When Hey Thanks! was offered their first record deal they had to make a choice: ditch their lead vocalist or say no to Pure Noise Records. The offer ended up being fake but the vocalist wanted out of the band anyway. Hey Thanks!, who started the year thinking they were about to get their big break, were now ending the year with no record deal and no frontperson. But the open space led to the band picking up Travis Opal. This change ultimately steered the Houma band away from their pop punk roots, towards spacey, synth-heavy pop.
Their new style would catch the attention of Casey Horrigan of Iodine Recordings. The Boston-based indie label was home to significant punk and emo releases at the turn of the millennium featuring bands like Brand New, Converge, Cave In, and Smoke or Fire. Iodine folded in 2004 but re-established itself in 2021, signing new bands to rebuild. The label found itself needing to diversify their catalog at the same time Hey Thanks! was reinventing the band. The relationship resulted in Start/Living (released in May), an amalgam of pop punk and indie rock, blending influences from Hot Mulligan with Tame Impala.
The band has helped wear a trail in the boot-state’s DIY circuit, regularly gigging and growing a larger indie community dubbed “mopevvave.” Largely clustering online, mopevvave is a difficult “genre” to define. In simplest terms, it’s indie/emo rock bands from Louisiana with strong-DIY ethics and usually lots of pedals. Some self-diagnosed mopevvave artists include Shipwrecked, Rich Octopus, Baby in the 90s, Wonder Kid, Jessica Daye, and many more.
In the back garden of Z’otz Cafe, I spoke with lead vocalist Travis Opal and bassist/keyboardist Alex Rodrigue about the band’s ties to Christian metalcore, their goals of growing Louisiana’s alternative music scene, and getting signed to a legit label.
Y’all remind me a little bit of As Cities Burn and post-hardcore Christian bands in some ways. Were those bands important to your music?
Travis Opal: That’s funny that you say that because I think there was another review we had that said the same thing. They said, “This album’s sick, reminds me of Christian 2009, post-hardcore era.”
Alex Rodrigue: I feel like our vibe kind of matches that. I mean, we all grew up listening to that. We don’t take inspiration from it, but…
Were there any local acts that inspired your music?
TO: As Cities Burn. They were a big band when I was 13 or 14 and when I was more involved in Christian faith and stuff. I used to go to youth ministry and I hung out with all the people that were trying to be hip, but still be Christian. I feel like As Cities Burns was that perfect mold. It was that band that made people feel like they could be relevant, but also Christian. But even when I was 10 or whatever, I liked bands like Underoath and all that too. So you know, all the same vein of Christian metalcore.
AR: I definitely listened to a lot of the Christian metalcore growing up. I love For Today. I grew up in Lockport, which is like nothing. There’s a few hundred people there. But there was a little non-denominational church that would put on shows randomly whenever I was in middle school and they had Aftershock and I Am Terrified play there. They were super sick.
TO: Wait, you saw I Am Terrified too? That’s the same band that played at my middle school and started a fight outbreak. We had a Christian club and they wanted to have a band play at our middle school and I don’t think the teachers or anyone did any research on what kind of Christian band this was. So I’m Terrified was like this metal, post-hardcore kind of band from Alabama or something. But they came down and the school rented a trailer bed for them to play on. And the second the first song went on, everybody just started moshing [into] each other. [laughs] And the principal started freaking like, “What’s going on?” So they started tackling kids to the ground and trying to pull ’em apart. They just did no research on the topic.
AR: I definitely took some inspiration from that kind of music and that whole vibe. This church was like the hangout spot. After football games, they would do fifth quarter there and everybody would go. It was a church, but it wasn’t really weird vibes, I would say.
TO: At least not on the surface.
AR: It came out that there was a lot of weird stuff going on there. And now it’s closed. But I definitely took some inspiration from that [music] energy-wise, like watching all those bands just go nuts on stage. That’s where I kind of got that from. I like to go stupid on stage.
