Catching Up With Cruelty of the Heavens (Plus New Music From Solo Side Projects Goldie and Omertà)

I've already written about Cruelty of the Heavens three times in the past year (here, here, and here), so if you still haven't listened to their debut album, Grow Up and See: do it now. Like, right now. It's seriously one of the best albums I've ever heard. Period. The disc has held the #1 slot in my CD changer since March, I listen to the album at least once a week (usually more), and it has yet to lose an ounce of steam. Perfect for fans of the highest-level of heavy '90s emo or alternative rock or whatever the fuck you want to call it, catchy enough for constant sing-alongs, mature enough to hit with some real feeling... I just can't shout about its brilliance enough. If this niche of music is even remotely in your wheelhouse and you don't enjoy this record, please seek emergency medical care, 'cause something ain't right.

Recently, the band announced the addition of second guitarist Ed Harris. This is mind-blowingly exciting for me, because Ed is the former drummer of another Memphis, TN-based group that I used to get overenthusiastically hyperbolic about: On a Dead Machine. On top of that, Cruelty of the Heavens vocalist/guitarist Neal Bledsoe recently issued word that his solo project, Goldie, will soon be releasing a split with Ed's own solo moniker, Omertà.

Needless to say, I felt it was time to chat with Neal and Ed to get the scoop. They were even kind enough to offer up wonderful premiere tracks from both Goldie and Omertà, which you'll find amidst the conversation below...

Ed Harris (left) and Neal Bledsoe (right). All photos by Sydney Carlson Ratliff.

Grow Up and See was released about nine months ago, and while of course I feel it should have received far more attention, it does seem as though the album has been very well-received as a whole. Talk about the overall response to the record, the band's reaction to that response, etc.

Neal: It's honestly been great. People have been extremely accepting of the record. We were kinda nervous originally because of our involvement with our last band, Chaos Order. Cruelty of the Heavens isn't anything—I mean anything—like Chaos Order. We didn't know what people were going to think about it, but they are still right here with us. Encouraging us. Really making Jared [Filsinger, bass], Sam [Davidson, drums], and myself feel like we're doing the right thing. It feels good. Cruelty of the Heavens has earned fans that I personally never thought would be into it. Needless to say, it's been an interesting nine months. I can't believe it's been that long, to tell the truth. Also, people are still discovering it on their own. We've recently had several people from overseas reach out to us about the band. How much they love the music and want us to come play their country. They also want shirts! They're coming! I promise!

Ed: It's hard to get into the limelight these days when there are so many new bands, new genres, new technology, new everything. It's confusing, overwhelming, and requires a very disciplined infrastructure to stand out... or we could just paint our faces, wear sparkly jeans, look as pretty as we can, and hopefully not suck. No disrespect is intended by saying that. Hell, I have done everything except the "look pretty" part for over 22 years now. This band is a breath of fresh air to anyone who misses the raw and real live sound of bands like Cave In, Failure, Hum, Jawbox, and more. No elaborate sets, no laser light shows, no backing tracks, no gimmicks, no costumes... all we will require is a power outlet to put on a show for you. Simply put: the music will be the show.

Cruelty of the Heavens has actually been sitting on a few unreleased songs for about a year now, too. What can you share about those tracks, and the plans for their eventual release?

Neal: Jared, Sam, and myself originally recorded three brand new tracks for a split that has now been expelled, we're guessing. [Producer/engineer] David Cowell was a trooper with all of this. We finished the record and then right away we were like, "Daaave, we gotta record again!"

We've heard nothing else of the split. At all. I figure we'll eventually release them on our own, or if something else comes along, we'll throw the tracks at it. If we release it on our own, it would be cool to release a super-limited cassette or something along those lines.

The songs definitely represent where the band is going musically. Definitely more hints of The Cure and Slowdive. One track in particular features [Memphis-based singer/songwriter] Grace Askew. Hopefully they'll be out by the end of the year or super early next year.

It was just announced that former On a Dead Machine drummer Ed Harris has joined Cruelty of the Heavens on second guitar. This is especially exciting news for me because 10+ years ago I used to flip out and gush about On a Dead Machine damn near as much as I do Cruelty of the Heavens today. I'm extremely curious to learn how this all came about!?

Neal: I know, man! I'm extremely excited about Ed joining us! Dude is insanely talented. It's honestly frightening! I've known Ed since I was in my early-, early-teens. On a Dead Machine was definitely a favorite of mine as well. I've always had lots of respect for Ed as a musician and—most importantly—as a person. Even as a sarcastic, butthole, know-it-all, loudmouth kid, Ed made me feel welcome and a part of something. He could've told me to piss off, but never did. Ed has honestly always been one of the nicest dudes you'll ever meet. I'd rather people meet Ed first than me [laughs]! Ed's consistent! I have my days, trust me. I never thought we'd end up in a band together, you know? Schedules never fell right until now.

