Into the 'So Unknown' with JESUS PIECE: "We'd like to be perceived as a band that's not just a band" | Revolver

Into the 'So Unknown' with JESUS PIECE: "We'd like to be perceived as a band that's not just a band"

How fatherhood, ferocity and focus shaped Philly hardcore bruiser's first album in five years
Jesus Piece live black and white Becerra 1600x900, Gabe Becerra
Jesus Piece
photograph by Gabe Becerra

Order Jesus Piece's new album, So Unknown, on limited-edition clear vinyl at Revolver's shop!

Snow glistens around a log cabin in the New Jersey woods; a family of deer lingers outside the front door as the day's first light sets in. A tortured scream rises through the trees.

This isn't a fucked-up Disney movie — it's the setting in which Jesus Piece frontman Aaron Heard recorded the vocals for the band's new, long-awaited second album, …So Unknown. The idyllic surroundings couldn't have been further from the brutal metallic hardcore that was coming out of these sessions. But five years on from their raw and explosive debut, Only Self, which garnered breathless critical acclaim and established them as one of the scene's most invigorating new bands, Jesus Piece were ready to do things a little differently.

"This album is calculated for longevity," Heard explains on a video call from his Philadelphia home, as he prepares a cup of coffee and rolls a blunt. Whereas the band's previous 2018 record was an expulsion of bitter, deeply personal anger that touched on past traumas and crushing political hopelessness, …So Unknown, their first for new label Century Media Records, takes a different tack.

Many of the songs, like the pummeling "In Constraints" and the lurching, eerie "Profane," are exercises in character-driven fiction. The ones that are personal take on new, introspective subject matter. "The Bond" makes a plea to Heard's estranged brother; "Fear of Failure" explores the self-reflection inspired by his becoming a father two years ago; and "Silver Lining," while sonically as ferocious as ever, is in fact a love song to his son. The result is a complex, powerful album that builds on the promise of their debut and reasserts that Jesus Piece are still a vital creative force: front and center for the broadening and bleeding of hardcore's boundaries that has marked the last few years.

"I'm trying to avoid being such a negative fuck on these songs," Heard says of his new attitude. "It's very cathartic to do this shit, but the more that I bring [trauma and depression] to the forefront every day, the more I have to live it over and over again. I try to break away from that on this record; try to find a different lane than just voicing my traumas. It's a more sustainable way for me to write songs."

The biggest reason for this change is Heard's new life as a dad. "I was a party animal, acting crazy all the time, touring way too much. [Having a child] allowed me to knock that shit off. I feel like a totally different person." He's determined now to take his life and career more seriously. Plus, as a father he also simply can't afford himself the space for the anger about the world that used to drive him and his lyrics. "I'd be angry as hell. I'd wanna change things, but I didn't know how," he recalls. "I can't be a total fucking nut about it anymore. I don't have the mental capacity to handle anything other than fatherhood."

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photograph by Phobymo

While …So Unknown is more focused and mature than Only Self, intensity is still key; if anything, Jesus Piece — which is completed by drummer Luis Aponte, guitarists David Updike and John Distefano and bassist Anthony Marinaro — have gotten even heavier.

The record alternately evokes Sepultura grooves, the industrial rhythms of Ministry and the atonal precision of Helmet, while Heard's vocals are a potent and vicious death-metal deluge. To get into that headspace when he's recording or performing, the singer says he "just thinks about all the worst shit that's ever happened to me." Any heavy band needs that authenticity, he adds. "When I hear bands, I listen for the vocalist, and if it feels like their life is OK, I'm kinda out. I wanna hear something unhinged in the voice."

Drummer Luis Aponte, speaking to Revolver via video from his girlfriend's home in Paris, backs up Heard's bona fides. "Everything he's giving out is real. He's a positive, good dude, but he's definitely an intense, deep person. I love working with people like that, where I know they're not fronting at all."

Jesus Piece's adventurous approach to their craft has been baked into their musical pursuits since day one. They're equally adept at winning over crowds at Turnstile, Knocked Loose and Ghostemane shows, and are collectively and individually down for collaboration and creative experimentation. In between Jesus Piece albums, Heard held down bass duties for Philly shoegaze leaders Nothing — and last year Aponte even got to play drums for pop sensation Charli XCX on Saturday Night Live, after her creative director saw a YouTube video of him performing with Jesus Piece.

