Bless Your Heart release debut album

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.

COMPASSION poster

COMPASSION short film anthology by Corpening Media released its official poster. Ted Kendrick collaborated closely with Jeff Corpening and Betsy Cardwell to produce “Part 1: Knowledge,” and assisted in the production of the other chapters. COMPASSION celebrates its local premiere on Saturday, December 14th at 10am at Asheville Fine Arts Theater. Admission is free, but you must RSVP in advance.

FashMob XIII // New Beginnings

FashMob is a public event for fashion models and photographers to connect and create original spontaneous works in Asheville, North Carolina. I had heard about the event for years before I finally decided to attend and participate in the XIII (or thirteenth) event, with the “New Beginnings” theme. FashMov XIII occurred in September 2019 at Sugar Britches clothing boutique in the River Arts District.

I had the pleasure of capturing various models on camera, some of whom I already knew such as Lauren Rivas (from the DEATHYARD short film of which I was an Associate Producer), Allison Price Bergh (who was in a competing team in the Asheville 48 Hour Film Project), Tammy Mattox (who had a cameo in COMPASSION Part II), and Aubrey Welch (who I believe made her modeling debut at this event) along with a few miscellaneous models. It was a wonderful experience where I had the chance to stretch my muscles and exercise my skills at portrait photography.

Headshots by The Joes

The Joes directing duo of Joe Naylor and Joe Pellegrino promised me some professional headshots as part of my payment for producing the MOMHEART short film. We captured these photos in late July 2019 at various places in Asheville, North Carolina. I knew that I wanted highly detailed black and white textured photos in a controlled interior space, which occurred at the Grey Eagle venue in the immediate photos below. Afterwards, we walked throughout downtown to collect candid shots. I was very impressed with the Joes’ work, and always grateful for updated headshots, which are critical for the freelance creative arena.

Artificial Ink T-Shirts!

Artificial Ink Creative, LLC has produced its first batch of official t-shirts which were given as gifts to key cast and crew who have been important assets over the years. Lightning Bolt Ink screen-printed the shirts out of their shop in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. They approached the white font and grey streak in the logo design with two separate screens to create the desired texture effect.

The shirts were modeled by Braethun Bharathae-Lane and Whitley Albury who now rep the Artificial Ink brand both online and out in the world. Another batch of t-shirts will be ordered from Lightning Bolt Ink before the end of the 2019 year, and will be available for purchase at $15 per shirt in sizes S, M, L and XL. Shirts in XXL and up available upon request for $17. Email artificial.ink.creative@gmail.com to reserve your shirt today and ensure you don’t miss the second round!

Artificial Ink @ Asheville 48HFP 2019

Artificial Ink participated in the 2019 Asheville 48 Hour Film Project, which marks the fourth year that I’ve competed, but the first year as a branded team. Artificial Ink received the genres “Sci-Fi / Road Movie”. Although the official rules say that teams only need to choose one of the genres, we decided to try both, and I think it turned out pretty darn decent given the parameters of the 48 Hour Film Project.

The images above are screenshots from the 48HFP entry entitled PHOBOS CON. The short film will be online within the next few weeks as the Director’s Cut is ultimately finalized. Personally, I am of the mind that the 48HFP reaps whatever it sows as a project, but there were a few credits snafus and edits needed before the film inevitably lands on the internet. Team Artificial Ink also had the pleasure of being featured on the local news, ABC 13 WLOS, owed primarily to Garin Wilson, the Director of Photography, who works for the broadcasting company.

Roughly twenty different films screened together for the Asheville 48 Hour Film Project, which was hosted at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company on Merrimon Avenue. Team Artificial Ink played on Tuesday 6/25 at 10pm and Wednesday 6/26 at 7pm, which all screenings sold out per usual for the 48HFP. There was plenty of steep local competition, but I think we held our own, though the point of the event is always to gauge progress in the production process from the previous year.

Most of the team was able to attend the premiere screening, as depicted above, from the left to right: Timothy McCarthy, Lyle Henry, Jeffrey DeCristofaro, Ted Kendrick, Jeffery Ray, Whitley Albury, Zach Echols, Garin Wilson, and Joe Kendrick. The behind the scenes photographs below were all captured by Jeffrey DeCristofaro who had a minor acting role in the film as the designated character Grant MacDonald, window washer. The other elements included a line of dialogue, “This isn’t what I signed up for” and prop of “a kite”. Overall, it was another challenging but educational experience in passionate guerrilla filmmaking.

VIA Benefit Show for Girls Rock

Leading up to Saturday, June 15th, I coordinated a music video premiere and fundraising event on behalf of the band VIA. The show was hosted by the Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC as a benefit show for Girls Rock Asheville, a non-profit organization that leads a music camp for women and gender minorities.

In addition to VIA headlining and premiering their short film “Firefly” starring actress Katie Cassenti with dance choreography by Olivia Joy Harris. Other musical acts included Kathryn O’Shea, Miss Jean and the Love Cats, Moonlight Street Folk, and Rooster. I also designed the poster embedded below. Overall, the event was a great success for both VIA and Girls Rock, and I was glad to support both groups.

Ankhst @ Pop-Up Music Co-Op

Ankhst is a pop-up band which played the Pop-Up Music Co-Op at Sly Grog Lounge in Asheville, NC on June 1st, 2019. Braethun Bharathae-Lane and myself, Ted Kendrick, switched between guitar and bass for two original songs each, with Tim McCarthy on drums. I performed “Call Back Your Ghost” and “So Tell the Captain” while Braethun lead “Another No” and “High Hopes”, embedded below.

I enjoyed playing with these musicians, and hope we can again soon since there were many original songs to go around between us. The co-op also created this amazing sign which was so on brand with the ankh symbol in place of the letter T.

the828.com // new articles

I’ve written a few more articles for The828.com throughout the fall and winter of 2018 into the 2019 spring. Find my most recent writings embedded below, detailing all things eat, drink and play in the 828 area code of Asheville, North Carolina.

Asheville’s Cat Fly Film Festival 2019 returns with events at The Asheville Masonic Temple, New Belgium Brewing, The Mothlight, and other venues around the city.

Posted by The 828 on Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Queen Bee and the Honeylovers sing of the people and places of Asheville. Find out about the group’s debut album and release party at Isis Music Hall.

Posted by The 828 on Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Local filmmakers with Night Frizz Productions are bringing a Stephen King classic to life in WNC.

Posted by The 828 on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Asheville’s Jane Kramer celebrates album release at Ambrose West.

Posted by The 828 on Monday, February 18, 2019

Crooked Ghost Skeleton House Vinyl Release Show with Crooked Ghost, Morbids, and Thresher next Monday 2/18 at The Mothlight for FREE!

Posted by Ted Kendrick on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow at West Asheville’s Beacham’s Curve.

Posted by The 828 on Sunday, January 20, 2019

Join Comic Envy for the return of Asheville Comic Expo 2018! The event is back at the U.S. Cellular Center Nov. 10.

Posted by The 828 on Sunday, October 28, 2018

The articles are listed in reverse order of publication with the newest at top. The feature on the up-and-coming Beacham’s Curve development zone was the most time intensive piece of the bunch as it involved multiple interviews with various business owners in the East-West Asheville area, but a fun challenge nonetheless.

THE REPLICA RAID II poster

THE REPLICA RAID II experimental short film is nearing completion with just another few weeks of post-production before it’s ready to head out on the festival circuit. In the meantime, the film needed a poster, which I designed myself. Hopefully I will add a few laurels to the poster before all is said and done.