The Current

Great Music Lives Here
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now
News and Interviews

How Heart to Gold's explosive energy got them a record deal

Heart To Gold includes drummer Blake Kuethe, singer-guitarist Grant Whiteoak, and bassist Jim Kiser.
Heart To Gold includes drummer Blake Kuethe, singer-guitarist Grant Whiteoak, and bassist Jim Kiser. Jaida Grey Eagle

by Macie Rasmussen and Jaida Grey Eagle

December 05, 2022

When Minneapolis alt-punk band Heart to Gold staged their first show since the pandemic began, they had no idea who would eventually be watching. Dubbed the “H2G WELCOME BACK BASH,” the October 2021 performance at Artspace Jackson Flats in northeast Minneapolis saw the emo-adjacent band and their fans rekindling the music’s ineffable energy. As singer-guitarist Grant Whiteoak belted an explosive verse from “SMO’,” a packed crowd bounced up and down in unison. The scene, documented in an aerial-view video that went viral, is euphoric chaos.

That night surpassed any concert Heart to Gold had experienced before the pandemic. A day later, they received a direct message that would drastically shape their future.

When the 16-second video popped up on Philadelphia-based producer, engineer, and musician Will Yip’s Twitter timeline, he was instantly drawn in by the intensity inside the small Artspace room. It reminded him of a late-aughts show featuring Pennsylvania hardcore legends Tigers Jaw and Title Fight – both bands he has worked with extensively. “It felt like it was f*cking WWE or something,” he recalls.

A man stands in a recording studio with his hand to his chin
Willl Yip at Studio 4 in Philadelphia, Penn.
Jared Pollin

That night, Yip “went down the Heart to Gold rabbit hole,” and stayed up listening to their back catalog and watching videos. Whiteoak’s unique voice reminded Yip of the first time he heard hardcore groups Polar Bear Club and Kid Dynamite, and he discovered Heart to Gold’s songwriting to be as impressive as their live performance. That’s saying something from someone who has worked with Lauryn Hill, Arctic Monkeys, Turnstile, Panic! At the Disco, Mannequin P*ssy, Bartees Strange, Schoolly D, and dozens of acclaimed punk bands since 2006.

Heart to Gold’s magic, which has won over Yip and so many others, lies in Whiteoak's ability to construct compelling narratives to accompany the hard-hitting riffs. On “Respect,” the lead single from the band’s sophomore album, Tom, Whiteoak sings, “And I wanna bathe in the blood / Of those who deny / That we all just really want the same thing the whole damn time.” These lyrics about contempt for those who refuse to recognize people’s inherent desires lie amid urgent guitar-driven noise.

Sitting in the group’s dimly lit practice place in the basement of a downtown St. Paul building, drummer Blake Kuether says, “It’s never a one-sided thing, the way we play the music. It's always how each of us wants to play it. [When] somebody doesn't like what somebody's playing, we'll change it.”

Whiteoak, Kuether, and bassist Jim Kiser – who replaced founding member Sidian Johnson – grew up on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Kiser initially connected with Whiteoak when their bands were on the same bill at Burnsville’s all-ages venue The Garage. They ran in overlapping social circles in the ensuing years, and Kiser eventually tagged along on tours before becoming Heart to Gold’s new bassist in 2022.

Whiteoak usually leads the group’s songwriting process, but doesn’t only center his experiences. He positions ideas as prospects for the band holistically, while creating lyrics that still come from a sentimental place. Whiteoak hopes Heart to Gold can make the kind of music he needed when he was younger. “If it makes [listeners] feel more distant from negative emotions or energy, I'm very proud of that.”

Kuether is thankful for the narratives, acknowledging that his strengths stem from instrumentals instead of lyrics. The drummer considers Whiteoak’s voice and words as two distinct instruments themselves. “He plays three instruments,” Kiser jokes.

Three people sit with legs dangling over a cement stairway
Heart To Gold includes drummer Blake Kuethe, singer-guitarist Grant Whiteoak, and bassist Jim Kiser.
Jaida Grey Eagle

Although each track has a nuanced course of development, they often begin with an acoustic outline that’s later transformed into a full-band asset. As the trio workshops, giving feedback back and forth, compositions fluctuate, and bass and drums parts come to fruition.

