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Captain Black Heart - “Budgie” Review

by Soda | Music-Survival-Guide


It’s rare nowadays for a band to not really care about fitting in to some bizarre piece of the puzzle that has become a diluted and soulless musical landscape. It is just that very thing, the soul, that is truly lacking in today’s contributions to sound. To find quality in the current you must dig, peel back a layer, turn over a stone…it IS still there. And my friends, THIS gold nugget of a record is a firm statement that the above is indeed true. After 10 plus years from their debut EP, Captain Black Heart has delivered a full length debut record so well thought out in structure, lyric, melody and beyond. Upon each listen it grows like a flower reaching higher for a sun that seems so easily obtainable.

The duo of Captain Black Heart, Erwin Herceg and Dino Malito make this seem all too easy. Both hailing from a band in the very early 00’s, Serum, who had a criminally shelved and unreleased album ready to give the universe have prevailed and moved onward and upward. The years have been good to these gentlemen and Budgie is them tipping their hats to that gesture. Opener “Of Things To Come” swells with waves of vintage sonic psychedelia that could easily transport you back to a 70’s era garage band who knows how to twist a tone knob while tubes glow and burn up a hot Summer day. The somber dreaminess of the whole record is so pure and even at times delicate. Lead single “Surf” could easily make you wish for the sand between your toes. Herceg’s voice is painfully beautiful. “Don’t you think that they should just drop the bomb, cause it just doesn’t matter anymore…” A dark lyric painted so sweetly by his fair and tender rasp.

Budgie is so rich with instrumentation, both Malito and Herceg lend many a talented stringed thing or synthesizer to the album with help from a few friends along the way. Over the last two weeks I’ve listened to this album only to find a new song subtly announce itself to me, it’s hard to pin down a favorite. “Turn Off The World” is another vintage sounding cracked desert beauty with some growling bass buried so slightly under a lonely slide guitar as Herceg sings about the fondness for his seemingly wise Father. A tribute to life and love, “Someday youth will pass you by…I hope you get it right.” And, we all have tried to…get it right.

This record is a trip through the milky way, a sunburnt canyon, a night under the moon. Just listen to “Dead Crows” and tell me you can’t get lost right there. There is beauty in this pain and the Black Heart boys have the perfect prescription in Budgie. 

While most of the album is a mellow trip ala the 70’s they do sneak in a tune like “Sundowner” which reaches even farther back, dare I say even two more decades. It’s a welcome ice cream sundae slow dance on a prom night long lost.

As retro sounding as the album might be it’s also refreshing and confident without being even slightly pretentious which it has every right to be. It’s just a couple of guys that wanted to make a good record and whatever will be will be. A humble reflection on simple beauty. So, put on a big pair of cans and let that coiled wire dangle as you close your eyes and leave this world for 50 some odd minutes. You’ll be happy you did.




Captain Black Heart: Catching Up With Old Friends

by Troy Michael | Innocent Words


A little back story for this interview…


Back in 2001, when Innocent Words was in its infancy, I would go to as many shows as I could to spread the word of “the new zine in town.” Along the way I met a lot of people, heard a lot of great music, and hopefully picked up new readers for the magazine.


One of the bands I discovered was a California-based band called Serum. The four-piece played straight forward rock with a hint of 60s psyche rock and Brit pop. While on tour, they came through Champaign, IL on the way to New York and then played our town again on the way back. They also returned for a Midwest Music Showcase. In a handful of months, I saw Serum three times and befriended Erwin Herceg (vocals, guitar), Dino Malito (guitar), Daniel Spriewald (bass), and Chris Frenchs (drums). They gave me a copy of their record, having just signed to an independent label called Red Brick Records.


However, this was before the internet explosion. Time passed and we lost touch unfortunately, but I kept playing that Serum disc on a regular basis. I still do.


Fast forward a decade: the world becomes smaller with social media. I found Spierwald on Facebook and he remembered who I was. He told me Serum was long broken up and the members went their separate ways. He was playing bass in several outfits, most notably the Drills and Phil X. He also released a fantastic solo record. Herceg and Malito formed a new band called Captain Black Heart which brings us to today.


Captain Black Heart released their self-titled debut EP in 2010 and have just released their first full length album entitled ‘Budgie.’ We sat down with multi-instrumentalist Erwin Herceg and Dino Malito to talk about the new album, the early days, and outside projects.


Innocent Words: Serum still holds a special place in my heart since I was just starting this magazine when I met you guys. When did Serum break up and were there any more albums after the first one?


Dino Malito: Serum disbanded in 2002. There were no other albums recorded after the one you mentioned. There was a great sounding eight-song Serum EP that was pressed prior to that studio album.


