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  • Brittney Williams


Updated: May 10


I interviewed Urban Heat frontman Jonathan Horstmann at Pasadena’s Cruel World Festival last May after the band played their afternoon set at the festival. You can read the piece below…

I spotted the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jonathan Horstmann of the Austin-based post-punk and 2nd Wave band Urban Heat taking selfies with fans and chatting. I had one interview scheduled during this year's Cruel World Festival, and it was with Urban Heat. The enigmatic trio formed in Austin, Texas, in 2019 after multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jonathan Horstmann needed a live band to fill out his analog soundscape and songwriting. I have most likely mentioned before seeing how an artist interacts with their fans can tell you a lot about them, especially in an industry driven by ego. Immediately, Horstmann exudes star power not only onstage but off stage. A thought that struck me the first time watching Urban Heat's early afternoon set and then the second time after meeting with his fans and in our introduction for the interview. There was an existing underlying strength or quiet confidence I couldn't place. I later learned he's been sober for some years now. Ultimately, he did it for his and his family's peace of mind. You can easily find him talking about it openly and honestly in many interviews, including this recent Spin piece. His onstage persona is commanding, electric, and ferocious, unlike his band members, fellow musicians Kevin Naquin and Paxel Foley, who exude similar energy differently. The Texas trio brought way more than just the heat to Southern California, with quite the adoring audience as they scored new fans along the way.

One of the first things I am constantly curious about and ask literally anyone playing a festival of this magnitude and that question is. How does it feel to be a part of such a big festival and play it? Horstmann responded, "This is the first time that we've been a part of something at this scale that's genre related, right?" Normally, our genre is regulated, off like into a corner or something. But this is all about dark fuckin' music. So, being a part of that. That feels incredible. I feel blessed to have this opportunity”. This same genuine openness and honesty continued for the rest of the interview. We talked about who we were most excited to see. Although I'm not a fan of putting artists on the spot with a response, his answer was pretty diplomatic. He said everyone, as everyone brought something unique to the table.

We also get onto the discussion of representation as a Black artist after I ask about their cover of Goodbye Horses by Q. Lazzarus, born Diane Luckey, and what covering that song meant to him, "I think Diane Luckey's story with something as a person of color making dark music, "I feel a kinship to." "When you choose songs to cover, it says something about you as an artist." "It says something about the space that you're existing in and who you respect, right? And I think there wasn't anyone else that would make sense to cover the way it makes sense to cover to others." "I just wanted us to do. Justice”. So, it makes sense when you hear their recording of the Q. Lazzarus song that it sounds like a tribute. Though Urban Heat has never branded themselves a political or socio-political band, they don't shy away from it, nor do they purposefully go after it, but songs like ‘That Gun In Your Hand’ or ‘Simple Love Song’ are perfect examples showcasing that side lyrically. After referencing a conversation with Pat, in a slightly joking manner, on representation within their genre and whether they would be one of few Black/POC playing the festival and onstage. Albeit true, there was a hint of bittersweetness to it, even more so considering the amount of us who have taken the genre and culture under our wings. Horstmann continued mentioning that one of the biggest catalysts for change is visibility, talking about all of the Black and POC fans they have. That is something Urban Heat hopes to continue to be a part of.

So, when I asked Jonathan about his songwriting and influences, as he is the primary songwriter. Two things immediately stood out. First, How he said he needed to let go of control, and two, that he wanted to be an instrument of something greater. These goals seem like herculean tasks but never count out Urban Heat. Their latest EP, Wellness, often speaks on similar themes, with lyrics dipping into darker compositions like mental health, the pandemic, existence, and relationships, but ultimately with a sense of hope. The writing started out by a then hunkered-down Jonathan in North Carolina before switching to a studio for the rest of the band to continue. In all honesty, Jonathan’s distinctive baritone is the highlight. It cuts through the Urban Heat palette of heavy synths, gritty guitars, and nostalgic bass lines carrying echoes of Ian Curtis.

"So have you ever? So have you ever seen the face of God? Do you turn around and wonder what it was?" - Have You Ever | Urban Heat

Concluding our conversation, I had to ask a few fun questions, including his pick for a go-to karaoke song or jam. So, if you're ever out at your favorite karaoke spot, hear a baritone raising hell singing ‘Mr. ‘Brightside‘. Well, you didn't hear it from me. Another fun fact I learned is the band is a big fan of podcasts, notably, Disgracedland. They love to chill out to podcasts on those long moments on the road. I inquired about what being an artist and songwriter meant to him, including being able to share his craft with a larger audience. He responded with one of his most earnest answers; "I think that self-expression and the pursuit of that are probably the highest and most important things about the human experience. I feel very blessed that I'm able to do that. But yeah, it's everything". His response was something I'm sure anyone creative, myself included, could understand wholeheartedly. It was also very much indicative of an artist who knows their strengths, weaknesses, and talents. Also knows where they want to go and how to get there. In short, it's what my Mom would call a five-year plan. So, it seems that Jonathan and Urban Heat already have theirs written up. If you want to learn more about Urban Heat, then click here.

You can view the festival portraits I took of Jonathan Horstmann below.  


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-- Stream Urban Heat's 2022 EP 'Wellness' out now --



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