Bug Heaven appreciates feats of stoner emo magic
feature image photo credit: @_poutmouth

Bug Heaven appreciates feats of stoner emo magic

We continue to rock with the first ever 'theme week' at I Enjoy Music. I Enjoy Music (Stoned)...a week of interviews with musicians about how weed influences their music listening habits...tune in and light up, my babies.

Yesterday's feature was with Los Angeles indie popper Sun Kin, who talked about calming weed freakouts with Boards of Canada and waxed poetic about the idea that "being in the pocket" is something learnable, rather than inherent...

but it's such a personal and human thing, the pocket, and not everyone's got it...  or rather. some people are further away in their journey to the pocket  i like the idea that the pocket is something that could be potentially attainable by all - but that it takes work to get there  that's my religion  grace, the ability to accept imperfection and lean into it, timing
a great convo imho. read it here

Today's interview is with Drew Shuck, who fronts the Omaha, Nebraska-based emo band Bug Heaven. Bug Heaven released an excellent album in 2021 called We Love to Live in Hell: seven tracks of catharsis-chasing, mega-chorded, sneaking-a-cigarette-in-the-garage rock music about all the different ways your heart can get broken. "But I keep on surviving / No matter how bad life gets, it's not nothing," Drew sings midway through the highlight "Survived By"; frayed resilience is the name of the game for Bug Heaven, and it makes for a very life-affirming listen.

Read on for my iMessage conversation with Drew about punk house stoner music, latching onto significant lyrics, listening to music in a childlike way rather than analyzing the production and craft—and hang in to the end for a rather dreamy "very cliché Taurus Sun" music listening gear setup...

We Love to Live in Hell, by Bug Heaven
7 track album

I would love to hear first a little about Bug Heaven. How would you describe your music?

I think Bug Heaven can pretty firmly be classified as an emo band. That was the initial idea, definitely, was to make a band so “emo” that no one could imagine calling it anything else.

But it’s been funny and interesting to watch how other people perceive us. We get a lot of comparisons to more '90s and early '00s bands like Far / The Rentals / Sunny Day Real Estate. Which feels very validating because I have a big soft spot for that era of music and it’s cool to see it come across for people in the songs and at shows.

I love the idea of actually pointing at a genre and being like “this is us” which i feel like is less common these days than the “we’re a little bit of everything” approach.

Yeah, it’s a fun process writing for this band because I came into it always having played drums. I dabbled in guitar and songwriting over the years but never wrote anything I was happy with enough to want to make a band out of it. So I usually write and record most of the drums, rhythm guitars, and vocals before bringing stuff to the band. And then everyone else adds their parts and gives feedback on things. It’s really fun and rewarding to basically be the one who comes up with the bones off the song and then let my friends who are much better musicians than me fill things out and make them into something more interesting.

How did the band get together to begin with?

I’ll give the shortest answer possible here. Basically I got an acoustic guitar for the first time in years at the beginning of the initial covid shutdown and just started writing all of this stuff to kill time in my apartment by myself. Fast forward half a year and I’ve got two songs that I’ve been recording and re-recording, but that I’m pretty happy with. A good friend of ours who we’d all played music with at different times passed away suddenly, and I sent these two demos to Alex after the funeral and we started hanging out and working on music together again. We added the rest of the members over the next year and recorded our debut We Love to Live in Hell slowly over late 2020-2021 ,and released it in January of 2022.

I feel like the power of the pandemic to get people to start new projects is, like, barely being understood as of now. I legit want to write a book about it.

Yeah for sure. You can especially see it right now, too. A lot of newer bands like us who wanted to get their first thing out there, and bands who had been working on things but had to sit on releasing them made 2022 a really big year for music already, but [2023] feels different. There are a lot of releases, big and small, but at least from what I’ve been listening to I feel like everyone is really swinging for the fences creatively and I think a big part of that is that everyone finally had a brief moment of free time to dive into themselves creatively.

And not even just people who like, had more hours to sit down to play guitar or whatever. I think as a creative person, being able to spend time cooking for yourself or giving attention to little hobbies and activities that are even less lucrative financially than music (ha ha) really frees up your brain in interesting ways. And I think that is showing now in peoples’ art, along with the tension of existing in a world that is so collectively full of fear and anxiety in a way that we’ve never really experienced before.

