"It Does Something To Your Heart": Heather Porcaro On Asking For Help & Sharing Music With The World

Heather Porcaro reached a turning point about a year ago where she realized that many of her unfinished musical projects were languishing and creating new songs felt beyond her despite her best intentions. When she was "stuck" she learned how to ask for help from the people in her life and the result is a series of new singles, including "All Hands on Deck", and "Oh No!", with the third, "Charleston", arriving today. Three more songs working with Tim Young and Scott Seiver will also arrive in the new year.

This turning point also resulted in new 7 song album that will arrive next month featuring revamped older songs that have never really been released, and a further collaboration project that Heather Porcaro is pursuing. Now that the engine is in motion, Porcaro wants to make sure to share this music with the world, but part of the message behind the music, as you'll find in the single "All Hands on Deck", is the difference that support can make in your life.

Heather Porcaro spoke with Tower's PULSE! about her long history with Tower Records, refusing to take herself too seriously, valuing her collaborators, and why knowing music really is knowing life.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Did you ever shop at Tower Records?

Heather Porcaro: Are you kidding me? Tower Records is so deeply grooved into my soul and my being. I 100% grew up going to Tower Records on Ventura Boulevard, and Tower video also. That was such a huge inception of music in my life. I don’t even know if I can express the importance of it. Me and my best friend in elementary school would go in there with her dad’s VHS tape recorder, and we would film each other lip-synching to whatever music was being played, as if we were making our own music videos. A lot of my upbringing was spent hanging out in there.

HMS: That is an amazing idea to film like that. That would have never occurred to me. You’re reminding me that there were Tower Books stores, too.

HP: Since quarantine, I have been going through a deep cleaning of my life and I found two VHS cassettes in the cases from Tower Video that my dad never returned. I thought, “I’m definitely keeping these! These are collector’s items!” [Laughs]

HMS: Those are holy relics!

HP: They are trophies.

HMS: Did Tower influence the kind of music you found and listened to?

HP: Totally. That’s the thing I really miss. I don’t know exactly what it was, but maybe the way that music used to be displayed. CD packaging used to be bigger, so you had more vinyl and bigger artwork on CDs to look at. Then there would be the big cut-outs of the artists and the album.

Tower also had those huge paintings on the side of the building. There was a feeling with the art that would grab you. A lot of times as a kid, I discovered music through the imagery. You’d then buy stuff based on that. Also, what people were playing inside the store was a big factor. You’d hear something coming on and go ask.

HMS: You’re hitting on so many things that are in the top five kinds of stories that people have been telling me about Tower, from the artwork to the feeling that everything was accessible. That vibe of access had a big impact on people.

HP: It felt really soulful. A lot of soul went into that place. I went to the Sunset one, too, but I grew up in the Valley, so that was my stomping ground.

HMS: You’ve had some exciting singles coming out, including “All Hands on Deck” and “Oh No!”, and you still have another coming out soon, “Charleston”. I know that you had also been releasing some other music in 2020, like “New Breakdown” and “Bright Night”. Is there a difference in the songs that have affected their grouping?  

HP: “Oh No!”, “Charleston” and “All Hands on Deck” have the same Producers. Then “Bright Night” and “New Breakdown” were actually older songs. “New Breakdown” was a song that I wrote and recorded many years ago, when I was 19 years old. It never saw the light of day, though I always loved it. I referenced that song when I started writing music again for myself, because of how lighthearted and fun it was. I wasn’t taking myself seriously at all. I wanted to share that song and throw it out there.

With “New Breakdown”, I shot a lyric video for it, and we actually filmed part of it with me walking on Ventura, right where Tower was. I did that totally on purpose! It was such a meaningful block to me growing up so I wanted to pay homage to where I come from, musically.

“Bright Night” was another song that was never recorded, and I wanted to use these songs to start rolling out newer material, like I’ve been releasing recently. There’s a lot of music. Next month I’m actually releasing an EP. I’ve just been feeling super-inspired and excited to share all this work. I’m just getting it out there.

HMS: Yes, start that engine rolling and keep sharing it!

HP: Totally! I feel like I’ve gotten on the train and here I go.

