Bless Your Heart released their debut album “New Very Strange Songs” on December 6th as a collection of lonesome cowpoke ballads with characteristics of a southern pastel gothic flair from Southeastern born-and-bred frontpeople Sunn Set Apple and Vigilance Deadname.
The band defies genre conventions by combining classic country with post-rock, lacing up leather boots for its shoe-gaze aesthetic, all in an effort to unite their southern heritages with queer identities. Songs like “Coyote” and “Meet Me in July” are noodling entrees in an album full of spaghetti western dinners.
Southern slang like “bless your lil’ heart” has always implied a polite but backhanded “screw you” in Bible Belt colloquial, but the phrase has now been repurposed in punk fashion as a rock band.
Sunn Set and Vigilance met in 2005 on their first day of high school. “We were in a couple of [music] projects in high school and college,” said Sunn Sett, “but Bless Your Heart as a concept started in 2013” which is when they began writing and playing music together in a garage as a trio.
“I was having the worst year of my life. I found it cathartic to write country songs, but I wasn’t a very good guitarist,” said Sunn Set, “but I found different palettes to put country songs in while I was learning as I went.”
The band formally came together in 2017 when Sunn Set and Vigilance debuted the project in its current incarnation at a birthday party benefit for J20 Defense.
Bless Your Heart currently features D.K. Ryan on the standup bass, Mike Johnson is the engineer and pedal steel player, Nick Morrino plays drums, and Mary Beth Byrd sings harmony and does all the graphic design.
Since most of the band are professionals in their craft, Bless Your Heart has been able to embrace the semi-DIY approach, and keep many aspects of production in house. The one thing they went out of house for was the mastering.
“Mike was looking into mastering engineers and noticed that Harris Newman at Greenmarket Mastering was available, who mastered ‘Pony’ by Orville Peck,” which was one of their favorite albums that came out in 2019, and received some attention at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
“We sent it off to [Harris]. His rates were reasonable. We’re really happy working with him,” said Sunn Set. “Lo Wolf just sent an album off to him as well. We’ve gotten him some work. I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.”
Vigilance revealed that ze worked on the album for over a year. “We hashed out these songs, and these arrangements that just blow my mind and helped grow the band,” said Vigilance. “Now we want to get back into songwriting, start making some new stuff, and playing stuff live.”
Bless Your Heart played an album release show at West Asheville hometown venue The Mothlight on December 9th, and returned for a follow up feature shortly after on January 14th. “Pulling off a show like that, I feel like it’s not really the end of a cycle but the beginning,” reflected Sunn Set. “Setting a goal to release the album on time, getting the release show done, and nailing it, I was driving home, and felt like I had pulled off a heist. Like Bonnie and Clyde.”
“There’s this combination of exhaustion and inspiration,” said Sunn Set. “I feel like I’m going to be tired for the rest of my life, but I’m content with it. It’s like when I was younger and couldn’t fall asleep, my mom and my dad would always say, ‘You didn’t work hard enough today.’”
The band identifies as boot-gaze, bridging the divide between country and indie shoe-gaze. “People compliment my guitar playing, and I still feel a lot more confident than I did when I was starting to play guitar live, but I still feel like I’m not as good of a guitarist as I am a tap dancer,” said Sunn Set. “Solos are easy compared to the basics, like I can’t play a solid rhythm guitar.”
Although Vigilance takes the lead on most of the guitar solos, ze consider themselves to be more of a lyrical person. “I’ve always kinda felt like I’m the forest and Sunn Sett sings all the trees,” explained Vigilance. “I can build the world, and Sunn Sett picks all the plants.”
“I totally love pop music,” said Sunn Set. “I love it from a production perspective, and being able to bring elements of that scale of production to something that’s a little more outsider.”
“The really cool thing is we brought our songs together at the beginning. Now we write together, and you can just hear the unity of just working on it together than separately,” Vigilance spoke to the collaborative songwriting process with Sunn Set. The song “Coyote” has had several phases of existence, spanning back nearly a decade. “I definitely feel like songs are living things. I wrote ‘Coyote’ at three separate points of my life because the song needed more words as it went along to flesh it out. It’s basically the story of my life since 2011 in a sarcastic way.”
Although the band never explicitly went out of their way to present as southern gothic, they inevitably embraced the aesthetic. Sunn Set admits their goth phase began at the same time the band first formed in 2013. Vigilance and Sunn Set dyed their hair black at the same time.
Sunn Set and Vigilance revealed that their true influences are anything from James Taylor to the Magnetic Fields, and The National for the sadness factor. “I definitely feel like it’s really easy for me to go through the songs and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we totally had a Jesus and Mary Chain moment here,’” said Sunn Set. “I also really like Brandi Charlisle and think that comes through.” Sunn Set cited their all time favorite artist as Willie Nelson while Vigilance said White Pilgrim.
I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.Sunn Sett Apple
The album title “New Very Strange Songs” was inspired by the song “Lukenbach Texas” by Waylon Jennings. The chorus includes the lines, “Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and Newberry’s train songs…” but when Sunn Set was a child, they always thought Jennings was singing “New very strange songs” in that final line.
The album title is both a nod, stating their allegiances, and passive aggressively wedging themselves into this canon of country music. “It’s also descriptive,” laughed Vigilance. “Someone told us that at the release show.”
The album was significantly funded by a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign as a community effort. “We had over twenty contributors give us more than $600 to help make it happen,” revealed Sunn Set. “That means absolutely so much to us, with so little to show for what we could do, for that many people in our lives to put their faith in us, is just incredible to me.”
Bless Your Heart is pulling all the stops on the merchandise as well, with cassettes of the debut album, stickers, and T-shirts and posters with the various design layouts by Mary Beth Byrd. Online ordering for any of Bless Your Heart’s products will be available in the near future.
Bless Your Heart also performed shows at Static Age Records on February 15th, and later that month in Savannah, Georgia where they opened for a burlesque group at the Jinx, which has a stage designed like the Black Lodge from TWIN PEAKS.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Find yourself at home on the dynamic range displayed with true grit from Bless Your Heart. “New Very Strange Songs” is now available for streaming wherever you listen to music like Bandcamp and Spotify.