Heatbox Lights a Fire
One of the most unusual acts at this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival is Minneapolis artist, Heatbox. Aaron Heaton, performing as Heatbox for the past five years, has created a one-man show that has to be seen to be believed. He's not a comedian, and he's not a singer or a rapper, though there is some of that in his show. He definitely is not a musician, and he's the first to admit that. "I play the drums, the keyboard, and the bass - all badly," he says. " I played the tuba for a long time."
Still, he hears music inside his head. And, it's not just a melody line, but full arrangements with multiple instruments, vocals, harmonies, effects, and lyrics. His latest album, Entertainment, which he released a year ago, reflects this complexity.
Now, many people record albums by themselves. Steve Earle's last one, Washington Square Serenade, was done solely by Earle, except for a backup harmony or two done by his wife, Alison Moorer. In order to do a live concert, Earle has to pack along an electronic DJ who is able to layer each song with the pre-recorded instrumentation.
But on Heaton's album and during his live performances, the music and singing are done with a single set of vocal chords and lips. What is so incredible isn't just that the music and harmonies come from one person ala Bobby McFerrin, but that Heaton does all of it with such incredible finesse and musical accuracy. You would swear from just hearing his latest CD that he was accompanied by a backup band and singers when in reality you're hearing a single performer.
Heaton grew up singing. Ever since he was ten, he sang in school choirs. Then in high school and afterwards, he got involved with extravaganza of musical theater. "I love the entertainment of it," he says. Later he joined the funk/rock/blues band City Collective in Minneapolis, adding not only his rich singing voice, but also his vocal beats.
Style-wise, Heaton produces a mix of genres. Sometimes, there is that silky doowop sound of the 50s with tight, blended harmonies. Sometimes, there's hip-hop. Sometimes, there's jazz and reggae. Sometimes, there's just fun and eccentricity. "It's all me," Heaton says. "I use a pedal that's called a loop station. It let's me record myself live and sing with myself." He also provides all of the sounds of the musical instruments. You'll hear beats and other kinds of percussion, including quiro. You'll hear horns and keyboards. Sometimes, you can even hear a guitar thrown in.
But mostly, you'll hear these incredible vocal harmonies. Heaton is able to create not just a couple of backup harmonies when he sings, but he's able to do four, five, and six—all with different parts. What comes out is an a-capella band that would be the envy of the Nylons or the Blenders. And, Heaton does it all seamlessly with audiences not even realizing that he's creating right before their eyes.
Heaton also writes intelligent lyrics, from love songs like "When I First Saw You" to songs that comment on society like "A Good" or finding your own path like "I Wrote This." But "Bitches From the Milky Way" is an infectiously fun song done with such warmth people who might be sensitive to the word bitch will come away singing, "I love them bitches from the Milky Way," long after the set has ended.
Heatbox is one artist you cannot miss. He has been in demand for festivals in the Minnesota area, playing Harvest Fest, Project Earth Festival, Log Jam, and Bella Sol. He will be taking his box of tricks to the Saloon Stage on Saturday, July 26 at 9pm at this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival. Check him out.