HMS: It’s interesting that you mention not taking yourself too seriously. Your new songs do have some lighter tones and even some overt humor in “Oh No!” and maybe some self-critique in “All Hands on Deck”. That’s really refreshing.

What was the process like in writing those two songs and how do they relate to our current timeline?

HP: “All Hands on Deck” and “Charleston” were written at about the same time about a year ago. I tend to lean more towards not taking myself too seriously, because when I do, in my head, I think, “Who the hell do you think you are?” [Laughs]

“Oh No” was actually really fun to write. I wrote the music for it, and the refrain, and the idea right before I was in Nashville. I was spending a lot of time in Nashville this past year, then we went into lockdown. I was supposed to go back there and I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to finish the song I’d been working on, so I sent it over to my friend Ben, who I’d been doing a lot of co-writing with. We had this long conversation about the weird dreams we’d been having, and politics, and what movies we’d been watching. It was a super-long conversation and then a couple weeks later, he sent me a text saying he’d written some lyrics. He sent them over and I was blown away.

For the most part, I’ve always written my own lyrics. It’s been new, in this last year, opening myself up to co-writing because I have too much unfinished work that needs to get finished. When he sent the lyrics, everything he chose was so “me” that it blew my mind that I didn’t write them. He dove into my brain.

Then, it was really interesting because it was such a remote way of recording. Everyone was in their own studio, and that was new to me. I was so used to everyone being able to be together. It worked. It was easy and really fun, but I think we counted five different home studios. Everyone was playing different things in their home studios. It was really fun to pull that one together. I definitely felt the urgency because there’s a reference to our current/last president. I don’t even want to say the name.

I knew that this needed to come out and didn’t want to release this going into the new year. It’s a moment in time of what we’ve collectively been experiencing and going through. Life is so weird, and hard, and we’re always going through weird and hard stuff. I always try to find humor in the darkness, and I try to find the good out of it. Maybe something great will come out of this time for all of us, though it’s really hard to find that sometimes. I try my hardest to find the light and the fun in the midst of it.

HMS: That’s really wonderful. I think the order of releasing the songs makes a lot of sense, too, because “All Hands on Deck” suggests a little bit of fighting back or evading darkness. Then, with “Oh No!”, it’s more full bore taking things on with humor. It’s a great progression.

What about “Charleston”? Can you tell us anything about the ideas or sounds from that song?

HP: “Charleston” is definitely a little bit more Jazz and Avant-Garde elements in the production of it. This song means a lot to me. I wrote it after my cousin, who I was really, really close with, passed away from suicide. The chorus is based off of the last conversation that we had. He was actually in Charleston and we were making plans to meet in New Orleans. I was having a really hard time writing the verses, but I really wanted to finish it, so I reached out to my other cousin, Christopher, who is Miles’ brother, and Christopher is an incredible writer and a poet. I asked him if this was something he’d like to work on with me to honor Miles. Literally, the next day, he sent over these perfect words.

It’s definitely extremely emotional to me, and sentimental, and meaningful. It’s hard to really talk about the song too much because it’s so emotional but, to me, it’s a piece of art that his brother and myself were able to create in honor of him and in honor of our last conversations with him. I’m really proud of the production on it. I feel like the guys did an incredible job honing-in on the feeling of what it is about. I’m excited for people to hear it on many levels. It’s a little more serious than what I’ve been releasing but it’s 100% me.

HMS: Thank you so much for explaining that, and the context behind it. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s such a wonderful story that you and your cousin created something like this. Unfortunately, it’s a very relatable experience and it’s beautiful that you’ve made it meaningful in this way.

The relationship between these three songs is also about working with the same group of people. This is your “pinky swear” group, right? I saw this on Instagram.

HP: [Laughs] Yes, it is.

HMS: How did this secret organization come about?

HP: This is so funny. I’ve been making music and writing music my whole life, but for a long time, which I thought was only going to be a year, but it turned into a decade, I was working on other peoples’ projects. I fell into this realization that it had been ten years and I had not done what I said that I was going to do with my life. I was going through a lot, emotionally and mentally. I’d been medication for anxiety and depression, I was getting off of that, I was really working on myself.