TO: Our thing about this record is that everyone who has done a review or anything has a totally different impression. It is interesting to see what it pulls out of people.
From what I learned about the record, it seems like you guys went into it trying to make something outside of genre lines. Was that something you set out to accomplish?
TO: Yeah. Part of that too was because when we were writing this record, we were putting a lot of our own money into this before we had a record label. We were pumping money into this thing, so our impression was: “Let’s really make it whatever we want. And if this doesn’t hit, this could be our last record, but at least it would be something that we genuinely gave a shit about.” And as soon as we went in with that mentality, the pandemic hit. We held onto the record anyway. Luckily that gave us enough of a time window to have a record label take it under their wing and make it fly more than we probably could have done on our own.
AR: I think we definitely didn’t go into this thinking we were gonna write a pop punk record or a pop record or anything. We kind of wrote this record all over the place.
TO: But I think Brett [Romnes, mixer] and Gary [Cioni, producer and engineer] and everybody who helped to record did a really good job. As far as the mix and how the record sounds, it still has cohesive elements. But if you were to take each song on their own, they can still also feel separate enough [to] be in a totally different type of playlist. Like track seven versus track five, one could go in a My Chemical Romance playlist and one could go in The 1975 playlist.
Since you mentioned it, I really like the production. What was the tone you wanted to make with this record?
AR: All of us were going through a lot of stuff right while writing this record: bad breakups, obviously COVID, to just depression—
TO: Fear of not really knowing what any of us want to do with our lives. That’s a big one. At the root of it, we all know we want to play music and we want to grow the band as big as we can, but it’s definitely not an easy thing to do in the modern age. We have been playing for three or four years, releasing little EPs and doing tours that we would book ourselves, or we would have another band who knew people that would help book the tour. It was getting to the point where it was really disheartening. So, I think a lot of the emotions came out on this record about self-doubt and wondering whether or not all this is worth it. I could say now though that I don’t think anything else would be [worth it]. I feel like we’ve pushed out a great record and people really like it. And when we do have those shows like last night where people are singing the lyrics, it’s definitely a feeling, at least for me, you can’t get with any other type of scenario.
The album and cover art have a spacey, almost dreamlike quality to them. Was that representative of how you were feeling at the time?
TO: That definitely was the vibe. A big personal inspiration for me was, I’m a fan of ‘80s-era synth-pop and things that had big reverbs and shit going everywhere. As far as the artwork and how it all tied together, we had that color palette idea from the beginning, like those pastels, but it really was Casey [Horrigan, founder of Iodine Recordings] who brought the vision. I took most of those photos with my iPhone. Once we had a collection of iPhone photos, we sent that to the artist Jeff Caudill, who did the record[’s design]. He took those photos and did some magic and made it look cohesive as fuck.
Y’all worked with some cool people.
AR: Yeah. Especially Gary. We’re so lucky to have met because he’s pushed us and made us a ten-times better band than we were before we met him.
TO: Absolutely. We worked with him on this record and on the last EP we had put out in 2019. The big thing Gary taught us was a lot about songwriting and song structure. There was always this part of mixing and stuff that we didn’t understand going into it, but after the first time being with Gary, not only did it help us all become better writers and players, but made me want to start recording too.
AR: Cause now [Travis] and Trevor [Lee], the drummer, are recording and making beats and doing all that kind of stuff.
TO: I have some solo stuff. Trevor writes beats. I’m recording other artists now. The whole philosophy of mixing is just cool to me.
Do you have a studio?
TO: I’ve got a home studio. But when me and Trevor move out here to the city, the spot we’re getting, we’re gonna bass trap it the fuck out and make as good of a studio space as we can. We both run Ableton. It’ll be fun. That’s kind of my other goal besides being in a band is being able to record other bands.
It seems like creating a scene here in New Orleans and around Louisiana is important to y’all. And I feel like there’s a lot here already with mopevvave. Can you tell me about your involvement in that scene?
