October 15, 2020

Austin Synth Trio Urban Heat Looking To Regain Its Momentum

Nick Schenck
Urban Heat

SXSW was about to be their breakout moment. Urban Heat had 12 shows booked in March, not long after playing their first gig together in June 2019. 

“Social media was starting to blow up,” frontman Jonathan Horstmann said.

But the Austin-based synth-pop trio played just one show on West 6th before Austin shut down. Soon after, Horstmann drove to North Carolina with his family to ride out the pandemic for three months at his in-laws’ place.

Horstmann and bandmates Kevin Naquin and Pax Foley return to the stage for the first time this Saturday at 3rd & Lamar’s Rooftop Live

“Anyone who knows me knows that the artist part of me has been struggling a lot with not being able to perform,” Horstmann wrote on Instagram.

Photo credit: Urban Heat singer Jonathan Horstmann

Growing Urban Heat’s Fan Base

Originally from a town north of Santa Barbara, Calif., Horstmann moved to Austin 15 years ago and has played in punk and indie rock bands like BLXPLTN, Mighty Mountain, and others. 

He attributes the start of Urban Heat in part to the birth of his daughter, which forced him to make music on the computer wearing headphones to avoid waking her. That sparked a love for synthesizers and sequencers, which grew into a sound that Horstmann’s wife, Hannah, calls “very original, but very nostalgic.”

What makes Urban Heat different from his past bands, Horstmann says, is that he’s finally embracing marketing.

“Musicians have to wear so many hats, and I was always fighting having to wear that marketing hat, that PR hat,” he said. “If we have to be good at social media, then let’s just learn how to be fucking good at social media, you know? So I’m probably going to be sticking with Urban Heat for a long time.”

During the pandemic, Horstmann sent personalized, 15-second video messages to each new social media follower that the band gained. Urban Heat’s social channels grew by 25 followers per day on average, so Horstmann spent roughly the first hour of each morning creating content for fans.

“I think that’s what it really takes to form a community and build some sort of longevity as a band,” he said. “It’s less about the music and more about your relationship with the fans.

“I think the most important thing is being real, and people can smell your insincerity – or you selling something – like a mile away.”

Most of the time, Horstmann feels comfortable opening up to fans on social media. When it’s a struggle, he remembers the reward of helping people.

“Our music is not positive or negative – it’s just music, but people will send us messages that (the music) is really helping them get through a hard time and stuff like that,” Horstmann said. “It’s a really interesting phenomenon.”

Urban Heat
Pictured (left to right): Pax Foley, Jonathan Horstmann, and Kevin Naquin. Photo credit: Urban Heat

Earning A Living As A Musician

When he’s not writing or recording music, Horstmann works as a multimedia developer at Texas CASA, and he assists with his wife’s business. 

With no money from gigs in recent months, Urban Heat has curtailed its social media ad spend. The band’s single, “That Gun In Your Hand,” has surpassed 37,000 plays on Spotify and 8,600 YouTube views. Engagement on the YouTube video is high with 102 comments and a 505-to-1 like-to-dislike ratio.

The band’s label, Spaceflight Records, has helped with distribution, but the payouts for most artists are slim.

“I’d be really surprised if we made $0.25 (from Spotify),” Horstmann said. “One of my homies gets about 100,000 plays a month, and it’s significant enough to supplement his income a little bit. He was getting a couple hundred bucks. I know that Spotify is one of the worst ones.”

How To Watch Urban Heat Live

3rd & Lamar’s Rooftop Live begins at 8 p.m. CT this Saturday, and DJ/composer No Nostalgia will kick things off, followed by Urban Heat. We will live stream both bands on 3rdandLamar.com, as well as on 3rd & Lamar’s Facebook and YouTube channels.

DOSSEY will perform last, and her performance will stream exclusively on 3rdandLamar.com to our subscribers. If you sign up this week, you get access to all of our premium content, future live shows, and a free six-pack of Austin Eastciders, who is sponsoring the event.

In terms of what to expect from Urban Heat, Horstmann has some energy bottled up that he plans to unleash.

“Oh, man, I try to keep my energy centered while I perform,” he said. “I really, really try, but then something happens halfway through where it just gets away from me. It’s pretty raw.

“When I posted a story about this show coming up, I got a flood of responses in my inbox, like we just picked up right where we left off. It was so awesome and people are so excited about it. And that gets me really excited.”

Directed and shot by Taylor Mansmann