Album of the Week: Popular IRC DIY Artist Thad Kopec Drops Masterful Debut Album, ‘Heart of Man’
Earlier this year, IRC featured the DIY recordings of Florida musician Thad Kopec in the DIY Artist of the Week series. Kopec’s profile received quite a bit of love and attention from IRC listeners, and within the larger music community as well. He now lives in Nashville and attends Belmont University majoring in public relations and political science.
Partly inspired by the positive response to his demos that premiered on IRC last May, Kopec, 21, set out to select a dozen songs among more than 50 demos to be re-recorded and mastered for his debut LP, Heart of Man, which he has shared exclusively with IRC. It is evident after a few spins of the album that Kopec is a DIY force to be reckoned with – his music is bold, heartfelt, wonderfully composed, and overall, a compelling listening experience from start to finish. We’ve listened to it all the way through already four times, and will listen to it again, and again. It’s highly recommended to spin the songs on this page, and the entire album itself, with good pair of speakers because it enhances the experience even more, which is so fittingly for such a brilliant album, musically and vocally.
It’s probably the best DIY debut we’ve heard this year. Judging from the enthusiastic response Kopec received earlier this year when he was profiled, and what we expect to be even a bigger response to Heart of Man, an album that is without doubt still a secret to the larger world of music lovers for the gold that it contains. It’s also one of those albums that in some mysterious way, gets better with each spin.
In fact, it was difficult to pick which songs to feature, because we obviously can’t post them all. It’s very rare to come across an album where every song is important to you, touches you in some way, and that you go back to again and again. After the release of the demos he premiered on IRC last May, and now with his debut self-released album, which Kopec also wrote, produced, mixed, played most of the instruments and sang on, Kopec should be on the cusp of breaking out big time. More people need to hear his music, and hopefully the majority of them will agree – it’s a brilliant album by a young, promising and talented artist.
Seriously, we like every song on the album, some, of course, more than others, but each song stands on its own. The album’s first track, “The Rift, an Opening,” is a 50-second introduction that by itself is a splendid piece of work.
Other times, on songs like “The World Was Young,” Kopec, along with help from other musicians, almost sounds like he’s paying homage to The National. “This is one of the first songs I ever wrote and really arranged,” Kopec remarked. “It’s the oldest one of the album, dating back to mid-2010. I added some parts for the new version to fit the album, but it mostly remains as it was.” It’s also one of the best songs on the album, wherein the relatively quiet verses eventually lead to a full-on, flourishing chorus in the last 30 seconds of the song especially.
“The World Was Young” would, however, be an even better song if the combination of instruments, vocals, rhythm and overall vibe of the last 30 seconds was extended for another one or two minutes (hint, hint).
At times, on songs like “White Wolf,” for example, Kopec seems to be channeling, in a subtle way, Sufjan Stevens‘, both musically and vocally, but not at all in a way that sounds like he’s lifting aspects. The intro includes the use of a ukulele, which adds even more to the comparison with Steven’s (whose new Silver & Gold box set was the Album of the Week last week) and also features Kopec on the piano.
“I don’t really know my way around the piano all that well,” Kopec told IRC, “but when I get an idea in my head, I’m relentless at getting it into the song. My form is absurd, but it got the job done. ”
Other times, such as the rolling drum beats, choruses and guitar hooks of the album’s title track, “Heart of Man,” it is understandable if you hear strong hints of Fleet Foxes.
The same is partially true with the mellow folk rock track, “Red Wolf,” in which there also sounds to be influences of Bon Iver. The song has such a romantic, log cabin charm to it – those are just the words that come to mind. Past the half-way point, trumpets enter the picture as a father laments about a roaming red wolf consuming his daughter:
It’s been four hours since sunset
And my daughter still hasn’t come home
I fear the worst; I fear she’s dead
I fear she’s all alone
I hear her there in your stomach
Screaming, ‘I just want to come home’
That is stark imagery and definitely leans towards folklore (“I hear her there in your stomach”), and yet the song, musically and vocally, is beautifully melancholic. ”I have three or four different versions of ["Red Wolf"] on my hard drive,” Kopec said. “I had written the song itself years ago, but finding the right arrangement ended up being a grueling process. I first started with a stripped down, melancholy version with just banjo and vocals, but felt like it needed to be bigger to capture the true darkness and desperation of the story being told.”
