Published August 13, 2009
Photo by Daina Wong
HeartsRevolution play pop music that calls to mind Atari Teenage Riot on overdrive, but their project didn’t start with music—it started with an ice cream truck. Somewhere in the Mojave Desert in 2005, future Hearts members Ben Pollockand Leyla “Lo” Safai decided to retrofit an old 1960s ice cream van, christen it the HeartsChallenger, and commission it as a postmodern party unit—a mobile funhouse, toy store, and confectionary. By 2007, a sister operation had sprung up in New York, where Ben and Lo had relocated. Not only did they inspire other Manhattan-based portable kitsch operations (the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, anyone?), selling pop ephemera gave them the money to focus on something else: a band.
Today, they have cool merchandise and the music to match. Armed with stellar visuals (Lo’s trademark day-glo pink eyemask makes her look like Karen O by way of Japanimation) and riot grrrl charisma, HeartsRevolution’s music is both unnerving and exhilarating.
“We want to spread art and love wherever we go,” Lo says of the group’s goals. We spoke with the vocalist as she embarked on tour.
COLLEEN NIKA: How has being a full-fledged band affected the HeartsChallenger franchise?
LEYLA SAFAI: It just keeps growing. Before there was the band, there was the truck. We wanted to sell toys and treats and conjure up nostalgic visions of the childhood ice cream truck, but take it to a less innocent place: to the realm of raves, shows, clubs–grown-up places where there is alcohol, cigarettes, and creepy people. People caught on, and we’re now very engaged in a lot of cross-marketing opportunities. Companies will often hire us to play their events, which allows us to pay our bills. But, of course, we drive the HeartsChallenger to our own shows and sell our merchandise from it. The ice cream truck continues to serves as a metaphor for everything we do: it’s the vehicle we use to create our destiny. Our personal motto is “Choose Your Own Adventure”.
CN: What is the relationship between HeartsChallenger between and HeartsRevolution?
LS: In everything we do, we evoke facets of childhood nostalgia but evolve them for a scary, adult universe. Our new video for “Dance Til Dawn,” which Diesel is helping us produce, is done completely in a Japanimation style. That’s an influence we bring to a lot of what we do. On HeartsChallenger, we sell pink and white anime toys and clothing. Our own logo is a pink heart and two white unicorns. It’s a universally understood symbol. I enjoy the anonymous visual impact of the iconography seen in old cartoons. I’m fascinated by the life force of female superheroines, like Superwoman.
CN: Are powerful women in general a major influence on you? As a performer, you project a distinctive, updated riot grrrl energy.
LS: Absolutely. We take inspiration from neo-punk and digital hardcore, but riot grrrl is a huge influence on us. I grew up on Bikini Kill and Bratmobile and Huggy Bear. And I think we seriously need a revival of the riot grrrl spirit more than ever in this day and age.
CN: Is there a lack of girl power in music today?
LS: Yes. I often wonder, who do young girls really have to look to as an authentic, powerful female artist? Nothing against these performers, but when you see Christina Aguilera working Ladytron and Shakira turning to indie producers to make more dynamic music, you can’t help but think it’s that they’ve tired of being pop stars and are now trying to empower themselves by trying something left-field. There’s a void to fill.
HeartsRevolution are featured performers on the Diesel U Music World Tour. Check tour dates here. Their debut album, Ride or Die, will be released in January 2010.