Last month, we made our way to Nashville's Mercy Lounge to catch our pals RG3 in support of San Fran psych-garage-punk pioneers, Thee Oh Sees, for their incredibly sweaty, no-holds-barred, raw power, sold-out show. It was the least we could do to keep our minds off the suffocating political twilight zone we found ourselves in. A dutiful reminder that power is in the hands of those who create, not those who govern—I digress.
Mid-break, after a valiant performance by the Ron Gallo trio, including a badass Stooges cover, we attempted to hang by the train tracks, as one does. As I reached for the door, an incomparable, sonic-boom of sleezed-out, bluesy, amped-up, pool hall rock and roll washed over the room. It was transformative, heavy, and real. I remember yelling over the reverb, "This sounds like Skynyrd AND Motör Head!" In disbelief, thinking this is why I live in Nashville, among others, I took my hand off the door to the patio and elbowed my way back to the front.
Making my way, I came upon exactly who I was hoping. Three brothers, Jim, Gian, and Chris Ortiz from Austin, TX, looking and sounding like reincarnations of their idols, promising 1977 rock and roll was back in southern graces again.
Self-proclaimed as the "loudest band around" who play "rock and roll the way it's supposed to be played," I had to know more about the Austin-based band. Check out my interview with Jim, guitar and vocals, and Gian Ortiz, bass and vocals, on their story, sound, forthcoming record, and why you should know Amplified Heat. -LE
Whose idea was it to start a band?
JIM: It was my idea to start a band sometime in Houston, summer of ‘88.
How old were you when you guys started playing together?
JIM: I was about 11 and Chris was about 6.
GIAN: I joined when I was 12. Jim and Chris always jammed together. I always wanted to join, but had to prove myself, I guess. But the band didn't really take shape ‘til we all were in Austin by 1999.
Do you come from a musical family?
JIM: Not really, [our] parents loved to listen to and dance to music all the time, but it was mainly spanish music, you know—Salsa, Cumbia, Samba, and Tangos, as well as Mexican music.
GIAN: Our parents enjoyed music, Mom can sing beautifully, but never pursued it. Music was on a lot, played it all the time on the record player—60s and 70s Salsa and Cumbia—but my brothers were already listening to rock and roll by the time I came around.
Where did you grow up? Did that have a significant influence on starting a band and your style of music?
JIM: We lived in La Puente, California. We moved to Houston, Texas in 1987; there we discovered blues and early ZZ Top, and we actually started to learn to play music.
GIAN: The bulk of our upbringing was Houston, via La puente, CA. I think California radio turned us onto the classic rock, deep cuts of Hendrix, Beatles, Stones, Animals, Sabbath, etc. Houston definitely had blues more available, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor, Johnny Winter, Freddy King, John Lee Hooker—you know the bit. So, yeah, both places had a good deal to do with our musical direction. We definitely tend to play in the vein of our influences.
Are you guys self-taught on your instruments?
GIAN: Yeah. We were in a strict household, so we weren't the kind of kids that would be allowed to go to our friend’s houses. We were always stuck at home. I think we all were naturally inclined to musical instruments, especially the kind that made rock and roll. So once we got ahold of guitars and drums, we were constantly learning off our favorite albums. Before that, we did air drums and such.
Whose idea was it to move to Austin?
JIM: Chris moved to Austin in 1997, I moved there the following year, then Gian the year after that. Austin offered us the opportunity to play actual gigs.
GIAN: Chris moved there first in ‘97. He started playing around 6th street at the blues jams and other blues gigs. I remember he called me soon after being here telling me, "Dude, this place is it. You and Jim need to move out here."
Amplified Heat in Nashville. Photo by Amber Jane Davis
How did you hook up with Thee Oh Sees?
GIAN: A few years back during SXSW, we were playing at a restaurant patio, Botticelli's. I help book the day shows there, so, naturally, I had Amplified Heat on the bill. A friend of mine is friends with Dwyer, so he brought him out to see us. Apparently, John enjoyed it very much, and bought our records. I didn't know who he or Thee Oh Sees were. The next night, I was playing a show downtown and another friend who works the door at a venue called Beerland stops me and says, "Dude, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees was blown away by you guys and won't shut up about ya. They are playing here [Beerland] tonight. It'll be packed, but I'll get you in." So, after my show I went there. Sure enough, there's a line out the door and he ushers me in, they were set up on the floor. I clawed my way in front of both drummers, had people falling on top of me. One of the best shows I'd ever been to in my life at that point—I think I met him after; met Brigid, Mike, and Petey, they were all so sweet, and our friendship started there. He randomly sent me copies of obscure 60s psych rock. He has been very kind to help us get good gigs in California, and now recently this tour. He also recorded us live in San Francisco this past spring. Castle Face Records release pending...
