Original Writeup

Frank Viele – “Hearts We Left Behind”

by wpengine

“Hearts We Left Behind” is one of those hard-earned songs–one of those songs that come out of experience, heartbreak, and a life lived.

“Hearts We Left Behind” is a hard-hitting new single by the Connecticut-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist Frank Viele. Viele’s current lineup of musicians and songwriting collaborators consists of Tom Barraco on drums, Anthony Candullo on bass, Marty Lewis on organ, and James LeBlanc on additional guitars and backing vocals. Together these musicians were able to capture the essence of soulful Americana in the track “Hearts We Left Behind”.

Written just a few hours after Viele landed in Birmingham Al, and made his way to Muscle Shoals, the birthplace of many of his musical heroes. Viele recalls sitting down with producers James LeBlanc and Jimmy Nutt as the idea for “Hearts We Left Behind” came to him, “…the idea of pushing forward towards what you want but not running away from what made you who you are was cycling through my head.  And it led me to the story of two folks falling for each other later in life after battling through a magnitude of wrong decisions, dead ends, tough roads, and broken hearts.” These themes show up cinematically in those heartbreaking love stories like La La Land or Before Sunrise, where the main characters make such an impact on each other even though they don’t end up together.

The song itself is catchy. Super hooky. An extended intro gives way to Viele and LeBlancs rhythmically plucked guitars cascade over Lewis’ silky smooth organs. More than anything, what stands out is that Viele is a storyteller. There’s a folksy element to the song. You can picture him singing his story on a cobblestone street corner, a smoke-filled basement lounge, or all by his lonesome on a stage under a spotlight as he sings about the girl being left at the alter with flowers in her hair or the guy being left alone in the hotel room.

Viele’s voice channels Tom Waits at his most poppy. Think “Downtown Train” off Raindogs. Viele has all that gravel without the gruff. It’s powerful and soulful leading to the chorus /ghosts live in the shadows/put my pedals to the floor/with fire in our hearts/’cause we knew we wanted more/the lessons that we learned/we’ll take ‘em all in stride/ building bridges over the hearts we left behind/. That killer electric guitar tone grabs the hook and runs with it for a quick roundhouse kick of a solo. 

“Hearts We Left Behind” is one of those hard-earned songs–one of those songs that come out of experience, heartbreak, and a life lived.


You recorded this in Muscle Shoals. What was it like recording in the home of southern R&B, country, and soul? 

·      Recording in Muscle Shoals was an experience like no other.  It was inspiring, eye opening, challenging, and yet in many ways, it felt effortless.  I’m still not certain how to describe it all, but essentially, Muscle Shoals has all the good parts of being a “music town” with none of the bad things that can come about when being considered a “music town”.  For example, while music just runs through the veins of every aspect of the town, there’s no “noise”.   It’s a quiet town where the folks are kind, they take their music seriously, but they don’t over complicate anything.  There’s incredible live music going on every night, but there’s not 500 acts playing on every corner.  Every person in town down there seems to have an appreciation for artistry; but whether it’s the chefs at the local restaurants or the musicians on the stages, everybody seems to bring a strong sense of pride in the quality of their craft and the history of the town.  But nobody down there seems to carry any sort of ego.  Music and art are just a way of life, and immersing myself in that environment changed my outlook on my life and my music forever.

What were some of the major influences for this track?

·      “Hearts We Left Behind” was written on my first day in Muscle Shoals.  I knew I wanted a “driver”; something with an anthemic chorus and I had been listening to a ton of Tom Petty, early Bruce Springsteen, and Don Henley earlier that week.  In my notebook I had written down the phrases “burning bridges over hearts we left behind” and “ghosts live in the shadows”.  Sitting down with my producers James LeBlanc and Jimmy Nutt, I was picking random lines out of my notebook and I read those two in a row.  James hopped on the phrases and said “there’s something there”.  I know the “burning bridges” line could work with that anthemic chorus I was looking for but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized the “ghosts” line could be the piece I needed to formalize this chorus and tell this story.   Spinning in my head, I had the picture of a guy and girl driving away from a metaphorically burning town and starting over, but this time together.  And that driving rock tune was born. 

When we got in the studio, I had raised the tempo a few bpms and my drummer, Tom Barraco, came out swinging with this killer drum pattern.  That early Heartbreakers style guitar signature lick felt like it fell out of the sky, and that tune just jumped out of the speakers.  This, by the way, was the first of 21 songs the band recorded, so it essentially set the pulse of the recording process for everybody involved.

Is there a moral to this story? A lesson maybe?

·      Absolutely.  There’s two intertwined morals here I think.  The first being around the line “with fire in our hearts, ‘cause we knew we wanted more”.  It’s a lyrical focus on the courage and strength required to start over.  It’s an essential call to action saying that you don’t need to “settle” and you deserve real love. 