Erwin Herceg: I live in Nashville now but still have a “213” area code on my cell phone. As much as I love Los Angeles, I didn’t want to grow old sitting in traffic on an L.A. freeway…I had to get away. But those years were some of the best years of my life. It was Serum 24/7 and that U.S. tour was the first as a full band. It’s something that still holds a special place in my heart too.


Innocent Words: What did you do after Serum’s break up?


Dino Malito: Erwin and I reconnected about a year after. We showed each other songs and ideas that we were excited about at that time. It was an inspiring moment for both of us and the spark for what eventually became Captain Black Heart.

We spent many months afterwards working out ideas. I remember an endless supply of music to work from. Eventually, we focused our attention to six songs that made it to the Captain Black Heart EP. The last song, “Bomb Shelter,” was added at the last minute. Juan Alderete (Racer X, the Mars Volta) lent us a hand by playing bass on that track.


Erwin Herceg: It’s crazy how you are waking up these memories in me. It was rough. We picked a label that at the time was what they called a “boutique label,” one with a lot of dough [that] would really pay attention to you no matter how crazy things got. Well, we got dropped, like so many of us do, and we all got really fuckin’ bummed about it. It was the end for us. I’m not sure why, but it fizzled quickly after that. We all remained friends but [it] killed something. A bunch of things, I guess.


Innocent Words: You mentioned the EP, tell me a little bit about how you guys came together to form this duo.


Erwin Herceg: I remember it so well. We decided to hangout, it had been a while. We went to a local Italian meat market and bought some Šunka, calabrese, good bread, a good knife and a cutting board. Beers and video games. You can actually hear some video game stuff in the background of the first record. Once we were half in the bag, Dino started playing me stuff and it just hit me like a drug. I said, “plug in an SM58 and just press record.” I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it was easy and exciting. It was the first time in my life where I was writing a song for me. [It’s] a headspace thing, I guess. I wrote songs more external before and it suddenly became internal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we came up with “Needle,” “Seven Years” and “Flying Skeletons.”


Innocent Words: Your Facebook page lists your cities as Los Angeles and Nashville, so you’re not in the same cities? Is this a project where you put things together via email?


Dino Malito: I live in Los Angeles and Erwin resides in Nashville. Most of the music was recorded with us together either in L.A. or Nashville. A small part of the album was recorded with us apart.


Innocent Words: Now you have a new full length, ‘Budgie,’ why did it take seven years?


Dino Malito: It took time to make sense of everything and everyone that was involved with the songs. Matt Sherrod played an important role in getting the feel we were going after. His wife Kelly and other friends of ours added key parts, including my Dad who played accordion on “Kill the Band.” Noel Golden found the string that helped us pull everything together when we needed it to. It took time to dial it all in so that it made sense to us.


Erwin Herceg: That is a really great question…we stayed in touch the whole time. We talked a lot during that time. “Kill the Band” was written during that time. I had a kid and ripped off half my house to renovate it, thinking I could handle it all at the same time. When I tore up my house, I sent Dino everything I had finished and new ideas to explore, and then packed up the studio thinking it would only be a few months. Life takes over and you get lost. We got lost.


Innocent Words: For me, as a fan, it just seems natural you two are in a band together because Erwin has one of the most distinctive voices in music and Dino’s intricate playing fits right with it. Do you feel you two complement each other’s talents?


Dino Malito: I think we complement each other very well. We think alike in many ways, but have differing ways of accomplishing what we want to do.


Erwin Herceg: I felt it in Serum. “Rocketship” and “Another Day on Earth” were songs that maybe started to spawn an internal thing for me, which made me realize that Dino’s wavelength in music was special to me. Once you latch on, it’s a special thing. It’s like brothers in a way, you can hate each other’s guts but there is nothing you can do about it. We don’t hate each other’s guts but you know what I mean?


Innocent Words: I am not surprised Captain Black Heart is drastically different from Serum because it shows tremendous growth and maturity in your music, but there are so many sounds here. Rock, soul, folk, psychedelic, etc. How do you come up with such a varied sound and make it work?


Dino Malito: It’s a reflection of who we are now. As much as we’ve experimented throughout the years, we enjoy listening to a wide variety of music.


Erwin Herceg That is hard to answer because it all just sounds like us to me. Dino is a machine. He just writes and records all the time. He’s been doing it since I met him. It used to be endless 4-track tapes to endless Mp3 files of what we call “nuggets.” We play video games and smoke shit and I jam on those nuggets. They eventually become songs. So many influences come into play when you record as much as he does. Then, I’ll have a nugget [where] I only record acoustic and vocal and I’ll tell Dino to do some of his shit on it… and it loops into a whole other direction. It’s fun.


Innocent Words: Outside of the band, do you guys have other music projects? Day jobs?