Was that your first time playing in Nashville?
JIM: First time since 2007.
GIAN: No. I don’t remember exactly when or where—I just remember it was horrible, I blocked everything else out. So, we are grateful that we got a chance to come back at a better venue on a fantastic bill.
What do you think about playing in Nashville compared to Austin?
JIM: I loved it!
GIAN: It's definitely not the same. [Mercy Lounge] and especially the bill allowed us to be in front of the right crowd for us. Without that, I think we would have had a different experience.
What are you guys working on now?
JIM: We’re working on [our] next album.
GIAN: New LP. In January we are heading to Cincinnati to record with Zach Gabbard of the Buffalo Killers. It will be nice to get out of Austin and all its everyday distractions and dive into a new recording. We will be tracking at the legendary Herzog Studio space in downtown Cincinnati. Lots of King Records recordings, as well as some of Hank Williams' best-known work, were tracked at this space. It has a cool vibe and sound.
What excites you most about your forthcoming record?
JIM: That it will be our first record since 2010!
GIAN: It’s always exciting to record, just to make the new tunes into final works of music is exciting—they last forever.
Tone-wise, what’s your favorite recording setup?
JIM: My setup is basically what I use on stage, Fender Strat through a pair of 60s Fender Bassman, 50s heads, and Marshall 4x12 cabs.
GIAN: My rig at the moment consists of two Fender Bassman 135 heads, and one stack of late 60s Fender Showman cabinets (2x15 - JBL E series) and a Marshall stack with 15's in them as well, so, eight 15's. But for the recording, I'll just need one of my Fender cabs. I like to capture my natural tone, I dig any mic that will grab the growl and low end of my rig. One day I'd like to try the "White Elephant" trick the Beatles used on "Rain" and "Paperback Writer." Using a 15" speaker in reverse, making it into a microphone and lining it up with the speaker in my cab; perhaps this can be my opportunity!
Amplified Heat in Nashville. Photo by Amber Jane Davis
What's one album or artist that you’ve been listening to lately?
JIM: I mainly listen to a lot of blues, Hendrix, and Cream.
GIAN: Fuzz II—that's a great record, it's super heavy. To me, it’s blending the influences of Grand Funk Railroad, Sabbath, and Blue Cheer; the tones as well, so organic. It’s a real rock and roll record for me!
What city has the best burrito?
JIM: Los Angeles!
Best tour you’ve been on and why?
JIM: Last tour opening for Thee Oh Sees!
GIAN: This last one. Playing with Thee Oh Sees is just an incredible experience! They were on fire every night, that makes you wanna play better. We couldn’t suck!
What was your first instrument? Do you still play it?
JIM: Drums, yes I still play drums from time-to-time.
GIAN: The drums—I do here and there, more in jam settings, but I wouldn’t mind getting some pointers from my brother, and other drummers in Austin, and eventually pick up some drumming gigs.
Any pre-show rituals?
JIM: Smoke two hits of weed, a shot of Jameson whiskey, and away we go!
How loud is too loud?
JIM: Never too loud!
GIAN: When it hurts. It could be mainly because of shitty tone, or shitty playing, at which point any volume of that is too loud.
Where’s the best record store in Austin?
JIM: End of an Ear.
GIAN: I personally like Antone's Records, they have more of what I’m into—60s, 70s blues, jazz, rock and roll.
What influences your music?
JIM: Life, sex, automobiles.
GIAN: My mood; I lean towards writing rockers, something that'll make you wanna move.
Where do you get inspiration from?
GIAN: I can't say it comes from one place, it could be a current personal situation, or seeing a show, listening to something in passing, or going on a run stoned and having ideas scramble in my brain.
When are you playing Nashville again?
Anything else you’d like to promote?
JIM: Be cool to each other! Try and be happy! Jimi Hendrix is God!
GIAN: AMPLIFIED HEAT!!
Thanks to Jim and Gian for the interview. You can find music by Amplified Heat wherever music exists, but here is a good start. Tour dates and forthcoming record will be announced soon.