"Schooltree's epic rock opera is defiantly, fantastically ambitious." —NPR
"Heterotopia is, indeed, an opera, and it operates on an oceanic scale."
—WBUR's the ARTery
"One of the best long-form prog storytelling masterpieces ever recorded." —Progarchy
"[Heterotopia] just never tires. It's still giving up its secrets, such is the range and depth of material on display." — Fireworks Magazine
“Pure art rock focused on tightly written songs.”
"The year's most ambitious album on the scene."
"Here we have an artist who clearly doesn't know the meaning of the word compromise and as such has produced an album rich in both scope and vision."
B i o g r a p h y
From siren song of doom to shredding anthem of the righteous, Schooltree is art rock built for an amphitheater. Their second studio release and multimedia epic Heterotopia is a "fantastically, defiantly ambitious" (NPR) rock opera double album, fusing the research of classical music and literature with high-voltage pop songwriting in an absorbing, allegorical story.
Morphing vocals crystallize characters, bombastic drums thump odd-time grooves under melodic moog hooks, lush string sections and stacked guitar choirs move in a thick sonic wall. A dark call from the bottom of a river beckons you to leap, while a glitching angel's voice stutters in and out of spacetime to guide you to salvation. This is the music of dream and nightmare — a prism of sound shining through a crack in the sidewalk from another world.
Led by "determined frontwoman" (WBUR) and artist/producer with a "singular view on all things musical" (Fireworks Magazine) Lainey Schooltree, the grant-awarded 5-piece band charts a stubbornly individualistic path in the era of the algorithm-driven pop single with this effort, including an immersive multi-sensory show and illustrated book.
"The record is a kaleidoscopic, hero’s-journey-to-the-underworld-type tale a la Dante’s Inferno," writes Emily Cassel for Scout Magazine. "Lainey Schooltree spent years putting together a 100-minute double album telling the tale of Suzi, a dreamer and underachiever who loses her body and has to take a trip through the collective unconscious to retrieve it. Yup, it’s wild — think less 'Hair,' more Genesis’ 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,' " Herald writer Jed Gottlieb says.
Heterotopia's world premiere played to a sold out house on March 31, 2017 at OBERON, the American Repertory Theater's stage in Cambridge, MA. Awarded a Live Arts Boston grant from The Boston Foundation, the multimedia performance took audiences inside a 3D interactive light sculpture video installation by Sam Okerstrom-Lang (Samo), a Boston-based new-media interdisciplinary digital artist and designer. The following fall, Schooltree released the companion book to the album — a fully illustrated libretto with scenes from the story, character portraits, plot synopsis and lyrics — with an encore performance.
After their internationally acclaimed studio debut Rise, Lainey set out to create a modern rock opera rooted in the classics of the genre while also reaching for a depth of thematic development characteristic of classical music and literature. Four years in the making, the result is a story and a world the listener can step inside and become part of; an original urban folktale written in the format of a three-act screenplay, with carefully woven mythos rich in symbolism and imagery, researched and developed as a story that could stand on its own.
Out of the iridescent fog of delicately layered atmospheres surges the roar of heavy guitar; Schooltree's orchestral use of a rock band harkens back to the height of 20th century progressive ambition, tempered by deliberate and restrained composition. Despite its complexity, Heterotopia's layers of sound and concept cohere into potently visceral music.
"Heterotopia is, indeed, an opera, and it operates on an oceanic scale. The music is fluid and prismatic, churning through knotty riffs and shimmery hooks before coming to rest, briefly, in sublime moments of repose," writes Amelia Mason for WBUR's the ARTery. "With its harmonic inventiveness and timbral expressiveness, Heterotopia nods as much to Schooltree’s classical loves — Debussy, Bartók, Satie — as her prog rock influences. But more than anything it reflects her exacting musical vision."
Lainey, known to be a "painstaking crafter of sound," (Cambridge Day) adds an artistic approach to the technical elements of recording, using her skills as an audio engineer and producer in addition to composition and arrangement. "I like to use the studio as my instrument. I'm a big admirer of the artist producer — musicians who not only write and perform their own material, but also direct its production with a cohesive vision. Kate Bush, Todd Rundgren, and Mike Patton are good examples. Mastering the technical aspects of the craft is part of achieving that unification of idea and execution."
Meticulously crafted with co-producer Peter Moore (Think Tree, Count Zero, Blue Man Group), the production of this album stands out amid other releases. Avoiding claustrophobic use of compression and the in-your-face vocals of modern music, the sound of this record melds the airy, live dynamics of the golden era of recording with contemporary techniques that give it a sound that's both 20th and 21st century; favoring warmth and dynamics but also clarity and punch. The result is a sound that’s both classic and contemporary.
Sonically-shaped dramatic choices, such as finely honed, distinct singing styles for each character’s voice and accompanying instrumentation, sit atop the varied arrangements and textures that make up Heterotopia’s ever-changing topography.
"Sometimes Lainey can sound like Kate Bush (as on 'The Abyss', track 5, which summons for me the mood of Aerial‘s 'Nocturn'), but honestly she is a vocal chameleon who changes from song to song so many times that you can never pin her down as anybody’s imitator. She is a true original, but you’ll have fun hearing musical allusions in the multiplicity of all her transformations. Sometimes she even sounds like Karen Carpenter from an alternative universe (in which she lived to go on to convert to prog and to make brilliant concept albums)." (Progarchy)