Strange Heart boldly leans into the future on Falling Back Again.
The metro Detroit rock-soul trio of Josh Clemens (lead vocals, guitar), Mike Schneider (vocals, bass) and Bobby Jankowski (drums) share heartfelt truths of the past and find the way forward on their latest album.
“Falling Back Again is when you’re trapped in a cycle, and you’re falling back into the same old patterns,” Clemens said.
“In a relationship, it can be like, ‘We’re fine; we’re doing really good,’ but then it’s like, ‘We’re back to square one,’ and finally it’s like, ‘Are you leaving? No, I’m staying.’”
That cyclical nature of Falling Back Again elicits eight personal tales of love, self-acceptance and heartbreak against a backdrop of soulful instrumentation and Motown-rich sensibilities. Each track accepts one circumstance and prepares for the challenges of the next.
“It’s just this vicious cycle, and it never stops. When you’re Falling Back Again, you’re falling back to the beginning of the cycle, which has a ‘with or without you’ vibe,” Clemens said
“That idea also kinda hits throughout the album, and obviously it’s within the song ‘24 Hours (Without Your Love).’ In a song like ‘Good Company,’ it fits perfectly. It fits a lot of places.”
Falling Back Again
That thematic “fit” first takes shape on the hopeful opener, “Do You,” as eager keys, bass, electric guitar, horns and drums encourage pursuing a new relationship. Clemens sings, “I’ve got regrets / Can’t run from the past / Don’t tell me to rest / I’m never one to hold back.”
“‘Do You’ is more like a mission statement, and it’s about not letting all the crap around you get you down,” Clemens said
“As you go through life and you get older, you go through the ups and downs of a marriage, kids, a long-term relationship or a new job. The idea of the song is to keep going forward despite taking these hits … you keep hoping for the best and believing you can get there.”
While optimism reigns on “Do You,” frustration seeps into another life chapter on “24 Hours (Without Your Love).” This intimate track dissects the final moments of a once-promising relationship before it unravels. (It also features the lyric, “falling back again,” which inspired the album’s title.)
Visceral keys, electric guitar, bass and drums issue an ultimatum as Clemens sings, “I know better than to promise a world of change / You know better than to let me lie right to your face / Between you and me a little levee that’s gonna break / Take it or leave it, there’s nothing worth keeping if it’s all the same.”
“That one’s also a ‘can’t live with or without you’ kind of thing. It’s like, ‘You know me as well as anybody possibly could, and you know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. As hard as this is, I know I can’t do this without you,’” Clemens said. “There’s a lot of that dichotomy in that song.”
After leaving one relationship behind, Strange Heart encounters additional heartache on “Flip the Switch,” a vulnerable analysis of a love gone wrong.
Tender electric guitar, bass, keys, strings and drums leave listeners speechless as Clemens sings, “You gotta get ahead of the game / You want to shift the blame / You better find someone else to play, it’s getting late / That ain’t why I came / We ain’t ever gonna flip the switch / So excuse me if I choose to skip reliving our greatest hits.”
“I wanted to write this heartache song … [so] I just pulled from my heartache file, and there are some quotes in there that are directly from [past relationship] fights,” said Clemens, who counts Motown, grunge, alt rock and jazz fusion as the band’s major influences.
“There are also some of my favorite lines in that song, including ‘You gotta get ahead of the game / You want to shift the blame.’ It just sounds vintage to me.”
Finally, Strange Heart looks inward on “Enemy,” an emotional reflection on family history and the legacy of mental illness. Raw and frenzied electric guitar, keys, bass and drums push Clemens to face his inner demons.
He sings, “Some days I wake as someone else / In the morning, I think the who I was just left / Too scared to put voice to the truth / I’ve always been afraid that I’m just like you / I’m always afraid that I’m just like you.”
“The ‘Enemy’ in this case is mental illness and the fear of seeing your family really sick and being afraid that you’re also going to be like that, but you don’t know it,” Clemens said.
“We also went back to ‘Enemy’ since it was recorded in 2020. There was one note I sang, and it was a really note long, and I didn’t like it when I heard it. I drove 35 minutes to the studio to redo this one note, and I nailed it.”
The band nailed recording tracks for Falling Back Again with engineer Dilan Wade of Tapwater Productions and former lead guitarist Bryce Carroll-Coe at their local rehearsal space.
They spent a weekend in late March finalizing everything for a series of single drops and an eventual album release. Bob Mervak also added keys remotely while Nick Calcaterra played percussion.
“When we did go in to record, there was just enough that was left unfinished. It was creating on the spot within a couple days, and there was enough of that to keep the anxiety up,” Jankowski said. “It was nice to be prepared for most of it, and there was that other 5 percent left of what we needed to do. On those different levels, everything came out pretty solid.”
While Falling Back Again beautifully came together, the band admits releasing new material feels somewhat daunting in the streaming age.
“Putting out an album in 2022 is a very different thing than it used to be. We’re releasing singles out of the album, and we did that with our first album [2018’s Sinking Ships], but that was a new experience for us at that time,” said Schneider, who formed the band with Clemens, Jankowski and Carroll-Coe in 2017.
“This time we were like, ‘We’re releasing the singles because that’s the thing people do on streaming platforms.’ It definitely felt like a lot more work to put out an album in that regard, but it also felt good because we were always doing something to move forward.”
Looking ahead, Strange Heart will continue promoting Falling Back Again while sharing new video footage from their recent album release show at Ferndale’s Otus Supply. They’re also starting to write new material and planning to book some live shows early next year.
“We definitely want to keep writing so we can get stuff in the pipeline,” Schneider said. “At the same time, we definitely don’t want to ignore that we just released an album. We need to figure out where to put our resources.”
In the meantime, fans can catch Clemens at tonight’s Berkley Coffee songwriter scramble with Sean Miller and After Blue’s Tom Alter and Katie Williamson in Oak Park.
“It’s just a question of what we want to do next,” Clemens said. “On our last show, we went really big, and we had like a horn section and brought an extra background singer. There were nine people on stage; it was crazy.”
A Songwriter Scramble: Josh Clemens, Sean Miller, After Blue
7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16
Berkley Coffee, 14661 West 11 Mile Road in Oak Park