Haerts vocalist Nini Fabi has a way with words on her band's self-titled album, although it may not always be obvious what those words are about: "I cannot fight the sleep is droning / Into the motion into the night / Is it the glow that keeps you moving / Hemiplegia holds me tight."
One of the standout tracks on the group's buoyant Berlin-meets-Fleetwood-Mac debut album, "Hemiplegia" was inspired by the migraine-based affliction Fabi has suffered since childhood, which can occasionally paralyze half of her body.
"It sounds really dramatic, and hemiplegia can be a horrible, permanent condition, kind of a vertical paralysis," Fabi elaborates. "But I've just experienced it a few times in my life. And that's really where I learned about the word, first heard it. But in the song, it's not a physical reference at all."
Even Fabi's liner notes for Haerts — which was co-produced by St. Lucia mastermind Jean-Philip Grobler and released in late October by Columbia Records — are a little offbeat, as when she thanks bandmate and husband Ben Gebert for "never accepting the grey."
"That's a really personal note I wrote to Benny, and it goes back to when we were probably 14 years old, and just starting to write music together," says the Ohio-born, German-educated Fabi, who first met Gebert in high school when they were competing on the same Munich swim team.
"We used to use the word 'grey' for some things that we didn't like. There were certain things that were bothering us at that point, that were maybe stale, as well. We wanted to have things that were a little more 'It is like this, or it is like that — there is no in between.' I had that quality, and it's a quality I always cherished in Ben. Either you do something or you don't."
The duo ended up writing their first song, spur of the moment, to wish a friend happy birthday. "We recorded it on this little 12-track mixer, and we both really liked it," says Fabi. "And it was almost like some kind of language that we'd found together."
To hone their skills, the team moved to Boston to attend Berklee, with Fabi studying songwriting, Gebert pursuing engineering and production. "We never, ever had a single course together," she says.
Afterward, they relocated to New York City, where they set up shop as funereal folksingers. It didn't work — not until they buttressed their skeletal work with textural synthesizers as the Brooklyn-based four-piece Haerts, an artsy moniker that was also a nod to the inspiration of Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson.
While Haerts' influences may not sync up with those of more trendy alt-pop bands, Fabi is just fine with that. "For us, it was important to be doing what we wanted to do, and to not be doing what anyone was telling us to do. We wanted to do something that we really believed in. Otherwise it was all meaningless."