Dino Malito: I oversee the development of the artist roster at Domo Music Group, which includes Grammy and Golden Globe Award-winning artist Kitaro. Also, I own and operate MRG Recordings, a record label I started a few years ago. One of the albums on that label includes ‘Full Capsule,’ a record by my former Serum band mate, Dan Spriewald. When I’m not doing any of this, I keep myself busy creating and recording new music.


Erwin Herceg: My dad was a painter. That was my summer job since I was five. He never wanted me to have to work so hard. I started a decorative finishing place. Keeps the artistic juice flowing. It’s got so crazy that nobody knows what we’re doing but we’re doing it. Lots of fun stuff.


Innocent Words: After all these years, what keeps you driven to create music?


Dino Malito: It’s hard to say since it’s always been an important part of my life. What keeps it fresh and exciting to me is exploring and pushing the barriers of what’s possible and what I’m capable of.


Erwin Herceg: Comes in waves. It’s unavoidable. Having someone to share those waves with is key.


Innocent Words: Now that we are all older from those early days, what is your goal with Captain Black Heart?


Dino Malito: We’re looking forward to the ‘Budgie’ release date on October 6 and we’re hoping to release more new music soon.


Erwin Herceg: 58 and lovin’ it!!! Dino and I have rapped about how long do we keep doing this many, many times. I mean, really, when it doesn’t matter to you anymore it will be time to stop… “and dance to the silence in your head.”





Coming to Terms With Coming Apart : Captain Black Heart

by Geoff Baker

After being introduced by a mutual friend, songwriters Dino Malito and Erwin Herceg first collaborated in Serum, a melodic hard-rock band that was signed to Santa Monica’s Brick Red Records. About a year after the band ceased working together, Dino and Erwin reconnected and ran through some musical ideas. The chemistry was immediate and inspirational. Malito’s music was a perfect vehicle for Herceg’s singing and lyrics, and, more generally, their attitudes and outlooks on life proved compatible. As Erwin recalls, “I went to Dino’s just to hang out one Friday night and didn’t come home until Sunday.” Soon the duo, calling themselves Captain Black Heart, got down to business with “Needle,” an arresting tale of euphoric but self-destructive love. A self-titled EP followed that featured Herceg’s plaintive voice delivering his introspective lyrics over Malito’s multilayered, dreamlike compositions.

On “Needle,” a reedy tenor in the neighborhood of Jon Anderson or John Wetton joins the opening marriage of acoustic guitar and sustained, subdued organ chords, guiding the listener through a pastiche of sounds both new and reminiscent of the progressive rock of the early 1970s. Following the first chorus, processed voices drift into the mix and blend with the mellifluous analog-synth foundation, creating a moody, schizophrenic tug-of-war redolent of Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. I hate to beat the Floyd comparison to death, but Malito’s pitch-bending solo that follows the second chorus achieves a tonal quality and emotional resonance similar to the work of David Gilmour; Herceg even bears a passing physical resemblance to the guitar god. This is not to take away from the originality of Captain Black Heart, who have obviously found a formula whereby they have forged their own distinct identity while retaining some of the style and ideas of the pioneers of experimental rock. On the contrary, their willingness to embrace their influences without becoming lost in or bogged down by them exhibits a mature, confident approach to their craft.


Other tracks on Captain Black Heart include the calming major-seventh-and-falsetto–drenched “Once for a Change”; the uplifting, melodic “Flying Skeletons”; and “Bomb Shelter,” a slow rocker that features contributions on bass from Juan Aldrete of indie favorites The Mars Volta. “Bomb Shelter” is a showcase for all of Captain Black Heart’s strengths: pensive, philosophical lyrics; beautiful, lilting vocal and instrumental melodies; use of found sounds; thick but clean production; and a nagging feeling of unease that lasts after the last note dies out. Indeed, as the final wavering siren sound is left to dissolve into the ether, nearly a full minute of this track is given over to an unadorned field recording of a rainstorm, as if to remind the listener that it’s a harsh world out there after all. Captain Black Heart stands as a cohesive and eloquent artistic statement, a mirror of a fragmented world; it is a guidebook for making sense of the senseless calamities and impulses that befall and betray us.

Breaking It Down: “Seven Years”

“Seven Years” is a moody rumination on the pressures and predations of modern life. The track opens with gossamer layers of acoustic guitar, echo-drenched tremolo, and quiet drums tapping out a syncopated rhythm. Erwin Herceg’s brooding vocal soon joins the mix, talking about irrevocable changes and asking “Are you all right?” His airy voice gathers force, offering a series of admonitions against being held captive or submitting to manipulation. The tone of resistance changes quickly to one of resignation:

I’m going away to see if there are brighter days
Where I might feel more like myself
And feel like holding on / holding on / holding on to something
And kidding yourself


There is hope for healing and regeneration, but even that is dependent upon a measure of self-delusion. We yearn for connection with the world; but by clutching at people and things, which are ephemeral, we are destined to suffer when they are inevitably lost.

