Keven Tecon understands that now’s not the most opportune time to launch a new band. Yet his Joy Division-textured Oakland trio Houses of Heaven released its great debut album “Silent Places” on the posh indie imprint Felte Records on May 1.
He thinks he might already have survived a battle with coronavirus a few weeks ago. He felt ill for nearly a month, with fever, body aches, coughing — every COVID-19 symptom but the loss of taste and smell.
“But they wouldn’t test me because then they were trying to save tests only for the people who were severely sick,” he says. “After the first week, I started feeling better, and then it hit me again. My girlfriend was taking care of me, and luckily she didn’t get sick. But I’m still paranoid it’s going to come back. It’s tough to feel normal after something like that.”
The 38-year old even canceled an initial interview because he was feeling so feeble.
“I found it really hard to be creative, or to be motivated at all. I couldn’t do anything, I just felt completely drained,” he said a week later.
“Silent Places” is an Anglophile achievement so panoramic in scope that it transports listeners from claustrophobic lockdowns to the spacious soundscape of Tecon’s favorite time period: “The late-‘70s, going from punk into the post-punk era — Factory Records, Martin Hannett, Adrian Sherwood and all that,” he says. “Back when bands were really experimental and doing something different, and everything was new.”
Tecon, who started out on drums but now is responsible for guitar, keyboards and murky vocals, says the band’s atavistic sound is the result of a natural progression.
“All of us have been playing in bands here in the Bay Area for a long time,” he says. “”When I first started playing shows, I wasn’t even old enough to drive, so the bands I was in would have to have one of our mothers drive us to shows. And, since we were playing 21-and-older places, legally we would have to wait outside until it was our turn to play.”
He paid his dues in various outfits, including Wax Idols, The Soft Moon and Veil Veil Vanish. Drummer Nick Ott hails from Holy Kiss, and guitarist-keyboardist Adam Beck from Death of a Party. When all their outfits shut down simultaneously in 2016, the trio coalesced to explore new directions, including a mutual love for classic shoegaze groups Ride, Slowdive and Chapterhouse.
But Tecon (Keven is his birth name given to him by Celtic-inspired parents) doesn’t see his music as being completely retro: “We were trying to mix some of our more experimental influences with something a little more modern to create something that’s totally unique,” he says.
The thumping “Dissolve the Floor” is lyrically rooted in the T.S. Eliot poem “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” while “In Soft Confusion” paints a bleak picture of a hushed, post-humanity world. “While we were writing it, the Northern California wildfires were going on, so you’d look out the window and see just smoke and red at sunset, and everybody was wearing masks,” he says.
“And then every day in San Francisco, I was seeing the visible disparity of these tent cities right next to all this luxury housing, 50 percent of which was going unoccupied.”
Though Houses of Heaven has rescheduled its spring tour for autumn, Tecon doesn’t see that as actually happening right now, in light of the incremental progress toward a coronavirus cure. “So I’m optimistic in the long term,” he says. “Although I think it’s probably going to be a long time before we start to see shows happening again.”