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Track by Track: IF... by David Heatley Queens, NY singer-songwriter David Heatley talks us through his new LP, IF... track by track

Track by Track: IF... by David Heatley

Queens, NY singer-songwriter David Heatley talks us through his new LP, IF... track by track

by Lee Paul,
first published: March, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

"I feel like a punk most days, but God I love a smooth-ass Bacharach Dionne Warwick jam..." David Heatley

David Heatley is based in Queens, NY. He has recorded two albums with Shimmy Disc label founder and producer Kramer back in the early 1990s. In the mid-2010s, Heatley performed as part of The Bischoffs and The Angel Numbers Band, releasing a series of well-regarded EPs and albums. David's last record Life Our Own Way, helmed by the legendary Mark Bingham, found Heatley discovering and immersing himself in New Orleans’ indie music scene. The new album IF... is available now and David talks us through it, Track by Track...

I feel like a punk most days, but God I love a smooth-ass Bacharach Dionne Warwick jam and that’s what we’re channeling here. Those Jelly Sisters taunting me with their vocals at the end “Never never gonna be mine” kill me every time I listen. This is the title track kicking off the unrequited love theme that pulses through the whole record. I have to thank Jimbo Walsh for doing all the string and horn arrangements for the entire album. The record wouldn’t be what it is without his brilliant contributions.

What can I say? I don’t really like “put together” women. My muses are self-possessed, sexually liberated badasses who inspire me and give me permission to live a little more recklessly with a spirit of creative abandon. I love Louis Michot’s yelling in French and his fiddle on this and Emma Ramos making a mess of the song, yelling in Spanish “Es muy jodido” and “Es un mess!” She cracks me up.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could come down gently off the high of an intense feeling of love instead of crashing and burning every time? I know when I’m falling for someone, I’m projecting all kinds of fantasies about who I think they are. When those projections fade and I’m forced to see who they really are, there’s often crushing disappointment. I wrote this song to soothe myself—that letting go of the fantasy of who I wished this crush of mine could have been didn’t have to negate the lovely exchange and fizzy feelings of romance between us. We could just let it fade gently and beautifully.

A truly innocent bossa nova song, sung with a dear friend of mine. Sarah Quintana’s voice is so romantic on this. These two characters sound like they’re just ready to float away on a cloud together. Sam Kuslan really set the tone with his keyboard playing.

I’m trying to paint a scene of a specific place for an impossible love to live. Somewhere in the great expanses in the middle of the country, in a field up in some mountains where lightning strikes over and over. I imagine the lovers slow dancing and holding each other as these explosions of light happen all around them. “The spark of possibility, the danger… That’s all we have… just this moment.”

Emma Ramos freaking owns this tune. What a blast of energy. I had so much fun collabing on this with her. We met at a quiet city garden in the West Village and jotted down ideas while listening to the rough mix on my phone. But she also did some revising and tweaking of her lyrics in the studio. She made herself laugh over and over with her ad libs and it was perfect to end the song on that crazy laugh. Like a bunch of my songs, the chorus came to me in a dream. It was David Bowie’s voice singing “dancing inside out” in that low, smooth way that I try to sing it at the end. His version probably would have belonged on “Let’s Dance” with a kind of “Modern Love” vibe. Mine has a bit more Tom Tom Club or B52s maybe. Plus that Latin flair.

I had an idea for a song years ago that was something like “By the end of this song I’ll be dead.” Just be really meta about it and set up this tension of what will happen. It is like a small death when a song is over. Not to mention that we’re often listening to the ghostly voices of singers who have actually died. Something of that idea survived in the writing of this one. I used similar chord progressions as “I Must Be in a Good Place Now” by Bobby Charles, a song that makes me weep. I was terribly sad coming down off the high of a romantic bender and when nothing was feeling right with any lyrics or chords, I started writing out that first few lines and then it just flowed quickly. I think I wrote the whole thing in about 5 minutes. Bryan Webre’s killer guitar opening amps up the stakes and the drama. Every song he played on has his unmistakable stamp.

A love song for my, now, ex-wife. It’s so bittersweet when I listen to it, remembering the times we were able to find moments to rekindle a romantic spark in the midst of being overworked, underrested parents. And once again, Sarah Quintana really pushes this over the edge for me. Not just sweet romantic crooning, but in French, no less. Sigh.

This was the last song I wrote for the record. When you’re in an unrequited impossible love situation and you finally wake up, there can be a sense that you’ve been wasting all your time chasing a phantom. I tried to channel some of that anger into this anthem—a cautionary tale: “Don’t be like me! Don’t chase after that unavailable girl! Turn around, there’s probably someone in your orbit who would love to be your beloved if you’d just notice them!” Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened to me once the spell was broken and my crush faded. And I should say I don’t actually think of any of it as a waste of time. There’s so much growth that can happen if you use these heartbreaking episodes to learn more about yourself. And I also got a whole album of songs out of the deal! To quote an earlier song, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

A triumphant, queer-aligned declaration of the freedom to love who you want, unapologetically, in the face of the world’s judgment and scorn. It’s something I know all about right now. Lilli Lewis really elevates the sentiment with the subtlest of touches. Once I knew this song would make it onto the album, I knew I wanted her to sing it with me. And once again, Bryan Webre on that brilliant guitar solo. I’ve never written a song like this and it honestly still feels uncomfortably different from anything else I’ve done. But I’m proud of how it came together and feel like it’s the perfect closer for the record.



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