Even through a Zoom call, The Heartstrings Project’s earnestness comes across. The folk band’s cozy familiarity (so similar to their music) might have something to do with the bonds of family within the band. Forming the core of the band, Elias Wygodny, a University of Michigan Music, Theatre & Dance alum (class of ʼ15), and Luke Wygodny are brothers, while Marina Pires, the third member of the band, is Luke’s “love,” as he so sweetly put it. Other band members include Sam Quiggins on cello and Peter Spero on keys. We sat down to talk about the origins of their band, the emotion that drives their music and their upcoming debut album shadow people. Our discussion was in no way rushed; they pondered their answers, preferring to answer deeply and in the best way, rather than quickly get something out.
The band began as a space for artists to share their work and come together, in the Wygodny’s apartment in New York City. It was a community, one filled with love and music and mindfulness practice. And from this, their name as a band was born. As Luke explained, it is an exploration of “what tunes your heartstrings, as if your body was an instrument like a guitar or a cello … how do you keep your heart in tune?”
The thoughtfulness present in the interview certainly comes across in their music, too. The lyrics of their songs as well as the arrangements provoke something deep yet quiet. Their song “am,” a single off their new album shadow people, showcases their talent at intimate, typical folk harmonies. The video pictures the three of them gathered around one mic, arms around each other, taking the time to slow down and experience the music and each other.
I discussed Elias Wygodny’s mindfulness practice with him, and how that influences his mindset on music. His international experiences have taught him how universal emotion, awareness of emotional experience and music are. As such, their songs hope to convey shared experience, such as another song of theirs off of their new album titled “sorrow.” There is a community found, connection created even though it might travel through streaming services and earbuds first.
Their background in acting and the empathy that comes with being an actor plays a role in their music, too.
“When you’re an actor, you’re playing other characters, you know, and when you’re writing music, you’re playing yourself … if you dare to step into the depths of your ancestry and the depths of your sorrows, and the depths of your secrets,” Luke told me pensively. Pires agreed, adding on that music was an intimate space for herself, so different from the more competitive, more expository world of acting. “The role of the actor is to express what’s inside and bring it outside, which I think is (also) the role of a songwriter,” finished Elias.
Their tunes have never lost the early living room vibes, and always feels close to the listener, like it’s being sung by friends. You feel welcomed into their world, as they ask you to become part of your own. With the amount of traveling the band does, partially due to their acting careers, loneliness can be a constant theme in their lives. Their album’s titular track, “shadow people,” ends with a hopeful plea that, “Maybe someday I won’t feel alone.” This wish seems to be fulfilled by their music, both for themselves and perhaps for listeners. Music brings community in a strangely consistent way, and helps listeners and artists alike feel heard and understood.
The Heartstrings Project, in a word, seems synonymous with empathy. They bring what is deep within them outside, playing and singing to you, piercing themselves in a quest to heal, and to help others heal. They focus on revealing their emotional, sometimes painful experiences, in the hopes that it will encourage others to share their own, perhaps through music.
They recently signed to a small indie record label called Tiny Records. Their debut album shadow people comes out Dec. 11.
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.