Features, Print November 9, 2020

Through Thick and Thin: Heartsick Heroine

by Dan England

Allen and Hannah Maddox want you to believe that their world is pain.

Just look at those scowls in their band Heartsick Heroine‘s latest video, “Bring Me Home.” Hannah, the band’s lead singer, is clearly pissed off at something, and that something is probably the world. Allen seems to agree, the way he’s thrashing his head, but his bush of curly hair hides his face. “You bring out the worst in me,” Hannah screams through gnashing teeth. So much anger. So much torment. So much intensity at the chaos around them, while the desert sand blows through this harsh world and their harsh lives. 

To be fair, this is what all metal bands want you to believe, now that hair bands are long gone and wanting “nothing but a good time” makes you look like a fool. It’s doubtful that the members of even the most intense metal bands, the ones who take their names from violent acts done to animals, spend their time in basements with chains hanging from the ceiling, as their album covers would have you believe. They have lives. They have families. They have pets! 

But it would be hard to find a greater contrast between Heartsick Heroine’s image and the actual lives Allen and Hannah lead together. Some of the anguish is real (2020 sucked all their gigs away – except one coming up November 14) and the band is more than a hobby – but it is not their lives.

Allen manages a network center for a cellular company and Hannah works as a graphic artist for an animal shelter. They sleep in a real bed (not a body bag in sand like the video) with each other and their three dogs, Zelda, Malcom and Wednesday Addams. The gecko, Peach Pie, sleeps in his cage, even if Malcom, a 120-pound malamute, loves him. They curl up with books about fantasy, World War II, and annually read the “Lord of the Rings” Trillogy. They are 29, and they’ve been together since they were 16. The temptations of the road do not phase them — “dude, we’re MARRIED,” Allen says like a shocked, innocent schoolboy at the idea of playing footsie with a groupie. 

They also have a new album coming out this month (Aetherial, out November 20), at a time when many bands have simply shut down. They are committed. They played for years together in Greeley as Scarlet Canary, but now live in a small house in Commerce City. Though the video portrays them in pain, they are in love and have been for a long time – the music is just one way to express it. The video may say something else, but in real life, while they filmed it, Allen and Hannah were having fun. 

• • • 

It was not love at first sight.

“He was a total ass,” Hannah said. 

They were in the fourth grade – Allen bullied her. He remembers nothing about it, but Hannah does, and she still doesn’t appear ready to forgive him. The bullying stopped when they went to Ponderosa High School together.

“I grew boobs and long, blonde hair, and I didn’t have braces anymore,” Hannah explained. Ergo, Allen followed her around “laying it on thick, being cute and adorable,” she said. Then he called her one night while she was on the other line with her boyfriend at the time. Allen told her to hang up. She did, and they’ve been together ever since. They’ve been married for seven years and are not blissful, but most healthy couples aren’t. They blow off steam needling each other or with an occasional yell.

“The band knows that when we’re silent, that’s when there’s a problem,” Allen said.

He pauses. Maybe he never stopped bullying her? “I still make fun of her,” he admits, but Hannah laughs it off now. She’s taller than him. She could probably beat him up. 

“I dish it as hard as he does,” Hannah said. “I used to be so nice. I was a nice girl, and then I met him. Well, [I’m] not anymore!”

Allen picked up a guitar in fourth grade, after he saw Eddie Van Halen play a show — RIP Eddie! — but Hannah’s story is a bit more complicated. Her mother traveled with a regional band who opened for the Runaways once, and her father was into black metal. But Hannah didn’t listen to the harder stuff until Allen. He knew everything about metal, so she flipped on KBPI specifically to write down the names of songs to impress him.

Allen was always serious about music. He’s now the band’s main songwriter (with drummer Chris Vega) and Hannah is Allen’s biggest fan. She knows how cute that is — it makes her sick — but it’s true.

“Allen is not a shred guy,” Hannah said, knowing that metal fans will know what she means (if you don’t, just google “Yngwie Malmsteen”). “You have to be SO next level now to be a shred guy. Or you just have to play like Allen. He’s all-around amazing.”

Hannah sang in theater and choir, but didn’t see herself as a metal vocalist. She was too scared to scream until she and Allen had one of their biggest fights ever. She was so mad she screamed onstage. 

They wanted to be in a band for a living, so they tried it for many years, touring hard and feeling amazing highs where a show brought out 120 people. They had lows, too, driving all night to play for three people. They had funny moments, like the time a transgender woman was hitting on Allen hard and, rather than bailing him out, Hannah pretended she didn’t like him and walked off. 

They once slept in a van for weeks on end, and then won a record label’s battle-of-the-bands contest where they were offered a contract. Their lawyer said “I wouldn’t sign this.” The label wanted the rights to them for a decade, or longer, with no way of backing out, even if the label refused to accept their music. 

And then it all seemed so tiring. 

“I’m watching my friends buy houses, and we were living in a van,” Allen said. “My friends owned a home, and I didn’t know where rent was coming from. And, I’d eaten at a Flying J for a week straight.”

Hannah calls the best moments of a tour heartbreakingly amazing, but the band is not the top priority anymore. “The older we get, we know it’s a LOT of effort,” Allen said. They would probably call in sick even if a big tour came along.

• • • 

The music is a shared interest, and it enhances their relationship, but it’s not what keeps them together. 

As for musicians who meet in a band and hook up, “we don’t recommend that,” Allen said. “We didn’t meet because of the band. We had a shared interest and pursued that together. We have this ENTIRE other thing together besides the music.”

That includes traveling (NOT just on tour), snowboarding, hiking, climbing 14ers, loving, learning and engaging in the world around them. It does not include kids, and it won’t, most likely. 

Still, the music remains a big part of their lives. They’ve put most of their free time into it lately, to get their new album out and promote it with videos, which the band shot and which Hannah learned how to piece together herself.

“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Hannah said. “We will have a five-song EP.”

“Seven songs,” Allen replied, then stating that he’s writing a ballad. 

“The album will be out in November or January,” Hannah said, “depending on when Allen decides to stop f****** writing songs.”

There are actually more than 20 songs, Allen said. “Right now we are arguing between all those,” he said.

Check out the videos and preorder the new album Aetherial (out November 20, 2020) directly from Heartsick Heroine at www.heartsickheroine.com Catch Heartsick Heroine live on November 14 in Northglenn at @ CHEERS with A Vintage Future and Crimson Derecho.