AR: It’s really starting to take off since shows started coming back after COVID. There’s so many good bands and everybody’s just kind, helping each other out.
TO: It seems like people are more willing to turn out to shows than ever before. The Hand Out show was wild. We were honestly kind of surprised because we didn’t know what ticket sales were. We went into it blind, but really appreciate them for having us on their last show. There were so many shows happening that night between Sum 41, the Republic was having an Emo Night, Cane Hill was playing the House of Blues.
AR: That really wasn’t a problem a few years ago, having too many shows at one night. That was not happening. And then COVID, that was miserable, not being able to play shows. The first show back we actually played was Republic Emo Night last year.
Did you play that a lot?
TO: Before the pandemic, we played seven or eight of those. I think it got to a point where we wouldn’t be able to make the date they would’ve asked us to or we just didn’t have the time because learning covers all the time takes away from [our music].
I noticed at the show last week, a lot of people there seemed excited about your set, singing along to the lyrics of your new songs already. How do you feel about the reception of the record?
AR: I think it was the first time. Our previous two EPs that we had put out, people listened to them but we never got this much response on the initial release before.
TO: I think that’s what motivates us to want to keep pushing. We’ve always talked about this but we want younger people to get back into musicianship because I feel like besides [Alex’s school in Houma], there’s not a lot of high schools that have really strong music programs.
AR: My school had an applied music class. I went to Central Lafourche High and you would have to try out on whatever instrument you play to get in, and it would be about 10, 12 kids. Beginning of the year, you make a set list [of] 12, 15 songs or whatever. Everybody learns the songs and then you just play them throughout the year. So it kind of teaches you to be in a band.
Was that how you got into music?
AR: I got into music because my dad was in a band in the ‘90s and used to record. So I was always around music growing up. In high school, that’s what really got me [into] being in a band for sure. There are a few kids that have come out to shows from Central [Lafourche High] that knew of us and we kind of inspired them to want to be musicians. It’s really cool. It’s a nice little community we got going.
Travis, how did you get into music and being the vocalist? You were in a bunch of bands before Hey Thanks!, right?
TO: My story was a little bit different because I was in a bunch of different bands. I started playing music when I was 11 or 12 and my first band was one of those two-vocalist, cringy metalcore bands. It was called The World Above Us… And due to a long turn of events, I ended up becoming the vocalist [of Hey Thanks!]. But as far as background goes, I always loved music a lot and was really into ringtone rap, like 50 Cent, Nelly, Mike Jones and all that when I was in fifth grade. And then as I got into middle school, I got into Saosin, Circa Survive, progressive rock stuff. And I kind of just would mimic singing to myself. It really started with just being an attention freak. I wanted people to notice me. I would do ridiculous things. And my friend Justin actually is the first person who taught me guitar. He taught me three chords on an acoustic guitar when I was 14 and, after that, it ignited me to go on learning every other instrument.
It seems like there aren’t many ways for teenagers to get into alternative or indie rock-punk stuff. There are no all-ages venues or anything that I know of in or around New Orleans. How do people find the scene in your experience?
TO: The last thing we had was the Cypress or the High Ground if you were there for that era. It was in Metairie, but it ironically turned into a police station. [laughs]
AR: There’s nothing all-ages out here. Baton Rouge has some all-age venues. They’re more DIY, but Mid City Ballroom is all-ages and that’s a really cool venue. You could probably squeeze like 300 people, so it might be a little too big for some local bands. But I agree I think it’s hard for kids in this area to get into this kind of music. Playing in marching band and stuff is a different story. That’s really big down here, but…
TO: It’s also just a great way to be sociable. I feel like a hard thing with modern society is—and we’re all guilty of it—is being invested in our phones or things that aren’t the physical things existing around you. And I think musicianship in some form, even outside the musicality, is just being able to connect with people, you know?