For me personally, I feel like there’s this constant battle creatively where I think, “In the face of all this tragedy and disease and war and death on this massive scale every time I walk out my door or open my phone, what point is there to making these silly fucking guitar songs?” But then on the flip side of that, “If the world is on fire and I’m going to be making silly fucking guitar songs, I better at least try to make them as good as I possibly can.”

Valid!! At the end of the day, I’m always Team Art. Art makes life worth living.

Ok let’s talk weed! Lmao. What would you say are your average weed habits—smoking, vaping, edibles? Particular days of week or times of day?

These days I do a tiny bite of an edible once in a while when I take my Adderall in the morning, usually if I have a day off from work but have a lot of tasks to do. I have a little herb vaporizer thing that I smoke maybe 2-3 nights a week after work. I was a much more active stoner in my early twenties but had to ease up a bit. Doing knife hits of hash and smoking out of the early dab rigs for a few months really made me feel dumb instead of high, and ever since my anxiety and depression tend to get worse if I smoke too many days in a row.

Aging can be very substance-unforgiving as I myself have learned. Do you get into the nitty gritty of indica / sativa / strains at all?

Not much, I usually stick to sativas when I have the option but I usually just buy a little off my friends from whatever they have on hand since weed’s still illegal here in Omaha and I don’t smoke enough to justify driving to Missouri or Colorado for it.

Do you think there’s gonna be any movement for legalization in Nebraska anytime soon? Or does it feel kind of stuck? I was in New York for many years and it took so long to get recreational weed legalized that pretty much every surrounding state beat us to the punch. It was brutal.

Nebraska feels pretty stuck. I doubt it will ever be legalized here unless it is done at a federal level.

What a bummer. Okay, so you said you enjoy listening to music while stoned. What type of tunes are you reaching for when the weed hits?

I’ll start with a top 5 albums to listen to when I’m stoned and then we’ll go from there, that seems easy.

1. Person L - The Positives
2. Colour Revolt - Colour Revolt EP
3. Weatherbox - The Cosmic Drama
4. Balance and Composure - Light We Made
5. ????

I know there’s a good fifth one. It’ll come to me before the end of the conversation I’m sure haha.

The common thread of the Person L, Weatherbox, and Colour Revolt albums is that they are all albums that I’d listen to on repeat in the smoking room at the 8-12 person punk house I lived at in my early twenties. I remember specifically those and a live acoustic version of "Simple Math" by Manchester Orchestra that was so beautiful that it made the album version kind of disappointing at first, although it grew on me eventually.

Person L specifically is just such a favorite of mine. I loved all of Kenny Vasoli’s work with The Starting Line and I’ve really enjoyed his stuff as Vacationer as well, but Person L more than his other projects just really hit for me in a special way. I love the variety in the songwriting styles and the instrumentation is phenomenal.

Something I’m very jealous of in both Person L and Weatherbox is that they both excel at making repetitive and drawn-out sections of songs interesting and engaging. I’d like to explore that more on future Bug Heaven songs. I have pretty severe ADHD and I tend to write like it, jumping from part to part and filling almost every section with lyrics before even thinking about how hard it’s gonna be to sing live!

Colour Revolt’s whole EP and all of their albums are amazing and are great stoned listens (or sober listens, honestly) but the song “Mattresses Underwater” is my favorite song of all time to listen to when I’m high.

Balance and Composure’s whole discography is also great stoner music, but I picked Light We Made just because it has the most interesting vibe and is great to just get lost in. Whereas their 2 previous albums (Separation and The Things We Think Are Missing) are amazing as well but a little more aggressive. I also just feel like Light We Made gets a little less love in general than their older stuff, and it really grew on me to the point where I like it as much as the previous two.

These are all amazing and I feel like I have some new albums I need to get into. Would you say you connect w anything lyric-wise for stoned music or is it more of an instrumentation / vibe thing?

Yes! I feel like when I’m stoned I really crave lyrics that trigger some introspection and push my mind toward a place of self-discovery. Or comfort, if I’m feeling down.

The title track “The Positives” from that album is a great example, or going back to their EP before that, the song “Storms” is one that I turn to a lot. “Storms” is great too because it mentions getting high, which is obviously one of the most enjoyable easter eggs in music when you’re super stoned: “I was getting high, yeah I was getting real high by myself, but I still felt this pain.”

I also love the way “Storms” paints a very vivid picture of what it’s like to be coping with pain and sadness and makes you wait until the very last phrase for relief. But it ends with “now it’s letting up, I think it’s gonna let up. May blue skies always brighten your days.”

