Aztec Hearts was an alternative-progressive rock “non-band” active 2005-2014; formed in San Francisco, California, and buried in Taipei, Taiwan; based on the songwriting of Christian Adams, an American multi-instrumentalist and sometime vocalist, best known for his work with Chicago-based Golden Tones and S.F.’s Henry Miller Sextet.
Adams’ current musical project is Prominent Frogmen.
Aztec Hearts’ discography consists of three full-length albums (formerly available on Soundcloud), all of which were marginally self-released.
The first two Aztec Hearts records were recorded in 2005 and 2007, respectively. In 2008, Adams moved to Taiwan and suspended musical activity. Four years later, he began writing the material that would appear on the third and final record, In the Spirit of Almost (2014).
In spring 2014, Adams announced that Aztec Hears “had run its course.”
The band never played live. Contributing musicians were all friends or colleagues, and their participation was generous as it was ephemeral. All three records were available for free download on Soundcloud until May 2018 when Adams quietly pulled his entire catalog of music from the internet, citing a personal, detailed reason:
One of the biggest mistakes I made from the very beginning of my career was to believe with utter conviction this delusion that giving music away for free was somehow noble – and that being repulsed by the commercial aspects of the music business somehow made me more of an artist. The fact is people don’t value shit when it’s given to them. They only care about shit they’ve invested in.
The entire Aztec Hearts oeuvre had been available over the course of 10 years and what did I have to show for it? Exactly 3,042 plays, 61 heart emoji, 2 shares, and 262 downloads. And now that it’s gone, nobody is going to miss it.
Considering the thousands of hours I spent making those records, there really isn’t an amount of money that would validate my reasons for making them. I wanted to do it – simple as that. If people enjoyed it – great; but I wasn’t going to beat them over the head with it. ‘Hey! Buy my stuff!’ And guilt my fuckin’ friends into supporting my habit.
– Christian Adams, May 2018, as told to BSM
Dying For You To Hear This (2006)
Conceived as a side project in late 2005, Adams began recording Aztec Hearts’ debut, Dying For You To Hear This, on a digital 8-track. Starting with a handful of songs, Adams had a vision to expand his experimental-prog horizons, without the baggage of a real “band.” He played all of the instrumentation, with Chris Lanier (Henry Miller Sextet) and Sarah Lovan (Halloween Alaska) contributing to both lead and backing vocals. The resulting eleven-song record was completed in October 2006 and self-released.
Bigger Brighter Faster Worse (2008)
In February 2007, Adams began recording the second album, Bigger Brighter Faster Worse, with a slightly revised cast of musicians at his newly-dubbed (and upgraded to Pro Tools) home studio. Adams’ laid basic tracks for upwards of 20 songs. Ex-Henry Miller Sextet drummer Matthew Tucker played on six tracks, while Chris Lanier contributed vocals to five. A previously unknown vocalist from Sacramento named Suzie Smith sang on several tracks.
Due to tangential contingencies, Adams struggled to complete the project throughout the late months of 2007. Recording came to a halt in March 2008 when Adams announced he was moving to Taiwan. Only half of the songs were finished.
Six months later, during a return visit to S.F., Adams decided to mix whatever was deemed “passable” to form an album.
He considers Bigger Brighter to be both his “most self-destructive act of failure” and a “never-ending work in progress—with no progress for the foreseeable future.”
In the Spirit of Almost (2014)
Following a four-year hiatus, Adams began writing and recording a third full-length album, In the Spirit of Almost, in February 2013. Operating under the manifesto of: One year, one man, one microphone. Adams spent 14 months writing, recording and mixing – and fussing over – this 17-song collection of new material plus two covers and a remix of a previous recording.
The album featured contributions from several good friends and respected musicians including Billy Dolan (Five Style, Heroic Doses, Das Boton), Ron Kwasman (Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s, Golden Tones), Tim Hogan (Muddy Basin Ramblers), Chris Lanier (100 Cheap Suggestions) and Matthew Tucker (Henry Miller Sextet). This is only AH recording which doesn’t feature female vocals,.
Adams said the album is “a fuzzy kaleidoscope of influences funneled through an already clogged filter. [The album] is going to need a few years of cold storage before it sounds good to me – if it ever sounds good to me.”
The opening track “Rubicon” channels prog rock through reggae and dub – Rush meets the English Beat, closing on a deliciously clever U2 riff (“I Will Follow”).
Several tracks find AH venturing into noise, pop, jazz, easy listening, and classic rock. “Slouch” is a cover of a Golden Tones’ song and collaboration between Ron Kwasman and Bill Dolan. Some of the leftover material from Bigger Brighter was recycled and refashioned into new tracks, most notably “Mountains of Honey”, a hard-charging, riff-heavy stomper ala ZZ Top meets Rod Stewart. In total, Adams recorded nearly two hours of music.
Aesthetics, Influences and Legacy
Uncomfortable with the concept of recording as a “solo artist”, Adams chose the band name based on a fascination with pre-Columbian Aztec codices, adding, “There was something about the idea of cutting into somebody’s chest, ripping their heart out, and holding it in your hand while it was still beating. In one way, it’s about the most savage, cruel, inhumane thing you could possibly think of. But in another way, maybe emotionally or psychologically, I think it happens to people all the time. Their hearts get ripped out of their chests, for no good reason.”
The foundation of Aztec Hearts owes a huge debt to Adams’ rediscovery of alternate tunings, with more than half of all songs being written or performed in Open G tuning on guitar.
According to a 2017 post on his personal blog, Adams has “a bunch of leftovers” from the 2005-2014 era, a few of which were re-purposed for his current project, Prominent Frogmen. In 2018, Adams told BSM “at least two Aztec Hearts leftovers will show up on the [Prominent Frogmen’s] third record, slated for completion in October 2018.
On June 9, 2012, Adams performed an Aztec Hearts song, “☺” during a one-off solo performance at Bobwundaye, Taipei, Taiwan. A second show took place at Bobwundaye on June 8, 2013. Adams played five Aztec Hearts songs, including “☺”, “Fat Ass”, and “Leave the Light On”.
In 2017, Adams performed a six-month Wednesday night residency at Rev-Now in Taipei, during which time “approximately a dozen” AH songs were played at various times.