"It's a weird time to be in a hardcore band, 'cause it wasn't like this when we first started," says Aponte. "The level of where things could possibly go was not where it is now. It's nice to see it leaving our comfort zone, and I'm happy to be a part of pushing a genre and culture I love so much."

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photograph by Gabe Becerra

For Jesus Piece, abandoning their comfort zone to create …So Unknown was an exciting and essential experience — but one that was also fraught with challenges and moments of self-doubt. It had been a long time, and a global pandemic, since the band's buzzworthy debut. They were aware of the music scene's short attention span and how easily bands can fade away. They knew they needed to write something better than before. "It felt like it was an impossible task," says Aponte. "But we were like, If we're gonna do it, let's go all the way. We're a lot more unified now. We all have the same vision — we all feel what we can do is endless. And the pandemic really proved how precious this is."

As soon as the band began recording with producer Randy LeBoeuf in summer 2021, Hurricane Ida hit; and the producer's Philly basement studio was flooded three feet deep. The whole setup had to be moved and condensed to two rooms upstairs. "It's a classic Jesus Piece story — there's nothing we can do without there being some sort of hurdle," Aponte says with a smile. "But Randy didn't cancel on us, and that was insane."

LeBoeuf (whose credits include the Acacia Strain, Dying Wish and more) helped the guys map out their songs piece-by-piece and program ideas with MIDI before emulating them on instruments. His methodical approach was novel to the band, and pushed each member to reach new levels of their ability and vision. "Everything always seemed so amateur before," says Aponte. "This was the first time we really felt professional." Once the instrumental tracks were laid out, Heard and LeBoeuf decamped to the New Jersey cabin to complete vocals. "We spent a week together chilling, cooking breakfast and working on these songs," says Heard. "It had been a while since I'd been in the studio, so I needed to clear my head and be out in nature."

The band's collective goal was to create the best version of Jesus Piece yet. Naturally, passions ran high. The guys would often butt heads over their opinions and ideas. The dynamic was "real and intense," says Aponte. "Things can get heated."

"It's fucking chaotic, dog," Heard agrees. "Which I think is important — I don't think you should ever sit in a room where everybody's a yes man."

Jesus Piece live black and white uncropped Becerra, Gabe Becerra
photograph by Gabe Becerra

All of this coalesced into an album that was worth the five-year wait. Instead of injecting too many surprising twists, the band channeled their focus into making it "hit like a brick house," as Heard puts it. "Fear of Failure" combines smart, menacing riffs and bruising low-end with some of the frontman's most urgent vocals. "Tunnel Vision" is a gut punch of wall-to-wall guitars and machine-gun kick pedal. "An Offering to the Night" even offers a slick, turntable-inspired breakdown. "It's the most mature we've ever sounded. I'm very confident in it," says Aponte.

The record's airbrush cover art, designed by Paris artist Lazygawd, is instantly striking in how it feels more linked to '90s hip-hop aesthetics, or even modern-day streetwear, than hardcore. Jesus Piece also dropped a fashion capsule with streetwear brand Noah to accompany the album's first single, "An Offering to the Night," and filmed their very first music videos, which nod to French hip-hop, anime and The Matrix. "The band's art and direction is something that we don't compromise on," says Heard. Adds Aponte, "We will never let a label decide or direct things for us." Aponte, who lives between New York and Paris and moonlights in his electronic project LU2K and as a fashion model, is excited to delve into culture beyond heavy music. "We're taking everything we love and putting it on our platform," he continues. "If we wanted to direct a movie, we would. If we wanted to make a video game, we would."

Heard sums up: "We'd like to be perceived as a band that's not just a band."

Observing Jesus Piece's ascent, there's an electric current crackling behind everything they do. And as they help to lead heavy music into the future, their potential is limitless and combustible. Going forward, the band want to keep pushing into experimental new realms, creating without constraints, and building an all-encompassing world around their band-that's-not-just-a-band. "I wanna be putting ourselves in places we've never seen or never thought we could be. I wanna always feel uncomfortable," says Aponte.

"We are coming into a new sound with the band; we are coming into a new world after quarantine. We're all way more fucking focused," Heard concludes. "We got the eye of the tiger."