AR: We’ve met so many people through music, like some of our best friends, especially touring and stuff. It’s definitely a good way for kids to get out there. But like you said, there’s nothing all-ages out here. Maybe we just need to open [an] all-age venue [or] start playing at Parisite [skate] park again.
That’s what is cool to me about mopevvave and what you are doing. It inspires bands in Houma and other places. Do you guys identify as being a part of mopevvave?
TO: We got put into mopevvave. It was funny. We always said there was a long time where, not in like a negative context, but we weren’t really attached to that group or niche of bands. And slowly over the course of the last year or two we’ve just become more mopevvave thanks to [Hey Thanks! and Shipwrecked guitarist] Dave [Bankston]. Dave joining our band set that in stone and now they call us mope-pop. So I will take that. I’ll take whatever that means. And we’ll run with it. We’re officially mope-pop.
AR: It’s definitely a nice group of people, though. Whenever we first started in Lafayette, we were just straight pop punk. Like cheese pizza, pop punk cheese, playing in downstairs of pizza bars and stuff. That scene is cool and all, but there’s a lot of backstabbing and weird vibes.
TO: That’s why we’re appreciative of Casey calling us indie pop, trying to de-label us from the pop punk scene.
AR: Even our first few songs with Travis were still pretty pop punk.
TO: And we realized at that moment that my voice did not fit the pop-punk criteria.
AR: But now that we’re in [the mopevvave] crew, the vibe is a lot better, or at least chiller.
The name Hey Thanks!, is that from The Wonder Years?
AR: Yeah. It is. [laughs]
So there’s still that connection to a well-known pop punk band. Not all pop punk is misogynistic or problematic, but people still sometimes think those things. Do you guys feel like you have to outrun that label?
TO: I would say yeah but it’s one of those things where I’ve learned to not fight people who want to label us as that. That takes a lot of energy out of me trying to force people to say, “No, we’re not pop punk.” If you want to call us whatever, do it. I just think over time, as long as we stick to what we ferment ourselves in, we’ll keep calling ourselves indie pop, alternative, or whatever. As we keep writing more records and producing stuff, people will just see that. And then they’ll look back and be like, “Maybe I had no idea what I was talking about.”
AR: We all still kind of listen to it. So we’re still into the scene but aren’t in the scene.
TO: This record’s definitely our way to say goodbye to that whole era. It’s a departure, but it’s still giving some loose strings attached. Hopefully, this record being all over the place gives us a footprint to go in any direction and be wherever we want.
You mentioned that this album was going to be your first record and maybe even your last record. Do you still feel that way?
AR: No, I think because of the response we’ve got going in, and we didn’t release on our own. Having Iodine help out and the response we’ve gotten just in the first week is enough to make us want to do another one. I don’t want to stop.
TO: For me, it was the second Iodine hit us up with the contracts last year. It settled that this is just gonna grow and become more. We’ve already got seven or eight demos for LP two we’ve been writing. I mean the next record’s gonna be a little more shocking for some people, but we’ll see where it goes.
Iodine seems like a huge deal for y’all and it’s a fairly historic record label. You do stand out from your labelmates I think, though. Even in small ways, like your color palette on the record where everybody else is like all-black punk. What attracted you to Iodine Records?
TO: We were laughing at Casey. We were like, “I don’t know why you wanted to sign us.”
AR: I feel like anybody that is a fan of Iodine in general, we’d probably catch their eye because it is different from everything else on the label.
TO: That was our decision too. We were talking to a couple of other labels. But I think what made us sit with Iodine was not only did it seem like Casey had a fire lit under him to rebrand this label and launch it again from what it was in the ‘90s. But it’s like, us being so diversified on the label will catch more attention than if we went on a label that was just straight pop punk bands or like pop rock bands that all have the same vein. That’s what is cool about this new roster Casey’s been building. It’s very diversified and everybody has their little niche sound to them. It stands out, you know?
AR: The biggest thing about Iodine for us was how personable Casey was because talking to other labels, they were nice, but we got the very generic questions and answers. It didn’t seem like they were gonna put anything into us, like personally into us. And with Casey, we definitely got that immediately.