Lyrics that are able to really take you on a journey without necessarily being explicitly storyteller-esque are just such a treasure when you’re stoned.

Oh that's lovely! Agreed! And there's something about that external voice that can then influence your internal one, rather than just have a weird stoned mental monologue.

I’m gonna take a bit of a sideways cop out on number 5 and switch gears to say that the 5th best album to listen to when you’re high is any album that you’ve heard a lot of times already and really like, but haven’t yet listened to while stoned.

And going back a bit further in that same vein, one of the first things that made me fall in love with getting high and listening to music was that I had started playing and recording in bands and had been learning to play drums for a long time by that point. So whenever I listen to records I very consciously am thinking about not just the songs but the mix, the snare tone, the guitar tones, the layering of the different parts, etc etc etc and all of these technical aspects and analyzing how it was made. And I LOVE that part of music so much. But being stoned allowed me for the first time in years to really step outside of that mentality and take in music as a whole in almost a childlike way.

This is SO interesting. I never thought about the need to sometimes transcend the technical brain, but this actually happens when I watch movies stoned sometimes! I stop thinking about how they got the shot, and just end up enjoying the whole thing without overanalyzing.

Yes! It’s the curse of learning how to make things, you destroy the magic for yourself in exchange for learning how to make the magic. And getting stoned helps bring that magic back in a really cool way.

I think that also ties into why I really enjoy being in a band where each individual person writes their own parts. And even though I still record the drums, I still 100% consider our live drummer, Austin, a full member of the band. I give him the songs and he listens and learns them, but only in very rare instances do I ever tell him exactly what to play. He gets a lot of freedom to just play in his own style and usually ends up playing cooler versions of whatever I came up with. It really brings part of that magic back for me when I don’t know exactly what everyone else is going to play until we finish recording and start rehearsing. So not only are the other members each much better at their individual instruments than I will ever be, but it also helps me protect that magic for myself a little bit so that I’m able to listen to the songs as a fan, in a way, instead of just as a songwriter.

I would imagine the feeling of hearing people put their own spin on arrangements would be extremely cool!

Yes, it’s definitely one of my favorite parts of being in a band. I also absolutely love recording drums when I’m high because I find it easier to lock in with the click track and still play with a lot of groove and feeling. But I cannot play guitar or sing when I’m high to save my life.

But yes I think with any kind of media consumption when you’re stoned, whether it be music or TV or art or movies or comics or whatever, part of the joy is giving your stoned brain a framework to think within instead of just completely zoning out and disappearing into your own mind.

Oh shit hold on. Everything else I said is still valid but number 5 has gotta be Illusory Walls by The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. Closing an 11-song album with a 16 min song followed by a 20 min song back to back is a true feat of stoner emo magic.

Hahaha I knew we would end up at a great #5! What is your ideal stoner listening setup—headphones, speakers? Are you in a digital zone or listening to physical media?

I’ve got a Yamaha P-350 turntable with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, a Yamaha R-S202 receiver, and an Artcessories DJ Pre II for the preamp. In my TV room I have a pair of Klipsch R-15M bookshelf speakers and then in my living room I have a pair of Sony SS-CS5 bookshelf speakers. The Sonys are my favorite. The receiver has an A/B switch so that I can switch the speakers depending on the room I’m in, so I can listen to records in either room. I am a very cliché Taurus Sun, I can’t enjoy anything if I don’t first make it as convenient as possible.

Incredible. Especially the A/B switch!

I also have a favorite pair of headphones that I use to check out new albums when I listen for the first time. They’re these really cute Panasonic ones that I got in 2016 that they don’t make anymore.

gorjana

Aw a discontinued headphone. Gotta treasure those bad boys. ok closing question: if "Bug Heaven" were the name of a strain of weed—how would you describe this particular strain? what would the marketing copy on it say?

Shoot I’ve never read weed strain marketing copy so I’m gonna have to try to come up with something haha.

...

"Bug Heaven is a hybrid strain, combining the energetic euphoria of 90’s/00’s emo with the mellow, downtempo vibes of 90’s/00’s emo. You’ll immediately notice that the high you get from Bug Heaven is shockingly reminiscent of the high you got listening to CDs in your cousin’s garage while smoking ditch weed out of a soda can. Nostalgic in a way that feels almost timeless - wait, what time is it? Is Taco Bell still open?"


Thank you Drew! Go listen to Bug Heaven and explore their link aggregation. And thanks for listening to I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend.