Honest Heart Collective talk hometowns & new horizons

Thunder Bay rockers’ old album gets a fresh play in Kingston 

The Honest Heart Collective will play The Mansion on Sept 19.

Growing up in secluded Thunder Bay, the members of The Honest Heart Collective attribute their perseverance to their industrial hometown’s hardworking spirit. 

On Sept. 19, The Honest Heart Collective will play their 2018 album Grief Rights at The Mansion at 8 p.m.

When the band first started out, lead singer and guitarist Ryan MacDonald says he didn’t understand what it meant to be shaped by a place. Now, their hometown sits at the heart of their music, inspired by the real stories of the hardship they grew up around. 

“If you think about the people there, and you walk through a neighbourhood that’s been decimated by big box stores, and all the mills are shutting down [...] it has this vibe,” he said. 

MacDonald references these changes in the band’s song “Debt,” which tells the story of a man struggling with the loss of his job.

“It’s a very blue-collar town with a strong work ethic and the people who are from here are really proud,” MacDonald said. “You could live in Thunder Bay back in the day and graduate high school, go to work at the mill, and have a good life. You can’t have that anymore.” 

They describe their sound as anthemic, inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s vivid lyricism. For The Honest Heart Collective, a good song always hits home. Comprised of MacDonald, his brother Nic on bass, and their childhood friends Kevin Heerema and Jay Savage playing lead guitar and drums respectively, the band wants their songs to tell real stories for their audience to relate to. 

The band had their own struggles starting up. Brothers Ryan and Nic grew up playing music together their whole lives. When Ryan moved to Ottawa to study audio engineering, he started sending solo guitar tracks to his brother Nic back home because he couldn’t afford a bass. What began as a back-and-forth collaboration between two brothers grew into a fully-formed band soon after, and The Honest Heart Collective was born.

As lifelong musicians, MacDonald says The Honest Heart Collective is every member’s last-ditch effort at making a career out of music.

“Kevin was three years into a four-year business degree when he dropped out because he wanted to do this so badly,” he said.

At the end of every year, the band checks in to see whether they should call their efforts off or not, but their growth since Grief Rights, their sophomore album, has only carried them to new heights. 

The album set off to a slow start initially, but a year later, being featured on Spotify and Apple Music streaming playlists means that the band has begun to gather momentum, and their following is steadily growing.

“You can experiment a lot more because you’re not confined to one [album],” MacDonald said of the streaming platforms. “You can put out a couple singles, build a story, test the waters [...] you can really build your career because there’s no timeline now. The traditional record cycle is kind of broken.”

Now working on a new album and trying to snag festival spots as they hop from town to town, the band’s schedule keeps their noses to the grindstone. Juggling music on the road and part-time jobs at home, the MacDonald brothers are closer than ever. They both live and work together, holding jobs in adjoining bars. 

“With our first album, we were all in our early twenties and we had no idea what we were doing,” MacDonald said. “We’re a much more efficient machine now than what we used to be.” 

“It was a late start, but once we really started moving, we haven’t stopped since.”

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