“So I opted instead for the bigger arrangement. It still didn’t feel right though. It needed more grit, and I felt like the words needed more time to sink in for some reason. I started thumping on my guitar as I thought, and that second portion took shape as I piled on tambourine and claps. Then I finally went to my friend Josh [Gilligan] to have him fill it out with trumpet. That was the thing that made it seem finished to me.”
“Winter Forest” is another song where Kopec’s admitted influences from Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes is apparent. It’s a quiet song comprised almost completely by Kopec’s soft vocals, and is another woodsy, organic song where the lyrics, or more like, the story-telling, is the focus. It’s almost like his music is coming from the earth, as much as it is his heart, and he is just the right conduit to make the translation for the rest of us. One exception is the song, “Praying for Rain,” which is one of the album’s noisier tracks, with a faster rhythm, fuzzy electric guitar solos, and Kopec’s mysterious, smooth vocals.
It was not at all a surprise when we discovered (after making the obvious comparisons between Kopec’s sound to other artists above) that Kopec wrote on his Bandcamp page: “My writing draws from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Elbow, Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver, but the sound I craft hopefully takes on a personality all its own.” Yes, in fact, that’s exactly what it does – it has a personality all of its own but is clearly influenced by incredibly talented, original artists.
The gorgeous track, “Fire in a Gold House,” has its roots firmly planted in folk, and demonstrates Kopec’s ability to construct songs that stand on their own. The acoustic guitar picking is terrific and gives the song much of its character. Kopec said that when he performs “Fire in a Gold House,” people come up to after the show to talk about it. Following that song is the dreamy, calming story-telling of “Cathedral,” a love song that is mostly comprised of Kopec’s smooth, emotive vocals embellished by a flourishing climax of electric violin, rumbling drums and fast acoustic guitar strumming.
“Black Lake” finds Kopec at the piano, singing from his heart about love. He also plays the violin on this track (and on “Dogs of Night”). As the song builds, a distant discordant guitar sounds off, adding a touch of darkness on what is already a melancholic, somber song. The album closes with “Dogs of Night,” featuring a ukulele and guitar on an otherwise mystic, gloomy song. The eight-minute track has a number of chapters and clear transitions, even though the underlining mood is dark. At one point the vocal track becomes a little muffled, and it’s not clear if that is intentional or not. In the second half of the song, the mood intensifies, mostly by the introduction of electric guitars, determined, repetitious violin notes, piano infusions and a slight urgency in the rhythm.
Sufjan Stevens cover of Romulus by Kopec, Ricky Marrero, Josh Gilligan, and Chris Nardino.
The album is so appropriately named because Kopec’s heart is so clearly and deeply in the notes and words of his songs that he really connects with the listener, and that’s a hard thing for any musician to do, but also the key to their success. You know you have a great album when it’s hard to pick which songs from it you want to highlight. Honestly, the only way to fully appreciate the brilliance of this record is to get a copy of it. It is impressive the depth of talent Kopec displays, considering he writes all his own music, plays most of the instruments, mixes, produces and sings. It probably won’t be too long, we predict, based on his debut, that Kopec will be picked up by a label so that even more people can hear this still under-appreciated talent, some would even say indie music prodigy.
Kudos to Kirby Lin on violin, Josh Gilligan on trumpet and flugelhorn and T.W. Walsh, who mastered the album. Kopec performed on guitar, vocals, piano, bass, ukulele, violin (on “Black Lake” and “Dogs of Night”), bowed guitar, percussion, antlers. Yes, you heard that right. At the end of the song “Cathedral,” there are actually the clacking of antlers. Kopec also wrote, produced, engineered and mixed all of the songs on Heart of Man, which just adds another layer of talent to .
From the raw demos he shared with us exclusively this year, Kopec has progressed immensely. In fact, he has simply refined and broadened his scope and artistic talents.
This could be the best $5 you spend this month. If this young musician doesn’t get noticed in a big way in 2013, something’s out of whack. In fact, we think Kopec, and his collaborators, should be booked for a couple of sets at South by Southwest in Austin in March 2013.
Kopec has also just recorded four Christmas songs.