London Calling: Punk Duo Heart Attack Kids Are Storming Through Southern Ontario
We talk to the London, Ontario punk outfit about their hometown and how to make the most noise when you're a duo
Photo by Stephanie Tudin
The walls of 19-year-old Nathan Stock’s parents’ basement are splattered with paint and band posters in lieu of wall paintings, and the floor is covered with musical gear. This is where the punk rockers of Heart Attack Kids jam out, not far from the heart of downtown London, Ontario – where you’ll find a thriving music scene if you know where to look. “We’re lucky to have this space,” says Stock, Heart Attack Kids’ drummer. He and 20-year-old Jared Ellul have been playing as a duo since high school. They initially went through four band names in about a month (including 8 Bit Ghost and The Petty Organs) only to settle on a moniker inspired by an offhand comment by Trevor Walker of The Tracks. Ellul shares that after one of the duo’s first shows as teens at Norma Jean’s, Walker commented: “Oh man, you guys look like you’re having like, seizures up there, or heart attacks or something!” Stock and Ellul were always the youngest guys playing bars, and they still are among the younger faces in London aside from acts like Youngest and Only. Age has not been a barrier in the band’s attempts to get noticed, though: they play loads of local shows for fond crowds, including gigs at Grooves Records Store for Record Store Day. Punk rock label Underground Operations was so impressed by the band’s Rock the Park performance last year (where they opened for the likes of Billy Talent, Killswitch Engage, and Rise Against) that they inked a deal with them soon after it.
“It’s great having the name behind us; it’s got a lot of history,” says Ellul.“We’re experimental funk/alt-jazz rock,” jokes Stock about the band’s sound, which in fact will satisfy cravings for solid punk/garage rock. "Platonic Love Bomb" hooks listeners right into their Heart Attack Kids EP, with sounds so rich it's hard to remember that only two guys make up the band. Accompanying visuals, such as the “Probably Not Important” music video, maintain a breakneck pace that matches their high energy live performances. Heart Attack Kids gigs are un-Snapchattable explosions of sound and energy. Among a population of beer-chugging hockey bros, fishing enthusiasts, and country music fans in London, there are still a large number of people who are happy to come out to local venues to appreciate the rock and roll that the Kids deliver. For all their ferocious on-stage energy, the guys are really chill—Stock tells me they enjoy “just hanging out with each other and talking about dorky music things–gear, shows, and bands.” I quickly get a sense of how comfortable Stock and Ellul are as a creative duo as they complete each other’s thoughts. They both make it clear that they have the same passion and goals in mind: music comes before everything else.
Noisey: When people think “London”, they associate London, England with rock, rather than London, Ontario. How did growing up in Ontario shape your experience with rock and as artists?
Jared Ellul: London actually has a really good scene for almost all music; everybody is very supportive here, there’s a lot of campus radio shows, and people put on shows like every weekend.
Nathan Stock: There’s a lot of bands from London, and everybody you meet—especially in the places we hang out–9 people out of 10 are in a band, so they love going out to support other bands.
Ellul: They already know it’s art, so they come out and they’re like “Hey, good job, thanks for keepin’ going.”
Stock: “I’ll pay the 5 bucks to get into your show so you can have gas money to get home.”
Ellul: “And we’ll see you next weekend.”
What makes you two work well together?
Stock: We were in a band with two other people, and that worked. It was very much a band; I played the drums, then [Jared] would write a guitar riff, then we’d have to teach it to a bass player who picked it up quickly but then we’d have to play the song all day for the lyrics to be written, and that wasn’t really our vibe. We just started jamming because we wanted to play a little faster, a little louder.
Ellul: That band broke up, and we’re best friends and we live so close together… we have the perfect situation for us. We have a spot to practice. There’s a lot of bands that fall apart because they don’t have those things, and we have those resources and it just worked.
Stock: We realize we’re really fortunate. We use [what we’ve got] to our full potential.
My way of looking at it is making sure that no one will be like, “man, that was really good, but you need a bass player.”
Ellul:That’s the thing we always try and avoid. With a two-piece band, I feel like it’s not something new but it’s something that people have always tried to critique. If you’re a four-piece band, you’re set. But as soon as you’re like “alright, we’re not gonna have a bass player, we’re just gonna use three amps on stage and go crazy” people think there’s like room for improvement.
Stock: It’s just gear, really. Three amps and big ass drums. Playing as loud and as hard as we can. When we’re in the studio, our idea is that we want to be able to replicate the music live. I don’t want it to be such a shift when you see us live so it’s like “obviously, they had a bass player and there’s like 14 people playing guitars.” There’s no bass on the record.
Noisey: Do you guys get more nervous than usual as your shows get bigger, like your Rock the Park gig?
Ellul:That was the one that I got a little bit nervous for. We were on this stage that is absolutely massive. As soon as you get up there, you’re fine. Actually, this is really funny because we pulled in the driveway behind [the stage] and there are trailers everywhere, buses, people are hangin’ out barbecuing, and we’re going in—
Stock: With our minivan. [laughs Picture two semis with like, a mom van in between. And then Rise Against’s roadies or something were like “hey, you need help unloading?” … For some reason whenever we have shows like that, and like our one with Danko Jones or Cancer Bats, we have the worst week of practices leading up and then it’s fine. If we have a normal show our practices are fine, but [with bigger stuff] we focus really hard and we end up driving ourselves into the ground.
How have you guys gone about building up your following in London, and what’s the reception been like out of town where they might not know you as well?
Ellul: Puddle effect: you do something cool here, and it just kind of ripples across and when we go other places people have heard about it.
Stock: We always remind ourselves we’ve been playing London for three years. At first, we were playing every show we could take, and now we’re playing twice a month. Toronto we’ve been playing for a year or so, and everywhere else is almost fresh. Obviously, London is our favourite place to play because it’s home and all of our friends come out, but it’s about logging hours in other cities.
Nathan showed me the jam space downstairs, and I recognized it from your “Probably Not Important” music video. He told me the posters came from books and shows you’ve been to – among those artists or other acts, who have been people that influence you?
Stock: A lot of people we’ve played with, fortunately. We’ve been really amazing by the things we’ve been able to do, like Cancer Bats and Rock the Park– that whole lineup was amazing. Single Mothers is from here, and they also made the jump and now they’re touring the States and Europe.
Ellul: Wasted Potential was a big one for me. They’re from London, too – that’s the cool thing about the community thing, you get excited about your friends’ projects and get inspired.
What kind of message do you want this album to convey?
Ellul:We’ve been working on this album for about a year. For us, it’s like normally we record something and it’s out in a month. This is really different. With all the work we’ve put in it… hopefully, people can see all the work we’ve put in and share it.
Stock: It’s our debut; this is who we are. It’s not like for the second record we would go and make a disco album… this is what we do, and this is what you can expect live.
Ellul: [laughs] We could switch to like, funk bass.
Ellul: We’re really excited about it!
Diyana Noory is a writer based in Ontario. Follow her on Twitter.