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That One Song

The Itchy Hearts, "My Band"

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The Itchy Hearts are led by guitarist Andy Cobb (middle) and accordion player John Ptacek. Also pictured: Bassist Reid Magette (left) and drummer Rob Slater.
  • The Itchy Hearts are led by guitarist Andy Cobb (middle) and accordion player John Ptacek. Also pictured: Bassist Reid Magette (left) and drummer Rob Slater.
Sitting on a trove of songs they'd written, a couple of art students from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., moved to Richmond in 2008 and recorded them just for fun. The Itchy Hearts' debut album, "Goodbye Goodnight," wove folk, bluegrass and pop-punk, attracting enthusiastic fans and live show requests. So they filled out a touring band and pounded the pavement, returning from the road with enough new songs for a follow-up. Back in Brooklyn for now, guitarist and vocalist Andy Cobb and accordion player John Ptacek have added three members for a summer tour in support of their third record, "Tried to Be Punk." In advance of the group's Richmond appearance at Sprout on July 1, Cobb spoke with Style Weekly about the band's new direction.

Style: Tell us about that one song...

Andy Cobb: "My Band" is about having a band and then losing it and then finding another band. You get a group of people together and you have a creative goal and you travel with them and you form a bond. You think everyone's on the same page, but then you realize that maybe you were being a little idealistic and no one was on the same page. It's about having this camaraderie and then losing it and not knowing what to do with yourself. The funny thing is, the (new) album deals with (relationships) and "My Band" is kind of about that, but in a different way.

So the song is a good representation of the new record?

"Tried to Be Punk" is a little sadder than our other albums. Lyrically, it's a bit of a downer, but way more catchy and poppy. I went through this [phase] where I wanted to write poppier songs with more unique melodies that rolled up and down, going all over the place. I was writing melodies over lyrics [whereas]I had always put lyrics first and melodies second. That's definitely part of the songwriting process on "My Band." There's a bigger sound and it's more thought out. We orchestrated pieces and put them together, instead of writing as we recorded. We also have harmonies on this song, which we focus on more on this album.

[For the last 2 albums] me and John wrote songs and put them together. John doesn't play on "Tried to be Punk." They're all my songs. I'm playing with Jonathan Parker and Alan Parker [from Richmond bands Pendleton and Paw Paw]. Jonathan played drums and helped me record it and Alan played bass, accordion, and electric guitar. This album has a lot more drums on it. Only one song had drums on the last album and none on the first. It's more rock and roll, but still with the country and folk.

Who are you performing with on tour?

John is back in the lineup. We were offered this festival in upstate New York called Culture Shock at SUNY Purchase College. I said, "Holy shit I'd love to, but I don't have a band." So, I just started asking around. I knew a kid from Richmond who went to music school up here and plays drums. He was down and I said, "Can you find me a band to play with?" He found me a bassist and an electric guitarist and a keyboard player. They were all down to play the festival, so we played the festival, played a couple of other shows, and it got to the point that I [was booking] the tour this Summer and they were all excited to come. They're actually trained jazz musicians, which is something I've never really dealt with. [In the past] we've all just been songwriters who play an instrument.

Has this changed your live sound?

It changes things a whole lot. The music sounds tighter because they play really well and play off of each other really well. It doesn't sound jazz, but it's a fuller, more dynamic sound than it was before.

"My Band" is about having band members that you no longer feel a connection to. Have you performed it with the new band?

[The new band] has never played this song live, as well as a lot of the other new songs. We'll be playing it [on this tour] because it's a fun, catchy song. Sometimes you have to forget the lyrics and play the song. People write songs and then they get over the situation and it gets hard for them to sing, because they don't feel it like they used to. It's hard to get yourself back in that mindset, but it's still fun for people to hear the song.

You grew up in North SideRichmond. What do you miss most about the city?

I miss the river a lot. I miss the ability to get into nature, to go to the woods and just sit, how close the mountains are. The feeling of home.

What draws you to Brooklyn?

There's just more opportunities for musicians, more opportunities to play and more of an audience that is eager to go see music. A lot of times, the audiences in Richmond are just fellow musicians and that can be hard. It doesn't seem like people open up the newspaper and ask, "Where is the live music tonight? Let's go see something just for fun." That's what happens up here.

What is the wildest thing that's happened to you during a live show?

I just got back from a three-month solo tour on March 5th. Out on the road by yourself for three months, a lot of crazy things happen. In Colorado Springs, I was playing at a place called the Triple Nickel, which is an awesome place. It's a military town and there were a lot of military guys at the show. One of them was this really friendly dude who I met before I played. He gave two girls twenty one-dollar bills to come up on stage and I guess "make it rain" on me. So, I was playing a song and these two attractive girls were [tossing dollar bills] on me and giggling and I didn't really know what to do. After the set's over, I pick it all up and [hand it back to the guy]. He goes, "That is so rude, I make it rain on you and you try to give me my money back." That's one of the weirdest things that happened, but also the biggest tip I've gotten from one person. It was one of those shows where people came to hear the music rather than just happened to be there. People knew a few songs and were asking me to play songs and that doesn't happen all the time, obviously.

You have an admitted fondness for the television show "The Wonder Years." Which character from the show would you be?

Kevin is kind of a wimp, so I don't want to be him. I think I would be Winnie's older brother who [is killed in Vietnam] in the pilot episode. He had a really cool 1959 El Camino.

What is an itchy heart?

The term came from a lyric by one of my bands in high school called Andy and the Kid. The lyric was from a silly pop song about wanting to have to chase something rather than it just being there on your plate. The lyric in particular was "I've gotta scratch my feet when I got an itchy heart." When you are compelled by an idea or a dream, you want to run towards it. You want to work for it.

The Itchy Hearts will play a free show at Sprout Market and Café at 1 N. Morris St., July 1 at 10 p.m. For information on the Itchy Hearts, go to itchyhearts.wordpress.com.

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