Does anyone watch “Songland?” For those not in the know, since it only premiered a few months ago, it’s an 11-episode songwriting competition series on NBC that pairs undiscovered songwriters with mainstream artists and producers to rework their original songs (and possibly, if their songs are chosen by the featured artists, create hits). We don’t usually like “American Idol” type shows, since we believe in bands that start in garages and artists that pen their own songs and play their own instruments, but we like this one. Kady started watching the show this summer, while she held her sleeping babe, and she fell in love with Able Heart (his real name is John Paciolla), after he premiered “Greenlight” on the fourth episode. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, and “beast,” as Ryan Tedder called him, and he swept the Jonas Brothers, Kady, and many other instant fans, we imagine, off their feet.
“Greenlight”: Like a song that you can’t forget
We’ve both since listened to Heart’s available catalog, including the “Drugs” EP and other singles, all found on most major streaming services, such as SoundCloud, YouTube, and Apple Music, several times over. Let’s just say we got the “greenlight,” and, to continue borrowing his words, we “[weren’t] fucking ready.” The “Drugs” EP is as raw and self-destructive content-wise, as it is smoothly seductive, production-wise, as Heart weaves erotic tales about love, addiction, and depression equally poetically. He has his demons, but he promises to grant his love’s/like’s(?) every desire like some sort of sex genie in several songs, and we imagine it would be easy to forget said demons. In the title track, “Drugs,” and “High,” for example, he and his partner seem to share an addiction for narcotics and each other, demonstrating the unhealthiest form of co-dependency. His hauntingly high voice is mesmerizing, arousing, and saddening, all at once. He comes across as someone who has lived well beyond his 28 years, but who didn’t necessarily see himself doing so, self-medicating to kill his pain. As Heart has said himself, he uses his music as an outlet for his past vices to keep himself sane and grounded, and to, potentially, help others dealing with the same issues.
According to an interview with Billboard, Heart was training for the 2014 Winter Olympics when a spinal injury abruptly and tragically ended his skateboarding and snowboarding career, leading to substance abuse and stints in 10 different recovery programs in the following years. Unsurprisingly, one of many other common themes in Heart’s music is that his recovery journey left him lonely and in search of fulfillment by someone or something. Since one-half of us (Kady) has also struggled with depression to the point of suicidal thoughts, it’s easy to connect to the dramatic imagery his lyrics create. But, it’s also a little heartbreaking, as he figuratively commits suicide in “What’s Left After This” and “Let Me Drown,” shooting himself in the former and slitting his wrists in the latter (as depicted in the official music video for the song). NSFW topics a la Prince run rampant throughout his “Drugs” EP and other singles — sex, obviously drugs, death, and even rock ‘n’ roll, if you count his cover of “Rockstar,” abound — but, in reality, it’s now only Heart’s music that provides him with the highs he often describes. In fact, as he has often shared via Instagram Live, his “Songland” win has been life-changing. Prior to his appearance on the show, he had been living in a shed, and was even preparing to move back to his home state of Pennsylvania the week of his audition. Music has seemingly saved him time and again from daily battles with depression, serving as a form of therapy, as mentioned in another recent Instagram Live video. In the same Billboard article, he said he was actually acting out some of his struggles to “[selflessly] do something selfish.” Therein lies his authenticity, and we applaud his efforts (virtual clapping), especially if it helps him keep his own head above water.
“You know what I’ve been through. You know who I am…”
“Greenlight,” which is about love and taking that next step in a relationship, is a shiny beacon of hope for what’s to come of a bright musical future (or at least we think so). Heart’s been compared to Post Malone and Lil Peep, and we definitely hear these influences, but, to us, his brand of blended pop-soul, dark, often dirty lyrical imagery, and electronic dance beats are reminiscent of the aforementioned Prince, Adam Levine, and the 90s-era devastation that was grunge (think Layne Staley’s constant references to his own self-destructive ways).
Of Heart’s catalog, our favorites are the entire “Drugs” EP, “She Ain’t You,” “On My Own,” from the EP “Lucid,” featuring collaborations with Lookas and Krewella, and his remix of “Rockstar,” which is better than the original, if you ask us (we know no one did, but his version of Posty’s Grammy-nominated classic is somehow sexier when slowed down). Letting his whole playlist play repeatedly, we hear him say that he “might not make it,” doesn’t “know if he can go through this alone, on his own,” and that he needs “something, something to kill [his] pain,” creating unfiltered snapshots of his mental state that are hypnotizing, to say the least. We’re not sure how the line “do you like drugs?” can be so utterly catchy, but we can’t get enough (of that song, either). To borrow his words again, he’s the “only one we’re fallin’ on right now,” and we’ve seriously fallen hard. Thanks for that, Able.
“You got me thinking about the state I’m in...”
While his music often borders on total darkness and escapism — loss of love and self, death, depression, drug addiction, and sex and fantasy — his stage name rings hopeful, a constant contradiction. On “Songland,” he said his name stemmed from his mom saying, “You're able to do anything your heart desires.” We definitely believe this in Heart’s case, and it goes without saying that he has a lot of heart. He had never performed prior to taking the “Songland” stage, and Nick Jonas automatically referred to him as “an artist.” Though we can’t say we’ve ever been fans of or followed the Jonas Brothers (boy bands, are we right?), we tend to agree, especially after listening to nothing but Heart for days and days straight. He definitely knows his way around a love song, and a lesson-learned song, and is so brutally honest at all times that we haven’t been able to see past our own before-mentioned hypnosis.
Recently, he has had us thinking about the state we’re in, something we think he might also be experiencing himself, now that he’s being recognized for his talent and the great Esther Dean has taken him under her wing. We can only tell tales of addiction from the opposite side, as firsthand observers of what this kind of lethal love can do to a person, a family. Our parents are recovering addicts, and not a day goes by that we don’t think of some of the horror stories that transpired as part of our actual childhood. We grew up poor, moved from place to place, lived without basic necessities, and helped raise our little brothers, even though we were children ourselves. School was always our escape, before we, too, found music. Later, Kady suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression, as mentioned earlier, mostly triggered by stress and an overwhelming pressure to rise above our parents’ mistakes. But, we came out of it, and our parents did, too. Sometime during our mom’s recovery, she gifted us with keychains featuring the Serenity Prayer, which we’ve constantly repeated over the years and now keep on our keyrings as reminders of how far both of our parents have come. We’re sure we’re all grateful to be past the dark times, hindsight is 20-20 and all of that, but these experiences have shaped who we are as people, making us empathetic and strong, and helping us to strive for more. Thankfully, Heart also survived his addiction, and we hope he continues to find solace in music, helping others by sharing his own horror stories, and rising above them, because “we need [his] secrets,” and we think the world does, too.
We like to try to predict the musical future and have actually foreseen many musical reunions over the years, so here’s hoping that Heart, a self-proclaimed mama's boy, will be buying his parents a house, which he said he hopes to do via those Instagram Live stories, and taking his mom as his plus one to the Grammys one day soon, once his new record has been released and he’s received critical acclaim, of course. He released his original version of “Greenlight,” along with a lyric video, via YouTube and SoundCloud on 7/24/19. The video received over 18,000 views on YouTube in one day and has since received over 90,000, reaffirming our belief that all signs seem to be pointing to yes (and, to go!, we’re guessing) in terms of his potential musical future.