New Brookland Tavern: Thursday, Sept. 26
By Jordan Lawrence
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It’s roundly accepted that children pick up languages and essential skills more easily than their parents. Heyrocco, a young trio from Charleston whose confident and kinetic rock belies its minimal experience, has progressed with similar quickness.

Two members — guitarist/singer Nathan Merli and drummer Tanner Cooper — didn’t graduate high school until last year. Bassist Chris Cool, a year-and-a-half their senior, barely beat his bandmates across the graduation stage. But the music they make has already endured several shifts. The outfit started with sleek and soulful pop-rock that landed somewhere between The Strokes and Jump, Little Children. Today, the group grinds through grungy nuggets high on indie rock’s ‘90s heyday. The new sound suits the group even better than the last one, proving that their considerable talent is matched by equally strong convictions. Heyrocco has come of age.

“We’re really starting our career,” Merli says. “Everything else has just been us growing up a little bit.”

“It took us a while to really fit into a sound,” he continues. “We would buy a couple records and then just burn them out in the van. Of course when we got home, we were going to write six songs that sound like Nevermind or stuff like that. At this point, we’ve kind of dialed it in a little better and found our footing.”

They’re young, but they’ve have had a few years to develop their chemistry. Cooper and Merli met in the sixth grade. The two skate punks bonded over their similar interests. When Nathan discovered that Tanner played drums, he picked up the guitar. Merli met Cool in jazz band when he got to high school.

The three friends have played together in various configurations, most notably backing up singer Sarah Cole in the blues-rock outfit ColeTrain. They split with her in 2010, switching their focus to Merli’s more modern compositions and adopting the Heyrocco moniker. They were serious from the get-go, solidifying their ambition during a trip to Atlanta to bask in the polished pop enormity of Local Natives.

“We had an all-original set and felt like a real band,” Merli recalls. “They just killed it, and there was like a thousand people there. I had always thought that they were under-the-radar. It kind of opened my eyes that maybe we can really do this. We talked to them after the show, and they said they got to the point where they quit their jobs and they just started touring and everything sort of snowballed. That whole car ride home, we were just shooting the s#!t about, ‘Let’s buy a van. Let’s start touring. Let’s really try to do this.’”

Finished with high school, they’re all in with Heyrocco. They’ve put college on hold, choosing instead to tour and record as hard as they can. Shortly before Cooper and Merli’s 2012 graduation, they released Comfort, an uneven collection with too many songs that felt like Heyrocco was simply mimicking its influences. “Elsewhere,” released as a single earlier this year, is a marked improvement. Produced in part by Jump, Little Children’s Jay Clifford, it’s a svelte pop-rock number with a swaggering riff and an eager expression of teenage affection.

That single was an early taste of the honest approach that elevates Heyrocco’s newest demos, which can be streamed via Bandcamp under the winking title Greatest Hits of the ‘90s.

Exploring the fraught rock that dominated that decade, the group achieves unexpected blends: The earnest, Counting Crows-esque love song “Catherine” comes decked in broken-down slacker strums. Merli unifies this diversity with discerning portraits of youthful confusion. On “Virgin,” he howls like Kurt Cobain about kids that won’t stay out of his sexual business atop guitars that melt like Stephen Malkmus. It’s a song about high school, but it’s also incredibly mature.

“We’re going to put ourselves out there, and I’m going to be up there trying to sell myself and our songs,” Merli says. “I want to feel it.”

Heyrocco opens for Paul Brazell. The four-band bill also includes Flagship and Elim Bolt. Admission is $5 (over 21), $8 (under 21). Call 791-4413 or visit newbrooklandtavern.com for more information.

Let us know what you think: Email music@free-times.com.

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