Michael Howard and Ahmed Gallab of the Disbanded Hardcore Band Sweetheart Discuss the Nearly-Twenty-Year Wait for Their Latest Album

In 2002, a group of teenage kids would assemble the thoughtfully-aggressive post-hardcore fixture Sweetheart in the picturesque, small and quiet city of Kent, Ohio. The band – comprising of Michael Howard on guitar and vocals, Bryan Parker on guitar and vocals, Greg Lofaro on bass and vocals, and Ahmed Gallab on drums and vocals – were a dedicated force who, in 2003 alone, played over one hundred shows.

“When we started the band, I remember I had just moved to Columbus to start college,” Ahmed tells Post-Burnout. “And Bryan sent me an email, and he was like, ‘Whether you like it or not, I’m going to ask you to play music with me,’ and I was like, ‘OK!’ I had known him… – all of us are from the same town – and I had known him as an older, mentor musician, who was closer in age with all of the bands that we were into at the time.

“You know, we were Kent, Ohio – so Donut Friends, and The Party of Helicopters, and Harriet the Spy – and all those post-hardcore bands that we were obsessed with. And he knew them more and was closer to them, and had this very, very strong idea of how we should start a band and it should be this way. He was like our leader, you know? So, when he asked me to join, I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is like a rite of passage for me! I’m so excited!’ Him and Mike had a bunch of ideas already.”

Michael and Ahmed both agree that their dedication to Sweetheart nearly spilt over into obsession, but as dedicated as they were, they had proportional aspirations. “We were never [thought that we would be] taking Sweetheart on an arena tour, you know?” says Michael. “Our goal was just more like, ‘Let’s have fun in a bunch of different rooms.’ And something about the atmosphere in a small room, where there isn’t any reason to be there unless you want to be.”

In a short period, the band grew tight and accrued a following. They released their self-titled debut EP in 2004, and the following year saw the release of their first album, Art Is Dead Is Dead. The band’s music grew to become more experimental and daring, and the runtimes of the songs they were writing at this time went up by about five minutes. This accumulated in them recording the longest and most complex song that they would ever pen; the shifting twelve-minute odyssey, “The Process of Making Us Well.”

“We were so hardcore back then, we would not record in intervals at all,” remembers Ahmed. “It was like, ‘We’re going to do this entire thing in one take, and it’s going to take all night long.’ I mean, I remember that day, we get to this warehouse in Columbus, and Mike had just gotten off of work, and he worked at a coffee shop. So, he took two giant drip coffee things and brought them to the makeshift studio that Bryan made, and we just went at that song, all night long!

“I think it was maybe from nine P.M. ‘till six A.M., just recording the same thing. And it was so much fun. We had a bike and a skateboard in the warehouse, and we were just taking breaks and doing that, and drinking so much coffee!” Later the band would travel to Los Angeles, to begin recording their next album, and they rerecorded “The Process…” in a professional setting, but, as Ahmed says, “There was just something about that warehouse recording that had this certain je ne sais quoi to it that we really enjoyed.”

Whilst in Los Angeles, the band recorded their follow-up album, The Unbearable Tightness of Being. In 2006, after finishing the album, the band split up. “All hardcore bands kind of burnout, in some way, shape or form,” says Ahmed. “Be it an acrimonious thing, or just people grow up and they don’t want to do it anymore.” After the split, the band decided to not release the album or the “Process…” single. Ahmed continues, “It was too fresh of a break-up at the time, where we didn’t want to put anyone out, you know?

“We were young and able to tour, but we just didn’t want to, because the band broke up. And another one of our friends – who we’re actually good friends with – Justin, was going to release the record at the time, and Paul from The Perpetual Motion Machine on the East Coast was going to partner with this guy. And we felt like it would be a disservice to the both of them to put in all this money and we weren’t going to tour or do anything.”

So, the members of Sweetheart went their separate ways. Some stayed in the music industry, others didn’t. Fast forward almost twenty years, and Justin Nardy of the Missouri indie label Expert Work Records (who used to tour with Sweetheart with his band, Bald Eagle) gets in contact with the band’s ex-members to inquire about releasing the album and the song which fans had never had the opportunities to hear.

Ahmed recalls, “He was like, ‘I have this label. I don’t expect you guys to play a show, but, for myself and for the sake of this being something cool, I’d love to put this out,’ and I think we were all just like, ‘OK. That’s really nice of you and really noble, and we’d be in your debt for that.’ You know? ‘It’s really, really great that you’re doing this kind of thing, to preserve the history of hardcore music.’ There’s just a lot of hardcore records that just haven’t been released that should be released. And it just kind of felt right.”

The cover of The Unbearable Tightness of Being
Courtesy of Discipline PR

Until this offer, the members hadn’t listened to the record since initially completing the final mixes. When we asked them how they felt about the record now, Michael said, “It was great. I was shocked. It sounds better than I remembered, and the scale of what our ambition was, in terms of the songwriting, is pretty amazing. I’m definitely impressed by how much we were trying to do and how much of it actually got done!”

Ahmed replies, “We listened to it probably when it was done, and then just kind of let it collect dust for a while. And, going back to it, it was just really nice to revisit those fond memories of recording the record, of touring those songs. We played those songs so much before we finally recorded the album.” He concludes, “I can listen to it more as a fan than a member of the band.”

The process of releasing the album and single after twenty years has actually rekindled the members’ friendships, who after the split of the band moved away and lived different lives. Ahmed even mentions that they’re all in a group chat now! Both Michael and Ahmed agree that getting the band back together, so to speak, is the best thing to come from this release.

Speaking on the remaining fan interest in Sweetheart, after nearly two decades of nonexistence, Ahmed says, “We’re all just very grateful for this to exist, you know? Twenty years later, and we’re sitting here, doing an interview about this record that we literally put our blood, sweat and tears into.”

Michael adds, “We never expected that it would come out. It’s incredible what Justin’s done; I couldn’t be more grateful to Expert Work and everybody who’s been part of this project. It’s hard for me to imagine it getting this much of a response if it came out at the time. I almost feel that it’s doing better than it would have done. Maybe we just needed the world to catch up to us?”

Sweetheart’s new album, The Unbearable Tightness of Being, and their single, “The Process of Making Us Well,” are both out now on all streaming platforms or you can purchase a copy from Expert Work Records’ Bandcamp or Sweetheart’s Bandcamp.

Tune into today’s episode of
POSTBURNOUT.COM Interviews… at 16:00 (IST) to hear this interview in full. Available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Amazon Music Podcasts.

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