It’s hard to put into words exactly how much impact Endless Heights have had on the Australian live music scene. Since forming in 2011, they’ve become one of the important bands in the space, with their live show becoming a rite of passage to many fans of Aussie alternative music. Through the years, the band’s subtle genre evolution has been nothing but fascinating to watch, leaving fans always guessing about what’s coming next.
With a headline tour now under their belt, a record label signing with Cooking Vinyl and triple j success, Endless Heights have solidified themselves as a band impossible to miss.
Music Feeds caught up with frontman Joel Martorana while at home in Sydney — halfway through their You Coward headline tour — to chat about touring with mixed bills, being introverted and how Endless Heights have grown over the years.
MUSIC FEEDS: It’s been fascinating to watch Endless Heights evolve from the band who released Dream Strong to the one who released You Coward earlier this year. When you all started, how big did you plan on all of this getting?
JOEL MARTORANA: It’s always been funny in the sense that personally, I’ve always been in two minds about that kind of thing. The first mindset is that I’m just playing music with my best friends and we’re just playing whatever we want without any pressure. So anything big — like playing shows interstate or in another country — was always insane for me. I guess Endless Heights has always had that kind of mantra. But even back then, obviously with the amount of emotional investment you put into music, it was clear to me really early on that I wanted to do this stuff every day of my life all over the world.
In my head, I was always hoping things would go somewhere, and everywhere that it has gone so far has just been this amazing bonus. But I would love for this all to keep growing as much as possible so I can just keep doing it more [laughs].
MF: I was listening to Lady Wisdom again the other day and was just blown away with how you guys have progressed over the five years since it was released. From a lyrical point of view, is the Joel who wrote the lyrics on the two-track the same Joel who wrote the lyrics of You Coward?
JM: Definitely a yes and no [laughs].
At the moment between Pray I Fade and You Coward I’ve been drawn to anything taboo. And not necessarily like just some political issue or taboo, but things for myself that I’d be terrified to talk about or sing about that I haven’t been able to get away from. I guess It’s just been such a cathartic approach to everything I deal with. I’ve been obsessed over the last few years with thinking about things that scare me., but I’ve find this freedom and healing amongst all of that.
The older stuff was this incredibly anthemic and positive type of music and I had the same convictions at the time but just in that way. I don’t know if it’s just about getting older or whatever but my lyrics just seem to get darker and darker. The idea behind it all is that it’s just completely honest. But that being said, it still scares me with some of the stuff that I sing about, but that’s how I measure if it’s good or not [laughs].
MF: That being said, I imagine it’d also be this totally refreshing way of processing everything happening in your life?
JM: One hundred percent. I think that creative arts is an anti-depressant in itself and just lets you hold a microphone to your life without your conscious [mind]. You can subconsciously start to break down trauma or delight that you’ve experienced in your life and either deal with it or relish and savour it.
MF: And You Coward has, in my opinion, some of the best lyrics you’ve written to date, but it feels like this super honest analysis of what you were dealing with at the time and just being super open with it. When in social spaces, are you an introverted kind of guy that holds his feelings close to his chest, or are you usually open about this kind of stuff?
JM: It really depends on the song. When we were workshopping You Coward it felt like a brave song. I knew I had to boldly confront something about myself and I really wanted this song in particular to do that. It went way more twisted and scared the shit out of me when that stuff came out when I was writing the lyrics for it. With other songs, they’re more reflective so I kind of see where they’re going as we write them.
To put it into more perspective, I usually improvise when I write. So as the guys tend to lead with the song and write the part, I’ll just then play it on full volume in my room and jump around and play around with it vocally and see what works and work that into the song with the rest of the guys.
The reason I love playing with Endless Heights so much is that it really brings everything out of you and you realise “oh crap I didn’t realise all of those feelings were inside there”. Playing a song that honest for a year or two is probably the best way to deal with those feelings at the time. It’s unlocked something for me and I hope it does the same for other people who feel the same way. It’s just fun as well, it makes some of these heavy memories or moments of disappointment fun. How the hell does that even work? I feel like only music can really do that.
MF: Writing just has that ability to make you look deep down into how you’re feeling, I’d say it has this power of therapy that you can’t achieve just talking about it with someone.
JM: Exactly, I love how over-the-top the whole process is. I’m a psycho person, most people who closely know me seem to think I don’t make any sense, which is totally fine [laughs]. I’m just a very intense kind of person.
