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Album Review: Hearken ‘Help Me, I’m Alive’

Two-piece Pittsburgh grunge rock punk outfit, Hearken, released their debut record, Help Me, I’m Alive, June 27th. The band was described to me along the lines of ‘Sonic Youth meets Nirvana – super raw, super authentic, great songs.’ with influences like Hole, Death From Above, Queens of the Stone Age, Teagan and Sara, Brand New, Screaming Females, Interpol, and Julien Baker, Hearken sheds light on dark subjects like depression, addiction, and relationships.

Hearken consists of Gregg Brunner (drums, vocals) and Donny Donovan (guitar, vocals). Photo by Lauren Stanley.

Lead vocalist Donny Donovan also produced the record, and played all instruments except for drums. Donovan spoke about today’s widening discussion on mental health, and where Hearken’s record finds home along that conversation.

“Well, most of the songs are about battling through depression, self hatred, and self responsibility,” Donovan said. “I write the lyrics and chords progressions to the songs, but I feel as if they can relate to any one. I am an advocate for therapy, and meditation when it comes to battling depression or anxiety — before medication…”

“My challenge in life is my own acceptance of being queer and truly appreciating myself… which is a constant process. I’ve battled with depression, anxiety, eating issues, and emotional imbalances (anger), but I am owning it. I know that I have the responsibility to be the best version of myself that I can be to this world. I am someone who has a platform to be “out” and let others know it’s okay…you are not alone.”

The third track, “Fix Me,” speaks to the theme of identity, and self-acceptance. Donovan describes herself as an introvert, gay, masculine creature, anti-social, depressed, sad, lonely, afraid, sick, etc. Throughout her life, she’s turned to food for comfort, and expected others and external vices to “fix her.”

“I started writing these songs when I was about 26,” she said. “My earlier work was more focused on blaming others, and being emotionally suppressed. Now,I’m kinda over myself, and sick of playing the victim. I had to ‘wake up’ and do something different, because I wasn’t happy. I won’t say I am now, but I know that no one else is going to make me happy. I need to live my truth, and that is the reality.”

The truth is people are more than they appear on a surface level. Some days are good, some are bad. There’s a dynamic curve in life — ups, downs, and all arounds. This record is no different. On “Butterfly,” delicate piano keys put an extra emphasis on the powerful lyrics here. Inspired by her grandmother, “Butterfly” is a tale about distant relationships, hiding emotions from those closest to you, and finding a false sense of comfort.

Switching gears to the girl band grunge sounds, likened to Joan Jett/Runaways vibes, “Tired” was one of the first songs Donovan wrote for the record. It’s a song about realizing something is off, something is missing, something is no longer working — and realizing if you’ve grown tired of something, it’s time to quit blaming, and start changing.

“It’s definitely a political song as well to inspire people to ‘wake up,’ and take control, because the system ismakingussuck, working us to death, hooking us up on drugs for all the issues they tell us we have…”

Help Me, I’m Alive is a grunge, ’90s-sounding, autobiographical, honest representation of the challenge of living. Donovan describes the album themes as self-acceptance, responsibility, and a hint of self-actualization.

“The songs for this record are my own words, feelings, and life challenges,” Donovan said. “I want people to think about the phrases, and apply it to their own life … questioning themselves about who they are, and expanding their mind.”

Overall, throughout the versatile record, Help Me, I’m Alive is a great reminder that asking for help is not a bad idea. Expecting other people or things to fix yourself, isn’t the best idea. Realizing who you are — good and bad, and putting in the effort on a daily basis to become your best you — now that’s the stuff.

“The bottom line is — people want to feel loved, and good enough. They are judged, fearful, exhausted, lonely, and not fully living their lives. How could we possibly be happy? We need to have access for people to live their lives the way they want to, and be open to all forms of culture and diversity — period. Have a conversation and get to know each other. Stop the hate,” Donovan said.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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