The Charleston-born neo-grunge trio Heyrocco loves its hometown. And it loves playing gigs there. But in 2017, the band — guitarist/vocalist Nathan Merli, bassist Chris Cool and drummer Tanner Cooper — decided to move to Los Angeles.
Part of the reason for the move was business-related. Over the course of an album and two EPs, the band had garnered a national and international fan base with its guitar-fueled mix of straight-ahead hard rock and darker grunge accents. The band got airplay on the BBC in England starting with the 2014 EP Mom Jeans and continuing with the 2015 full-length Teenage Movie Soundtrack. By the time of 2016’s Waiting on Cool, that airplay led to sold-out shows in London, Germany and the Netherlands.
At a certain point, Los Angeles made a lot more sense than Charleston as a base of operations for touring and recording.
“As soon as we started to travel, Los Angeles became the place to be,” Merli explains. “If you’re a musician that’s just young and crazy enough to want to be in all the hustle and bustle of the town, it feels like home.”
But that wasn’t the only reason the band moved. Merli says that Heyrocco really enjoys “being small fish in a big pond.”
“Charleston is a beautiful city, and we all spent about the first 20 years of our lives there,” he offers. “South Carolina was very supportive to what we were doing, but it felt like we couldn’t seem to develop there after a certain point. It just seemed like we reached a ceiling and there was nowhere to go. There’s only so many venues.”
From a personal standpoint, Merli says that he started to feel a bit claustrophobic in his hometown.
“I was kind of getting to be known as the ‘local singer guy,’” he explains. “Anywhere I went, I knew somebody. I’d be sitting down in the park writing a song and I’d see somebody I knew. But Los Angeles is such a big pond that almost everything goes unnoticed.”
Going unnoticed does seem to have helped the band’s evolution. Heyrocco’s new EP, Mexican Ashtray, bowing in August as the band’s first release since moving to L.A., does stretch its boundaries a bit.
The five new songs are more intricate and thoughtfully arranged than anything Heyrocco’s done before. “Destroyer,” the lead single, and “Hermanos” layer and weave detailed guitar patterns and pop-friendly vocal harmonies, and the final track, “Mexico,” is a tender, mostly acoustic ballad that launches into a widescreen, singalong chorus.
Merli says the band was a lot more conscious about what it was doing in the studio this time around.
“We just wanted to make a great recording,” he says. “We had our fun, but it was a pretty serious few days of trying to hone in on the craft. Everyone really focused on what they were doing.”
And the time Heyrocco’s spent away from Charleston had another benefit: It’s made the group miss South Carolina.
“I personally think it’s a great state,” Merli offers. “The people there are sweet. They’re hospitable. There’s just something about it. So I look forward to returning, for sure. I think for a while there, we kind of had that youthful, angsty chip-on-the-shoulder attitude towards home. Wherever your parents’ house is, eventually you really want to get the heck out of there, right? But I’ve kind of moved on from that that feeling.”
When it returns to the Columbia area this week, it’ll be at New Brookland Tavern, one of Heyrocco’s favorite spots to play during its time in the state.
“We used to go there about once a month in Tanner’s mom’s minivan, and that was our Woodstock trip,” Merli laughs. “Driving two hours to Columbia and playing out of town was being on tour for us. So I think it’s going to be really special come back.”
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Sunday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.
With: Reality Something, Happy., King Clement
More: 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com