Many Coachella Valley musicians pull double, triple or even quadruple duty—and a prime example of this is Josh Heinz. He plays for both Blasting Echo and 5th Town; he’s an in-demand solo performer; and he regularly plans shows, most notably his annual Concert for Autism, a two-day festival raising money for the Desert Autism Foundation.
On top of being a local-music machine, Heinz is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. When I first started playing, he was the host of Open Mic Night at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert. He was extremely accommodating and answered every question I had; since then, he has been a great friend, and has always reached out to invite my bands to share gigs.
Heinz just released his first solo album, Made in Memphis 2003, on every major streaming platform. The record is a post-grunge burner featuring 10 songs with Heinz’s heavy guitar and emphatic vocal deliveries. While the release is new, the album is not: As the title suggests, this album is 17 years old.
“I moved to the valley in 2001, and I didn’t know anyone,” Heinz said during a recent interview. “I was a stay-at-home dad, and I was just writing a bunch of songs. My band in Memphis, Wyndom Earle, ended, and my ex-wife and I didn’t want to raise her daughter in Memphis, so we moved here. In 2002, I went back to Memphis for a wedding, and talked to Robert Pickens (Picon), who produced and recorded Wyndom Earle. I talked to him about all the songs I had written, but I didn’t have a place to record them since I didn’t know anyone in the valley. He offered to record me in Memphis and cut me a deal—so in February of 2003, I drove cross-country to record.
“We recorded all those songs in 64 hours. I hired the drummer who was in Robert’s band to play drums, and he tracked those in 16 hours, after only hearing four of the songs prior to being in the studio. I played all the songs to a click, so we would both talk and figure out the drum parts in the studio. I talked to him through his headphones as to when to hit the ride or crash, and he nailed all those within three or four takes. I was very fortunate to have him onboard.”
The songs feature highly emotional lyrics, with “You’re Afraid Too” hosting a fearless Heinz projecting on the loss of patience and deceit within a relationship. The final track, “Distance,” is a slower song about the past, specifically the struggles of breaking free of things one would rather not keep around.
“A lot of the songs are about my experiences leaving Memphis and my band, Wyndom Earle, ending on a sour note,” Heinz said. “I started writing when I moved here in May of 2001, and when Sept. 11 happened, I felt like I couldn’t write—3,000 people had just lost their lives, and I felt I was in no place to be whining about my life, because I was still alive. The first song I worked on after that is called ‘Closure,’ the fifth song on the record. The lyrics are: ‘So many left alone; so many still unknown.’ It was me trying to put myself in the position of someone who lost a family member, and who might have not had closure with them. Maybe they got in an argument that day, or needed to say something to their loved one that they didn’t get to.”
Heinz said his songwriting approach has changed in the almost-two decades since he wrote Made in Memphis 2003.
“My approach when I was younger was carrying around a journal with me everywhere,” he said. “I would write down lyrics or poems whenever I had ideas, and would apply them to music later. My primary way is music first, though, because it really sets the tone for the song. Aggressive guitar tones can make for a heavier song, and lighter tones can make for something sweeter. There is no one right way; that’s just what I lean towards more.
“Back in 2003, I had no band. I wrote all my music how I heard it, and didn’t consult people for their take or ideas. It was very singular, and that’s how we recorded it so quickly. Robert and some others in the studio would give me a few ideas, but I really had everything in my head already. When I was younger, I was more apt to do that—just show up with the full idea for the song, whereas now things are more collaborative. Some songs with Blasting Echo will be all done by me, but the majority of our songs consist of all of our efforts poured into a song, starting with just a riff. I’ve grown more to asking others for their input, but it’s still good to have that vision and be set on it. As long as you are in a healthy relationship with your bandmates, you can all work together to believe in your vision and trust their thoughts on your idea.”
Why did Heinz sit on the recordings for as long as he did?
“The main idea behind recording this album was to have a calling card,” Heinz said. “When I finally met other musicians, I would show them a track or two, not the full thing. Initially, I wanted to find a band to play these live, and have it be our first album. It didn’t happen that way—and I’m glad it didn’t. I’ve been playing these songs for years, but only as acoustic performances.
“I never thought about releasing something with nothing to show for it live, but recently, I talked to my friends in Wyndom Earle about remastering and releasing some of our old songs. That conversation and also the restrictions of COVID-19 got me thinking about these songs again, and I just thought: Why not? Nobody is playing right now, and my other bands haven’t been able to meet, so I just wanted to get this stuff out.
“The one positive of COVID was being able to work with Michael (Spann) on the mastering, the artwork, and getting it on streaming services. Without COVID, I probably would not have had time to do all that.”
COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it have led many artists to reinvent themselves. I asked Heinz how the coronavirus is affecting him beyond Made in Memphis 2003.
“More than likely, the Concert for Autism will not happen, because safety is more important,” Heinz said. “Our dates have been changing with Goldenvoice’s Coachella plans, but the reality of it is that it’s not going to happen. Many of the businesses that support us are hurting as well, so it’d be hard to ask them for donations. We may try to do a virtual performance in place of it.
“I miss Blasting Echo and 5th Town, and I really miss cranking up my amp and jumping around. Our family has to be really careful, however. My wife, Linda, and I have four kids in the house, and one is severely autistic. We have to be conscious of that risk, because if someone were to get sick, it could affect our family in a major way.
“Linda and I have begun streaming every Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Blasting Echo Facebook page (www.facebook.com/blastingecho), and we are lucky to be doing that. It’s been our only creative outlet during these times. We’ve had the tools to stream forever, but never thought to do it until now. It’s been a lot of fun, and great getting to connect with family all over the world, and also people in the desert.”
For more information, visit joshheinzmadeinmemphis2003.hearnow.com.