It's quite simple. I was hanging with Ed, drinking coffee at his house. Ed brought up the magic question, which it feels like everyone in North America is asking: "When is Cruelty of the Heavens going to play a show!?" Long story short, I went into the whole deal of us having trouble finding a second guitar player. In the same breath, I asked Ed, "How good are you on guitar?" We grabbed two of his acoustics and Ed learned the foundation of a song in 45 minutes or so. I was like, "Alll fuckin' right, my friend! Dust your guitars off!"

The rest is history. I personally can't wait for people to hear Ed on these songs with us! You'll definitely be getting something you can't get from the album. Somehow Ed has found these incredible, unexplored guitar parts throughout all of the Grow Up and See record. I was just telling Ed recently that I didn't understand how he has done that! Here I was, thinking I had tied everything up! At this point, we can't wait to be in front of people. It's going to be a fun time.

Ed: First off, I really appreciate all the kind words and support you have given On a Dead Machine over the years. It means the world to us, and it makes me very proud to be a part of another band that you enjoy. I wasn't even expecting an audition, to be honest with you. Most people don't even know me as a guitarist, but I've been playing guitar a lot longer than I have been playing drums. I've been working with a local producer/engineer/musician named David Cowell on several solo records over the past five years. Neal has been working on his own material as well with Dave. One day we were both sitting at Dave's place talking about releasing this record together as a split, and the next thing you know we are talking about an audition for me on guitar. Needless to say, I left the conversation very excited about this new opportunity.

As Ed just mentioned, outside of Cruelty of the Heavens, the two of you are also working on a split release between your solo projects—Goldie (Neal) and Omertà (Ed). What should listeners expect there?

Neal: Ed has been doing Omertà for some time now. I've just recently stepped into this creating-music-by-myself thing. It's been fun, though. It's all me. What I say goes, you know? Again, David Cowell stepped up to the plate for producer of Goldie. Dave is a complete saint. I love working with him. For my side of the split in particular, I wanted to "Brian Wilson it," if you will. I wanted to explore tons of instrumentation that I've never done before, such as French horns, pianos, pedal steel, violins, etc. I've enlisted the help of a lot of incredible musicians that happen to be great friends of mine who were willing to help me make my ideas a reality. If you wanna know who played what on the record, read the credits, you millennials!

It's definitely a huge step away from what people may expect from me. I actually played drums (my principal instrument) on one of the tracks. It's been a blast. I'm ready to do more! One thing Ed and I are trying to tie up is finding a local charity that could really use the money. Whatever profit we could stand to make on this, we'd want it going toward putting an instrument, food, clothes, or whatever the need may be into a less fortunate kid's hands, you know? My guess would be early-October or so on the actual release.

Ed: Omertà is something that I have been working on for several years, and will continue to do so until they put my ass in the ground. I've had about 25 songs recorded and a couple of videos made over the past five years, and it was still way less expensive than therapy. I didn't really make these songs to get a response, but hopefully people will get something out of the message. I'm 36 years old, writing about 36-year-old problems, not strippers or cocaine. I've never done either of those things in my life. I'm not very rock 'n' roll.

Neal, you had mentioned to me recently that Ed and yourself are really working to "reboot" Cruelty of the Heavens. What did you mean by that? I ask because aside from the fact that the band has yet to establish a live presence, it does seem like things have been slowly but surely moving since the album's release back in November...

Neal: After the release of Grow Up and See, we tried out several different guitar players with no luck. Some were really amazing musicians, but didn't have the time to really spare for the project. We want to go above and beyond with this. Me, Jared, and Sam were fixed on just keeping it a three-piece until someone came along, even though it's a two-guitar band. Personally, I'm such a perfectionist that I was having trouble with that thought. Us three continued to work on the songs, vocal harmonies, etc. until now. Ed has brought a whole new energy to the band. We all want to get everyone as excited about this band as we are! We feel good, man. Grow Up and See hasn't done everything it's going to do. It's just getting started. We're definitely going to be a live band. Just like in Chaos Order: we wouldn't sell shit off the merch table until after we played. This isn't going to be any different.

Ed: All four of us plan on putting in the work that is required to succeed. The growing pains are over, the debut record has been made, and we are ready to use our collective experience to continue to create something bigger than ourselves. We are honored to have anyone come along with us on this journey, it's going to be a lot of fun!


Stream Grow Up and See on Bandcamp or Spotify. Grab the CD via Encapsulated Records. Find Cruelty of the Heavens on Facebook and Instagram.