Early Heart to Gold supporter Sydney Larson, now the house manager of the Cedar Cultural Center, remembers hosting the band at a house venue in Minneapolis' Como neighborhood in 2018. She says it was one of the biggest shows they ever presented in the basement. Since then, she’s observed their presence spreading by word of mouth.

In 2018, the band released their debut album, Comp, which was mixed, and mastered by Remo Drive’s Erik Paulson in Minneapolis. The-30 minute record screams Midwest emo. Within the first three seconds of “Gimpy,” the words, “I am emotional / Though I know / I don’t have heart” pummel from Whiteoak’s mouth. Comp isn’t a concept record, so the title is short for “compilation.”

Songwriting for the group’s follow-up album, Tom, began in 2018. There isn’t an encompassing theme for Tom either, so instead of titling it “Comp two,” they simply named it after a valued friend who’s been with them since the start, Thomas Vescio. In the four years of off-and-on work, they revised many elements of the songs, and Kuether says the finalized release gave new life to the record. Kiser, who wasn’t a part of the writing or recording of Comp, views the band’s debut as a rawer project. Whereas Tom retains occasional ballad-like aspects – just tightening the bolts a bit. 

Tom is considered more refined, in a way, because Whiteoak likes to keep the music approachable – formed around ballad-like or catchy qualities. “I like the idea of writing things that aren’t intimidating for somebody else to try. That, in itself, simplifies the process of songwriting,” the guitarist says. He prefers to write songs that easily translate from piano to an acoustic guitar, or to a full band version.

In the fall of 2021, Heart to Gold had wrapped up post-production on the album. It was then that Will Yip, fresh off his rabbit hole excursion, entered the picture. The trio was well aware of Yip and his extensive catalog before they received his first message, so attention from someone who they already deeply respected was exciting.

Upon hearing Tom, Yip hurried to Tim Zahodski – manager of Yip’s independent label, Memory Music – and insisted they bid on it. The band signed with the label in December, and Tom was released by the following April. A release show at the 500-capacity Underground Music Cafe in Minneapolis attracted a sold-out crowd.

Three people in sweatshirts stand close with the heads together
Heart To Gold includes drummer Blake Kuethe, singer-guitarist Grant Whiteoak, and bassist Jim Kiser.
Jaida Grey Eagle

Since 2013, Yip has been a co-owner of the renowned Studio 4 in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken. Co-founded by Joe and Phil Nicolo, the studio has hosted sessions for classic albums by Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Boyz II Men, Billy Joel, John Lennon, the Police, and Nine Inch Nails – just to name a few.

Around the time they signed with Memory Music, Yip invited the group to Studio 4 for a weekend to strip down songs from Tom in an acoustic fashion. During the sessions, Whiteoak remembers seeing pictures of Bob Dylan and Yoko Ono with the previous owners on the wall. “To just get in a room under a microscope and to sound so good,” Yip says of the live studio recordings, “that shows that they're the real deal, that they can f*cking play even in a non-electric, non-plugged in way.”

Yip describes Heart to Gold’s music in terms of its energy. Even songs that aren’t objectively energetic – such as “Capo,” a track from Tom rerecorded for Live at Studio 4, – hold their weight. “There’s not a wasted second in their music,” he says, comparing the experience to working with Title Fight and Turnstile. “Everything that’s there is there for a reason.”

In 2022, Heart to Gold will have taken three trips to the East Coast, one trip to the West Coast, and a handful of stops in the Midwest. They’ve opened for three touring acts: Remo Drive in the spring, Sad Park in the fall, and Born Without Bones in December.

Looking out into a buzzing crowd, the band loves seeing smiles. It’s clear they fill the crowd with energy, and vice versa. Watching the never-ending wave of bodies drives Kuether to drum even more intensely.

The band’s Instagram page is plastered with photos of people stage diving and crowd surfing. Those who’ve joined crowd collisions at shows may have bruised limbs from the cathartic experience. The band notes that they still want shows to remain a safe and comfortable environment for everyone.

This past September, Sydney Larson watched Heart to Gold play alongside others for a fundraiser, and it was the most packed she had seen The Cedar in a long time. The band motivates people to show up early, and according to Larson, there’s widespread understanding that “if Heart to Gold is on the bill for the show, it's going to be really f*cking fun.”

Heart to Gold play a sold-out show at 7th St. Entry on Dec. 6. The Live at Studio 4 EP is out via Memory Music on Dec. 9.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.