Funk artist Ronnie Heart talks influences, art and being a ‘Smoovie King’
Local artist Ronnie Gierhart decided to forge his own path when he left electro-pop group Neon Indian to start a solo funk career under the name “Ronnie Heart.” At Fortress Festival, The Daily Campus had the opportunity to talk with him at the Modern Art Museum about his music, influences and the art of smoothie making.
Daily Campus: We know you’ve been at the festival even though you got canceled. How have you liked it so far?
Ronnie Heart: It’s been good!
DC: What have been your favorite artists to see?
RH: I would say the Flying Lotus performance was really good. That was fun. I kind of didn’t get to see many people yesterday. I came here, since I didn’t have to perform, I went straight to the Green Room and took pictures with the photographer upstairs and ate a bunch, you know I kinda stayed up there accidentally for a long time. I think Flying Lotus was pretty much the only person I saw.
DC: Have you ever seen him before?
RH: Never. It was a treat.
DC: It is a pretty cool performance. So what made you want to start getting into music?
RH: I was dancing when I was younger and I never ever thought of music. I don’t have family who are musicians so I grew up in Houston loving dancing and that’s what I wanted to professionally be. Up until moving to Colorado when I was 16, where there weren’t a lot of, or any music schools in public Colorado and I guess instead I started something else up that wasn’t a sport and ended up being just playing guitar. So, I was 16 and I’ve been playing guitar ever since, so little by little accumulating other skills.
DC: What made you take the leap from Neon Indian to what you do now?
RH: I guess there was a point in time where I had vigor to create my own music. I wanted to be a singer.
DC: So why the change in genres? What made you want to get into the funk genre that you do now?
RH: I just like it. I listen to a lot of funk and disco inspired stuff. Whatever the album sounds like, however I preform, it’s very inspired by that era of music.
DC: What are some of your biggest inspirations?
RH: I would just say just to keep it general. I listen to a lot of jazz music. I’ve been listening to hip hop a lot, I think because of the dancing. But my Latin roots – my dad’s from Columbia and my mom’s from El Salvador – and all the Latin music, all the Latino music I listen to at home definitely has something to do with it. I think dancing in general has something to do with why and how I make music. I keep the live performance in mind while creating songs.
DC: When you are performing live, do you incorporate some sort of dance?
RH: I dance a lot. So if you haven’t seen me play live, I’m basically moving the entire time. So, you know, here and there learning how to control when I should be moving or when it’s more, I guess not necessarily appropriate, because you don’t wanna see someone being all over the place the entire time.
DC: Has it been hard to balance that?
RH: No, I think from just seeing videos of the performances. And sometimes it feels awkward to be dancing super hard and then realizing, okay, I could save this, I could have a more dramatic, still, statuesque kind of feel to the whole performance and all of a sudden burst into something. It just has the anticipation and the build up.
DC: So you play more in the DFW area, what is the funk scene there like?
RH: I don’t know if there’s too much of it. I know Quaker City Night Hawks are sort of the southern blues-y rock band. There’s a lot of that which, let’s say the guitarist who play in the classic popular funk groups definitely have blues and some kind of jazz influence in their playing. So I think that that’s been incorporated into the whole thing for years since the genre came to be. I would say there’s a lot of R&B acts in Dallas. But Fort Worth, and I live here in Fort Worth, seems to have not too many.
DC: So you’re stationed here in Fort Worth?
RH: Yeah I live, here we’re at the Modern Art Museum, I live 10 minutes away at most from here.
DC: So do you come here a lot?
RH: I love this place, yeah. I am super influenced — it’s kind of like a brain massage, it’s therapeutic to come to a museum with a lot of space and huge art. Especially if it’s contemporary.
DC: Is contemporary your favorite kind of art?
RH: Yeah, if you were gonna blanket it, yeah. It’s just all the modern art museums that I’ve gone to like the contemporary collection in Houston. I love the surreal painters.
DC: Does art ever influence your music then?
RH: I think it just influences my mind instead of a therapist or maybe just any other thing I’d rather engage in, it’s just to look at something that someone created that has a passion behind them doing it.
DC: Yeah, it’s like artists inspiring artists.
RH: Yeah for sure. Like let’s say I only listen to James Brown. You could imagine, “oh he plays funk and uses the synthesizer, he must only listen to James Brown or Prince or Michael Jackson” but it goes way beyond that. I think art kind of molds my mind to the discipline that I have.
DC: Tell us about some of your favorite songs from your recent EP.
RH: Oh man, that’s a hard one because there’s only five songs. So, I worked really hard on all those. Let’s see, there’s this one that’s really wild, it’s called “Real Bad Spider Monkey.” I like that one because it has so many different emotions to it. When I first wrote it, I woke up hungover at a friend’s place. He had to go to work, so I just stayed on his couch. So, I grabbed his guitar and I’m there babysitting his cat, and just playing some little easy riff. That came about and then when I was taking a shower, I started singing a melody about spider monkeys. And so the whole thing sounds weird and it’s wild. And then there’s some heartfelt emotions from when I was a kid in there, which I won’t necessarily go into detail, I’ll just have you listen to it. That one and “Groovitate.” “Groovitate” is another one that just has a really jazzy bass riff. The whole thing has jazz chords, but the beat is what makes it a dance song. I think both of those songs are really close to me for sure.
DC: I will say, your titles are very interesting. We were listening to your stuff on the way over here and we were wondering about “Smoovie.” What does that mean?
RH: Okay so whenever I’m initially saving the file when I’m working on a song, I have to have some title to save it under. And I don’t like to put just “Song .00” to catalog them. So I just phonetically say something and “Smoovie” just kind of felt right. And it stayed. And ever since then I’ve been drinking more smoothies, and you know it just sounds smooth. I don’t know, I didn’t want it to be a real word when I saved it but it just kind of stayed like that
DC: It definitely reminded us of smoothies. Is there a perfect smoothie you should drink while listening to the song?
RH: Yeah so I actually try to make a smoothie every single day, a “Smoovie” every single day. Even my Twitter bio says “Smoovie King.” But yeah I put carrots, bananas, coconut milk, apple juice, flax seeds, I mean I just put a lot of stuff. Fruits, fruit smoothies with some kind of protein powder in there.
DC: A perfect “Smoovie Smoothie.”
RH: Yeah, Spiral Diner also has some pretty good smoothies.
DC: So what are your plans for the future? Do you have any new music coming up?
RH: Yeah I’ve been working on new music. Central Track just posted a little single that I sent them a song that I just posted on SoundCloud. But yeah, just working on my second album right now. We’ve got a lot of songs left over from the writing process of the last thing which was a year ago, a year and a month ago. So I’ve got a lot of songs left over and have some songs that I’ve just been working on.