As the minds behind beloved local post-punk-pop duo Hearts and Rockets, Kurt Eckardt and Kalindy Williams have gone to great lengths to cultivate a warm sense of community within the Melbourne underground. Founded on a DIY ethos and progressive values, their ability to attract like-minded fans and bands warranted the couple to form the Psychic Hysteria label to help house them all in together. Reinforcing these ideals as a presenter on PBS, we spoke to Eckardt about how he turned his love for the local scene into a career.
Meeting in 2007 whilst frequenting the same underground shows in Sydney, the duo first played together in the short-lived 3-piece Mysteries. Influenced by the goth scene upon moving to Brisbane, Eckardt there started his solo project, Astral Skulls which Williams plied her live synth skills on. Later ending up in Melbourne, the pair embarked on a collaborative venture catalysed by William’s spontaneous earworms; “Kalindy has this real knack for hooks. She’ll come up with these choruses just walking around. We turned them into demos early on just for fun and realised it was really fun to work together making music”. Recorded under the name Heat Wave, Dead Beats served as a solid 13-track introduction into what would later become Hearts and Rockets.
With the initial intention of restricting themselves to playing house parties, Heat Wave were soon offered a set too good to refuse; “Jenny (McKechnie) from Cable Ties was doing her first solo show with Piss Factory who later turned into our best buddies. It just felt like an awesome way to start”. Needing a new name in order to curtail a Cease and Desist from a similarly titled, yet conversely scrubby wedding band, Heat Wave soon became Hearts and Rockets and their sophomore LP Power helped cement a new thematic style; “Dead Beats was less considered because we never played live and were working on it in our spare time for fun whereas Power was more cohesive. A little about taking control of your life and making conscious decisions of who you surround yourself with”.
The band’s latest light-hearted single ‘Milk Bar’ follows the heavy horror sentiments of their preceding standalone, ‘You Don’t Know What You’ve Had Until You’ve Had Enough’. With these singles intentionally buffering the gap between LP’s, Eckhardt explains how ‘Milk Bar’ is a free-wheeling first for the duo, devised off the back of another Williams melody; “I think it’s the first time we’ve put a song out and we’re like, ok this is at face value about going to the shop and there’s nothing else to it. Even an upbeat song from earlier like ‘Anywhere But Here’ was about Kalindy reacting to the mistreatment of refuges in Australia. She said Australia sucks and starting listing places on a map she’d rather be”. It reflects a creative liberty the band have come to appreciate; “Nobody’s really wondering what Hearts and Rockets are doing next. Its ok to have fun and put a song out for entertainment's sake, be it ours or others”.
Having experienced and entrenched himself in scenes all across Australia’s east coast, Eckardt denotes the city where the couple first met as an influence on the band’s DIY modus operandi; “The cool thing about the scene in Sydney is that it’s about having a go. There’s still serious musos but often they would have support bands that were haphazardly thrown together. It’s about mutual respect and having a community atmosphere at shows and in bands rather than how well you can play”. As bratwave punks, William’s stage presence evokes the descriptor best; “At our gigs Kalindy literally acts like a brat. That isn’t a dig, that’s an absolute compliment. If she doesn’t have an instrument in her hand, she’s got her hand on her hip and stomps her feet. It’s not an arrogance, it’s more, this is what we’re doing and we’re here to do it.”. Similarly steadfast in their desire to push feminism to the fore, labelling themselves as feminists emphasises the importance of small choices; “Those decisions that might seem insignificant like, who’s doing our artwork or what bands we’re aligning ourselves with, all help make up a community of like-minded musicians and weeding out poor values”.
Built from these strong values and artistic ideals, the duo’s label Psychic Hysteria acts to house local like-minded talent that feels like a family; “I think a lot of people approach it because of the aesthetic. The music’s not necessarily related. We’re not a punk label or an electronic label, it’s mainly just working with people I trust and have similar belief systems and expectations with”. Underpinned by Williams’ artwork, photography and videography, the label’s distinctive style is pervasive through each release; “The overall look of it has a lot to do with Kalindy’s work. Most bands ask her to do their artwork even though the whole ethos of psychic hysteria is that we have no control over the artist”.
Whilst cultivating his own community, Eckardt also contributes to an established one as host of Homebrew alongside Maddy Mac on PBS. From his Sunshine Coast debut at 13 to playing live cassette tape recordings on Sydney’s 2SER, local radio has always occupied a special place in his heart; “There would just be a void without community radio. It’s special because passionate individuals there genuinely want to share something they feel they have insight into. I think listening to the same music you know you like over and over is so depressing. I’d rather listen to 2 hours of something I don’t think I like and try and discover something new than have a Spotify playlist”. Evoking his own connection to unheard elements of the Australian underground, hosting Homebrew is a role Eckardt takes incredibly seriously; “I sit down on a day I don’t have much else to do and just listen for 8 hours and research everything. I pick a playlist about 4 hours long and probably only play an hour’s worth each week. I have to treat it like a job because that’s what I’m there to do”.
Off the back of this year’s two singles and their respective recorded Facebook launch shows, as is the fashion for the times, Heart and Rockets are hard at work on their 3rd LP. Though their following continues to grow and confidence is palpably high, there remains little risk for the duo losing touch with their underground roots, instead opting to bask in them; “We could easily clean this up and use our equipment and time to make a band that’s way more commercially viable… but we’re just like, nah, this is for fun. This is for the community”.