I’ve had an incredibly blessed life, you know? But this music avenue lets the drama of my life be as loud as it wants to be. It’s a safe place to really flesh out all your thoughts in an entertaining way if that makes sense.
MF: Do you ever get self-conscious about what people think about your writing?
JM: Oh yeah, almost all the time [laughs]. But that is now my measure of [whether] these lyrics have truth behind them or not. If I’m stressing out about lyrics then that’s a sign I’m probably onto something good.
The best thing about this collaboration is that I have a whole band to play it off with. Sometimes I’m so vulnerable about it that I’ll show one or two members to start with because I’m not sure if it’s corny. Anything over emotional can be distasteful at times. That’s why it’s such an honour to stick with these guys because they challenge the shit out of it as well, which is so good. They’ll ask me all the time, “What are you trying to say here?” or, “This sounds really stupid, lets change this” and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, you just smashed the shit out of my heart,” but then I’ll have to explain it and it just helps develop it all so much. It’s all part of a mixed bag and I feel people who listen to our music become really engaged with it when they see us live and it’s because, in part, there’s this insanely emotive aspect that’s helping people out in some way.
That’s so cool, you know what I mean? We’ll play shows and people will be bobbing their heads up and down but there’s also people who really connect with this stuff, and there’s something deeper going on and it’s really cool.
MF: I feel like one of the really cool things about you guys is that evolved so subtly over the years. The music Endless Heights were making five years ago isn’t the same as it is today, but you’ve kept you fan base who’s been there from the beginning while also finding a whole new audience and that must be pretty awesome.
JM: My mission in it all is that we’re always going to be friends playing music that we want to play and singing whatever we want to sing about. It’s just so cool that people outside of our existing audience starting to hear what we do and discovering why we’re so passionate when we play.
I remember being a kid with a lot of passion inside me and all of a sudden stumbled across the hardcore, punk and even metalcore world and I realised, I have a voice that can be heard right now. It might’ve been at a local youth centre or whatever else, but it didn’t matter. There was literally a platform there for me that let me express myself wildly. I didn’t have to be this calm, collected and gentle person, I could be as raw and real as I wanted. I remember being twelve or thirteen for the first ever show I went to and that just stood out to me like crazy. So if we could be like that for other people that would be totally insane and I’d love that.
MF: I think with all that said, I’d love to talk about the how mixed the bill is for the You Coward tour right now. Obviously with Horror My Friend and Easy Life on the bill as well as the mixed bill nature of the local supports you chose for each date, this tour in a way is kind of a biography for Endless Heights. What do you think mixed bill tours do for the live music space?
JM: I love mixed bills if the show makes sense in a way. There’s always a bad way of doing it and a good way of doing it. For me what I really like is music that has this transformative element to it. We tend to fill our shows with bands that inspire us and that we think inspire other people.
So many bands on this tour have done that and have brought something unique to the table that we as the band and the crowd will enjoy. That’s what music is, right? That’s why I don’t really understand why people get weird about mixed bill shows.
We haven’t headlined crazy amounts in the past, so this is a very new world for us, but when it’s your show you get to influence the culture of the show. Part of that is selecting the bands, so a lot of the shows on this tour have been mixed bills and we have this awesome power of creating the vibe of the show we want. That’s such an honour and I’m so glad we’ve been able to start doing that more.
MF: Going back to what you said earlier about the beginning of Endless Heights as a band and you having these desire of making it a full time job, it seriously seems like you’re all heading in that direction. You guys have been signed by Cooking Vinyl and been getting a whole heap of love on radio, which is all really massive. Where do you feel it’s all going next after this?
JM: There’s still a lot of dreams that we all share. We’d still love to do more overseas stuff and I’m really hoping we can sometime next year. We are sitting on some new stuff and I’d like to see what doors that open and what people think and just play it from there. I personally just love performing and I don’t see that changing but we are getting older and have already gotten so much out of everything already and life can just get busy. We all are unique, busy people but we’ve been doing this for so long now that it’s just so part of our lives.
MF: Does it get nervous when you think about it all?
JM: I’ve learnt not to. The music industry makes zero sense. That goes for touring and everything that comes with it. It’s all just an adventure at this point and I’m just ready to be surprised and enjoy whatever’s left of the journey. I still feel like there’s a lot we have to give, so if things keep happening, we’ll keep doing it.
‘You Coward’ is now available via Cooking Vinyl. Catch the rest of Endless Heights’ 2017 tour dates here.