiian honeymoon.
Ariel: In the past year, Heady & Sullen has already represented Miami on BalconyTV.com and we performed live on The Michael Stock Acoustic Show on WLRN radio. We're already working on our next EP and music video. Hopefully by the end of this year, we'll probably do another live radio appearance or live show that has not yet been booked, but stay tuned. Visit our website and our Facebook page for upcoming news.
Pick up their debut EP here.
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