It’s Monday, April 10, only a few days before metal/hardcore crossover band Jesus Piece deliver their sophomore album, So Unknown, after a five-year wait. Excitement for the record is at a frothing fever pitch, with the band’s fanbase growing at the speed of sound after a red-hot package tour with Show Me the Body and Scowl. But for ferocious frontman Aaron Heard, who is also father to a three-year-old boy, today is just another day. Concurrent to speaking with me, the good-natured Dr. Jekyll pores over the instructions to a make-it-yourself bookcase in his Philadelphia home while Mr. Hyde hibernates in a back room.
During the interview, Heard belies his take-no-prisoners stage persona; the bespectacled singer looks more like a craftsman toiling away at his trade. “I used to be a road dog, but now I just want to be at home with my family,” the affable and gracious Heard admits during a Zoom call. “I was a wild man, and I really had to prioritize a lot of things and figure myself out. I had to grow up an awful lot after living paycheck to paycheck for so many years. When I had a baby, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a music career anymore. Everything was unknown.”
Hence the title to Jesus Piece’s second effort. After 2018’s Only Self only made a few ripples, Heard—along with guitarists David Updike and John Distefano, bassist Anthony Mariano, and drummer Luis Aponte—didn’t know what the future would hold. For the band. For them. For anyone. And then COVID hit, incidentally bestowing the title So Unknown with a double meaning. “We gained a new life over quarantine,” Heard says. “Now we’ve jumped into the unknown and are taking it one a day at a time.”
“I was a wild man, and I really had to prioritize a lot of things and figure myself out. I had to grow up an awful lot after living paycheck to paycheck for so many years.”
COVID shattered Jesus Piece’s plans of opening for Code Orange, the unpredictable metal band whose broad fanbase would surely have gobbled up Jesus Piece. But the reconfigured tour plans turned out to be a blessing in disguise, perhaps. Standing atop the rubble left in the wake of the World War Tour with Show Me the Body, Jesus Piece dodged the dreaded sophomore slump and instead have cyclonic winds blowing at their backs. “Every day really was a war,” the 30-year-old recalls of shirtlessly slam-dancing his way across North America. “The only times it wouldn’t feel as intense were at some of the barricaded shows. My cardio is not what it used to be. From 2017 to 2019, I was all over the place. Not so much anymore. My lumbar is screaming.” Add that to breaking a forearm bone on tour and continuing to play regardless, and Heard is racking up a medical record that would make any doctor raise an eyebrow.
Heard sustained some of his injuries while putting in time with other bands. Most notably, he spent five years as bassist for Philly shoegazers Nothing, exiting last year to attend to his duties as a dad. But then Jesus Piece—which started as a death-metal venture before exploring myriad metal subgenres—soared into the stratosphere and forced Heard to re-examine, well, everything. “Prior to Jesus Piece, I barely traveled outside America,” he says. “I didn’t even have a passport.”
Heard—who himself is still mystified by the band’s rapid rise in the ranks of metalcore (and who still prefers death metal, let it be known)—refers to it as a “powder keg situation.” Jesus Piece didn’t tour behind Only Self, for one thing; for another, they piled up performance videos that hungry metal and hardcore heathens devoured during COVID. As it happens, though, a lot of those YouTube clips capture a different version of Heard. Injuries aside, he now swaggers onstage visibly confident that Jesus Piece will unleash mayhem, whether the crowd is ready or not for the onslaught of stomping, slamming, and screaming. “In 2016, I was very much worried about my image as a person. I just don’t give a fuck anymore. I’m way less serious with interviews these days, if you can’t tell,” he laughs.
“If this is what I’m betting my life on, and dumping all my time and energy into, then it has to be 24-seven about the live show. And the only way it can be that is if I’m genuine and putting everything into it.”
After a few seconds of thought, Heard elaborates further on what makes Jesus Piece tick—and what makes them click with audiences. “This music is about letting go, and this experience about truly feeling primal and letting out everything you might hold onto,” he says. “And it drives the live show. There’s no half-stepping—Big Daddy Kane wasn’t lying. If this is what I’m betting my life on, and dumping all my time and energy into, then it has to be 24/7 about the live show. And the only way it can be that is if I’m genuine and putting everything into it as well.”
Heard hunts for a piece of wood he needs for the next step in constructing the bookcase. As an on-point metaphor, the frontman of a DIY band working on a DIY amenity for his home can’t seem to find the part he needs. No bother; tucked securely in his back pocket is one of the most integral pieces to the puzzle that is his life: Jesus Piece. “I saw a post that Luis published saying [So Unknown] is coming out Friday, and it finally clicked for me,” Heard laughs. And then he finally spills what he’s really feeling like: “It’s been so long that I’ve forced myself to forget about the record, so I wouldn’t stress about it coming out. Now it all doesn’t feel real.” FL