From here, the song builds to what turns out to be its most dynamic moment, as Herceg’s voice reaches new levels of stridency and conviction, rising out of the swirling soundscape that Dino Malito has created to declare “I will be there / I will follow / and I’ll wait / wait all the way.” Again, however, despair hovers like an ill cloud, and hope and conviction might not be enough: “And if I fail / this will be the last time you’ll hear from me.” As the voice recedes, the line is crowned by a stepped-up attack on the drums and the addition of a crunchy-toned electric guitar picking out eighth-note upbeats, pulsating with hypnotic effect.

The music of the bridge is affirming, but the lyrical tone is on the ambivalent side of hopeful:

Somewhere in this galaxy
There’s a place where we all think the same
Hey you with your own ideas
Where you think you’re going with them?
Are you sure?
Or are you just bringing them to show me?


It is not clear whether this section is a plea for unity or a criticism of the tyranny of groupthink. Is it a dream of enlightened coexistence, or the recognition that the lone voice is often drowned out by the din of the crowd or corrupted through the insistent, craven appetite of the ego?

The next verse has us on the run, devoured with a smile by the cruelly beautiful “tourist town,” and finally in love, but not without the requisite anxious butterflies. Before the bridge returns, we are treated to a final analysis of the war raging with the fragile self:


Listen to me talk in circles / always loving myself
Always hating myself / always selling myself out


The vocals eventually drift away, leaving the listener to contemplate the messages while the music blends with phantom tape sounds. In the end, we become the weary hitchhiker—solitary, eyes on the passing landscape, mind on our passing fancies, mouth full of dust—bouncing queasily down the back roads.





Captain Black Heart : album review

by Ron Bally | Skope Magazine

Despite what the public may perceive as trivial tabloid fodder, Captain Black Heart is not the name of Johnny Depp’s beguiling character from the Pirates Of The Caribbean moviefranchise or his slightly eccentric private persona. It is, in fact, the name and title of a highly emotive self-titled debut EP by an arresting musical duo that combines passionately personal lyrics and lush arrangements to poignant and brooding effect. Imagine Oasis on valium or the fragile pop of Hall And Oates reincarnated for the digital age.

Sharing obvious influences ranging from Nick Drake and Pink Floyd to Elliot Smith and Flaming Lips, Erwin Herceg (voice) and Dino Malito (instruments) process emotions of heartbreak and wistful longing like reincarnated soul-brothers searching for love and happiness. Herceg’s contemplative storytelling and often melancholic vocals absorb Malito’s ethereal sound collages like a dry sponge stranded in rain forest monsoon, soaking up every drop with thirst-quenching results.

With textured David Gilmour-esque guitar leads on “Needle”, Malito displays subdued fireworks by igniting dreamy and ambient psychedelic rock sparklers bursting with vitality as Herceg liberates feelings of heartache and rumination by letting lyrics rise to a surface with willful and vivid perception: “The way that you love me/It’s like a needle in my vein/The way you look inside it/I’d do it again.” The ‘70’s-era Bee Gees-styled strings and vocals of “Flying Skeletons” simulates Captain Black Heart at a disco on Mars instead of Brooklyn, but overall, the cosmically organic tunes created share a uniquely versatile perspective of inventiveness and immediacy.




Captain Black Heart : album review

by Troy Michael | Innocent Words


Captain Black Heart features long-time friends and musicians Erwin Herceg and Dino Malito, who used to be in the alternative rock band Serum.

With Captain Black Heart, the two collaborators go in a different direction, fusing atmospheric rock with psychedelic pop and a hint of Americana.

The seven-track album opens with down tempo moodiness of  “Seven Years.” Herceg’s reflective vocals and echoey guitar lead the way with percussive drums behind him. The pace picks up midway through the nearly six-minute song adding in muted soundscapes.  “Souvenirs” begins with a few acoustic guitar strums, but once Herceg’s filtered vocals come in, it’s a nice homage to Ziggy Stardust. Keeping with the 1970s feel, Captain Black Heart shows their Pink Floyd influences on the spacey “Needle,” where you could swear David Gilmour was playing lead.

“Once for a Change” is a slow summer jam, with “Feet” being an acoustic ballad peppered with whispy synths. The album closes with “Bomb Shelter,” a slow breathing rocker hinting at some blues instrumentation.

All in all, Captain Black Heart has very interesting elements merging all kinds of sounds that you might not normally think would work together, but they do. When you boil it all down, however, it is Herceg’s falsetto vocals with introspective lyrics and Malito’s outside-of-the-box vision layering different sounds that make their songs textured and dreamy.