The Second moral is tied to the line in the chorus, “the lessons that we learned, we’ll take them all in stride” and the lyrics in the bridge where I sing “and the fears that chained us down, are the fuel we use to ride, now the tears are in the tank, and this t-bird’s gonna fly”.  It’s a nod to the “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” mantra in a way.  But mostly, it’s drawn from the whole concept that we all have fought battles and those battles can be lessons, they can make us better people, they can give us perspective,  they can make us appreciate ourselves more, and they can make us also appreciate what’s special in another human being.

Your voice is a real highlight of the ensemble. How did you cultivate your personal vocal tone?

·      This question kind of blows my mind.  I don’t know how to answer this, because essentially, I’ve been ripping my own vocal apart for years, hearing it back, and at many times along my journey, getting frustrated with what I heard coming back out of the speakers.

While I have been singing as a rock n roll musician since like 2006, starting in 2021 I began an exercise where I listen to 365 different albums on vinyl cover to cover with no other technology on; forcing me to focus on the record only. 

In doing this, I made a point to focus on a few different aspects of the albums.  One of them was vocal delivery.  I pulled back the things I loved about many vocalists and spent a lot of time trying to understand how they deliver certain songs vocally.  I compared studio albums to live albums, I compared albums from different eras and different genres.  I even took some artists and compared their early vocal performances to their later vocal performances to see how they positioned their vocal inside the melodies over time.  It was really eye opening.  You look at some of the most iconic artists of all time, be it Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Curtis Mayfield, Paul Simon or even Dave Matthews; when I compared their early recordings to their later recordings, the vocals grew and adapted in different ways.  I knew walking into this record that I wasn’t happy with how my vocals meshed with the instrumentation in much of my early studio recordings.  As a result, I focused closely on where I wanted my vocals to be when I walked into this recording process.

Walking into the studio, after spending so much time listening to records and pulling back the layers, I wanted the vocal passion of a Bob Seger or Bruce Springsteen style vocal.  I wanted the dynamic aggressiveness of Otis Redding or Chris Cornell, the slightly gnarly swagger of an Otis Rush or Albert King, the casual nuance of a Tom Petty or Cat Stevens, and the close sounding sincerity of some of my favorite John Moreland records.  I didn’t want to lose the vocal passion that had carried me as a road warrior/live performer for years, but I wanted to smooth it out to make room for the nuance and the subtle aspects of the melodies.  Without me even having to tell them, my producers Jimmy Nutt and James LeBlanc saw exactly what I was going for without me even telling them the moment I walked into that vocal booth.  They helped me navigate what I was looking for, and as a result, I was really happy with what I heard when those vocal tracks were done.  I’m not certain I truly hit my ideal vocal yet and I work on it daily, but for a guy who always considered himself a songwriter first, a guitarist second, and a vocalist third, absorbing this question is extremely humbling.

You’ve got a full-length album coming out this summer. Are you planning on touring? 

·      I just got off the road from a month-long tour across three time zones with Lee DeWyze, I just announced a handful of show dates with Jeffrey Gaines, and I think I may be hitting the road again with John Waite this year.  But honestly, I spend more time on the road nowadays than I do at home…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  While I intend on ensuring that I’m continuing to carve out ample time for loved ones, writing, and reflection; that two year break we all took made me realize just how much I love the road.  So I’ll be out there on the road either solo acoustic, with my awesome band, or in some cool variation in between pushing this new record to anybody who’s willing to listen. 

Where would you play if you could play at any venue in the world?

·      Years ago, I got to sing one song at Red Rocks after playing a show with Howie Day at a cool listening room in Denver.  Some folks heard me that night and they had some sort of “in” at Red Rocks.  They approached me after my set and said that they would love to hear my voice coming from the stage at Red Rocks.  They brought me there and I got to perform my version of Bob Seger’s “Against The Wind” from that stage.  I’d absolutely love to go back there with a song like “Hearts We Left Behind” with my bandmates by my side.  I think it would be amazing.  That said, I learned to play guitar in the parking lots of Dave Matthews concerts as a kid and one of my favorite venues to see them play was the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I think it would be an incredible experience to play on that stage for sentimental purposes.

Is it hard leaving all those hearts behind?

·      Yes, but the hardest decisions in life are usually the right ones.  If I learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that life is short and our time is the most precious element in our lives.  Who we spend that time with, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, how we see others, our ability to adapt to the unexpected and unknown; these are some of the variables that control our short time here on this big blue ball.  So while it’s hard to walk away from the known and head towards the unfamiliar, it takes bravery and strength to love yourself, value your time, and push towards the life and love you deserve.  And I guess that’s what this tune is all about.  

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