I got to this point where I had signed a publishing deal and was not turning anything in. I felt super-paralyzed and actually stuck, like I couldn’t move. I wondered, “How do I get out of this?” I knew that I had to get vulnerable and ask people for help. It felt like I was having my own personal, creative intervention. I called up my friend Tim and said, “I need help.”

HMS: That’s so cool that you called him.

HP: He said, “I’m coming over. Can I bring Scott?” And I said, “I’ve always wanted to work with Scott.” These great guys showed up and I said, “I’m totally messed up. I can’t finish my songs. I can’t get the ball rolling. I feel trapped.” We did this pinky-swear ritual where we were going to finish these songs, and start recording these songs, and they were going to help. It was, “All Hands On Deck”. We slowly started getting the ball rolling. It took a while. It took a good year to work on it.

Now, the machine is operating. It took a year to build the machine and now it’s working. It’s like we made the printing press and now we are able to make the newspaper. I have so much gratitude and love for Scott and Tim for them really, truly showing up and being there. We need those people in our lives. I think one of the main things it takes to find out what we have those people is vulnerability. To get to a place where you really put it out there and then you see what happens.

HMS: That’s another amazing story that I’m sure is going to really resonate with people right now. A lot of us are in places where we’re more likely to need to ask for help and we don’t want to be a burden to others. But there are these moments of honesty where you just have to make that leap.

HP: When those things happen, it does something to you, and your faith in humanity, and it does something to your heart. It was almost like it was an experiment of trust and faith that people are going to be there for you. I think that’s really hard. I know I struggle with that, and most people probably do.

HMS: Are you three going to continue to work together beyond this set-up period?

HP: Yes, we actually have three more songs that we’re looking to release in the new year. I’m working on another batch of music with some other people, too. The next batch of songs I’m releasing next month will be seven songs, and I’m not sure whether to call it an EP or an LP, since it’s in the middle somewhere. These were songs that were written and recorded a decade ago. A lot of people have already heard these songs, like some of them got licensed, but they never really saw the light of day.

They were never mixed or mastered the way I wanted them to be, so that’s also part of my process right now. I’m going back into my catalog and honoring the work that other people have done with me. I’m giving it the respect that I feel like it deserves and sharing it with the world. Then, in January, there are a few new songs that will be released that I’m currently working on with Tim and Scott.

HMS: I’m constantly reminding people that if they made something, they should be proud of it and give it enough attention, so I think it’s wonderful that you’re going to release those songs.

HP: Thank you.

HMS: I noticed that you have been playing acoustic videos on Instagram of some of your songs. Is that a planned thing, or more about how you’re feeling?

HP: It’s kind of been both. At first, I wanted to practice older songs of mine. Instagram’s such a funny format. I think it starts off being spontaneous, and then when you’re going to push record, you wonder if you look okay or if you should put some other clothes on.

HMS: It really creates a sense of connection for people to do that. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

HP: I totally agree with you on that and I look forward to being more comfortable with doing that in the future.

HMS: You probably remember that Tower Records motto is “No Music, No Life”, also written “Know Music, Know Life”. Which of those appeals to you most and how does it apply in your life?

HP: I would go with “Know Music, Know Life”. I think music truly is soul-food. To get really cosmic, we’re vibrational beings, and music is vibrational. When I say “music”, I mean every different kind of genre, so I think to know all of music is to know all of what life is.

HMS: Wow, that’s pretty profound. That made me think of something that’s occurred to me before: I actually like a lot of different genres of music to the point where people get frustrated with me. For me, the genres are like the different moods of life. Why limit yourself? You’re going to explore these moods if you explore these genres.

HP: That makes so much sense! That’s kind of blowing my mind. There are all the different ranges of emotion and feelings that life has and it’s all there in music.

2 comments

I’’m always happy to hear the direction Heather’s music takes me. There are so many great lyrical and melodic surprises in her music.

Michael Lyle December 09, 2020

I’m so proud of Heather and all the songs she’s written. She’s been struggling for years to get her songs out there and I think now she is in the right place.

Eileen Porcaro November 24, 2020

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