TO: He said, “You’re not gonna be able to eat bread. You only get Ramen noodles for this record deal.” [laughs]
AR: Come on, man. I was trying to be serious and nice about Casey. We can’t just make fun of him all the time.
TO: [laughs] Sorry, Casey.
AR: Casey actually listened to what we had to say and looked into our past to know who we were and all that kind of stuff. Those small things really went into us picking and going with Iodine. We’re definitely happy with it because the release so far has been great.
It seems like Iodine has also helped open doors for y’all from being involved with producers who are connected with the punk scene and even playing The Fest in Gainesville this year now too. How has signing to Iodine helped the band?
TO: 100%. Casey, because he grew up in the ‘90s, he’s been grandfathered into the whole scene pretty much. He’s tried his very best to push us out, which is hard. When you’re a new band and you’re coming up and don’t really have an affirmed traction for how many people are gonna come to shows or what you’re gonna sell, it’s hard for people to gamble on you. So Casey putting his word out there is definitely like pushing us into these brackets.
Have you learned anything about the whole Pure Noise Records scam situation?
AR: The what?
TO: The Pure Noise scandal, like me joining the band.
AR: How do you know about that?
It’s been on a few podcast interviews.
AR: Oh God.
TO: At this point, it’s become a mystery, a search.
AR: I really wish it would’ve happened when I was as knowledgeable as I am now about computers. Because I work in it now and I definitely could track the IP address of that email. Somebody faked an email telling us that they were Pure Noise and wanted to sign us, but they didn’t like our vocalist. So we tried to put him on guitar or keep him. We told “Pure Noise” no at first, but then our old vocalist was like, “I’ll quit.”
Did he quit because of that pressure?
AR: We don’t know. It could have been him that sent the email. We don’t know if it was his way of getting out of the band. This band would not be where it’s at if that didn’t happen. Like 110%, this band would not be where it’s at because we would’ve never started touring that soon. The second we got Travis, I think within a year we started touring.
TO: It was the same year they had me. I played my first set of shows singing the old shit for like a month or two. Then I think the label being fake and me willing to be a part of it after finding out lit a fire in everybody. So everybody was like: Fuck it. We booked a tour before we even had our first van. We had [a] three and a half week tour to Chicago. We literally bought a van not even a month before the tour started and it’s managed to not break down on us and we took it for the tour.
AR: It was actually Hand Out’s old van. It definitely lit a fire in us because it put in our minds that we can do this. All of us were in [college] at the time, we all just immediately were ready to drop out. Whenever we realized that we were that quick to want to drop out and just pursue music, I think that made us think we should put some energy towards this. And it worked out.
TO: When you get that first connection with something or that instinct feeling, you gotta ride with it, you gotta go and pursue it because—age as far as success goes to me, doesn’t matter. There are artists who succeed at 40 and artists who succeed at 19. So for us, we felt almost obligated to do this all the way. I don’t think any of us beforehand had really experienced something like it so we had to find out what it was like.
Isn’t that kind of the message of the whole record? Start living?
TO: That’s a key factor on the name too: figuring out what this record meant to us and what we wanted to do with it. I think that’s the whole vibe of us. We wanted to stop living a mundane life or doing things—
AR: Being complacent. With COVID, everybody got complacent. So with this record, we definitely wanted to push ourselves for sure. But yeah, that’s funny. I honestly didn’t even know [the fake Pure Noise Records email] came up in other interviews. I really want to ask the people that we think it is to just see if it was them. It’s been like four years now.
It’s almost more of a joke at this point.
AR: Oh, it’s definitely a joke. I just want to hit them up and be like, “I just want to say thank you.”
Hey Thanks! new album Start/Living is available at heythankss.bandcamp.com. Their next shows are July 14 at the Mid City Ballroom in Baton Rouge and July 29 at Gasa Gasa.
photos by the author