Our Beat Is Heavenly: Interview with John Peña

Posted November 4, 2013 in
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Heavenly Beat’s John Peña. Photo: Cheyenne Adrian

Heavenly Beat is the sort of band name that sticks to a project perfectly. John Peña’s Balearic indie pop arrangements balance classical guitar, steel drums, harmonica and mellotron to make lush, serene, heavenly songs. A onetime bassist for Captured Tracks friends Beach Fossils, Peña has released two albums in as many years with Heavenly Beat, still primarily a solo project. We spoke with Peña about the progress of the band so far and about his recent sophomore LP, Prominence.

SLUG: How was the process of writing and recording Prominence? Did you learn anything from releasing Talent that helped out that process?
John Peña: It was difficult in the sense that after the first 15 or so songs I wrote, there still wasn’t a very clear picture of where the record was going … no real cohesion of sound or ideas … I ended trashing all but two of those songs around January and began putting together Prominence in earnest. Releasing Talent helped in the way that working on anything … you just get better … sometimes … IDK.

SLUG: Has touring with a live band affected your music? Is Prominence more collaborative or still a bedroom project, so to speak?
Peña: Yeah, I finally got a chill group of dudes together that don’t make me wanna die when they speak. Prominence was pretty much all me, save for a few keyboard parts played by my guitarist, Christian … I’m def being more open about letting some of the band have some input in the writing process for the next album, but at the end of the day, I’m still CEO of everything.

SLUG: I love the harmonica bit at the end of “Honest”––it reminds me of some of my favorite New Order stuff. What other music do you listen to and does it influence your own music at all?
Peña: I’m going through a hardcore early– to mid-’90s pop country radio phase right now. The arrangements and instrumentation of a lot of those songs are really intelligent and imaginative. More than anything, most music influences my work ethic more so than any sounds I’m trying to make … it’s real easy for me to hear something and think, "I should be writing right now instead of listening to this shitty MP3 online."

SLUG: Both Talent and Prominence have a great minimal sensibility, from covers and song titles right on down to their sounds. Is this something you’re generally invested in?
Peña: Yes.

SLUG: What’s it like to be part of the Captured Tracks family? Is indie rock friendship something that we should all believe in?
Peña: The CT family has been really great to me on a personal and professional level … I can say with comfort that my life would def be less fulfilling if I hadn’t hooked up with them.

SLUG: If you could play a show inside the famously exclusive LDS Temple here in Salt Lake City, what would it be like? Please describe in detail––you’d have access to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, naturally.
Peña: IDK, shows are wutever to me … I’m more interested in what the spread in the greenroom would be …

SLUG: What’s next for Heavenly Beat?
Peña: New(er) album, more shows …

Prominence, by Heavenly Beat, was released by Captured Tracks on October 15. Pick up the album here, and keep in touch with Heavenly Beat on Tumblr and Facebook