By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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Before the Heartgraves had a name, and when they were just five guys in search of a little alchemy, they were having an early Friday evening practice in member Jonny Bionic's duplex apartment. Bionic's neighbor had become accustomed to music from next door; Bionic would often practice with other musicians or work on solo home recordings. Anticipating that a full band might be a bit louder, he checked with his neighbor to make sure everything was cool.
"I spoke to her and I said, I'm going to have a band practice here and they are going to be a lot louder . . . is it going to be cool?' She said, It's cool,'" Bionic explains from the Bikini Lounge. "I asked her again, You sure?' and again she said, It's cool.' So we were rehearsing, not late or anything, like nine o'clock, and my neighbor started pounding on the door." The suddenly irate neighbor, possibly fueled by spirits, first asked that they turn it down, which they did. But as soon as the band started playing again, the neighbor began pounding on the walls. Confused, the band again offered to lower the volume. The woman instead threw a fit, told the band they had better not turn down but turn off and called Bionic a son of a bitch. Guess that means they were loud enough.
These kinds of incidents can create a band mythology. Turns out Bionic's neighbor was named Mrs. Heartgraves. An informed silence came over the players, and a few seconds later keyboardist Andrew Lockwood suggested that they call the band the Heartgraves as an homage to the unhappy neighbor. "We all seemed to be looking around and thinking the same thing," Bionic explains. And so the Heartgraves, an unusual brotherhood of active local musicians who never quite hit the mark with a myriad of dissolved projects, were born. The Heartgraves feature four distinct songwriters, four alternating lead vocals and one sympathetic drummer content to let his kit speak for him -- the guy once feigned death to get out of an interview. And since they are a fraternity of sorts, they have an insular frame of reference, constantly name-checking events and bands that would easily confuse someone new to local music. One minute they are talking about Gullabaloo, the Sunday night backyard theater event at Emerald Lounge, the next they mention the Trailer Park Disaster, Jonny B's other band, which some of the Heartgraves also play in.
The total list of former and current projects, large and small, compiled by the Heartgraves over the years hovers near 20. The band is definitely a product of a nice little scene revolving around the Emerald Lounge and Phoenix culture in general. The idea for the band, the core of which came out of the untimely demise of the promising Velveteen Dream, fronted by gifted songwriter Sarah Meyer, was to supply a forum for the stray material each of the four songwriters had amassed over the years.
Some bands of brothers opt for matching tattoos or brandings, or secret handshakes. The Heartgraves opted to show their solidarity by embracing a played-out idea from the rock music canon -- the "let's be funny and all have the same last name" shtick. The gimmick, however, doesn't obscure the genealogical tree these guys have planted. Take a look at this quick generational profile, and try not to get lost along the path:
John Blinco, a.k.a. Jonny Bionic, a.k.a. John F. Heartgrave (see what I mean), rhythm guitar/vocals/songwriter. He moved from Indiana in the mid-'90s to begin a new life. Perhaps best known for his band the Trailer Park Disaster, this odd duck brings at times quirky American rock 'n' roll and a unique stage presence to the band. A quiet and funny man offstage, onstage he goes for it, sometimes minus shirt.
Andrew Lockwood, a.k.a. A.J. Heartgrave. Local scenester deluxe contributes keyboards, vocals and big hooky pop with his smooth balladeer voice. A veteran of many projects including the Lemmings, Danny, and Velveteen Dream, he has been entrenched in Phoenix music for about a decade.
James Miles, a.k.a. J.L. Heartgrave. Another longtime local player and student of music, he and Lockwood have collaborated on numerous ideas over the years. Miles was at first reluctant to join another collaborative effort, having lately preferred to create intelligent acoustic pop gems on his own. But once Miles saw the enthusiasm of the other members, he became excited.
Pat Singleton, a.k.a. (what else?) P.J. Heartgrave. He's a hard-rockin' bass player featured in some of the Valley's most renowned saccharine pop bands, including Autumn Teen Sound, Sugar High, and Velveteen Dream. Singleton steps out with some nice straightforward rock songs and an informed vocal style. The starry night to Lockwood's pop day, Singleton enjoys stretching out the up-tempo rawkers.
Nicholas Pasco, a.k.a. Nick Heartgrave. Formerly of Penny Drops, as well as Danny, and Velveteen Dream. Little is known about this shadowy figure, except that he has previously played in bands with every other Heartgrave member but Miles. Pasco has a gently urgent drumming style, fueling forward movement while playing in the moment.