We had a vision of getting out on the road, and not just playing good music, but living life more fully.
Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger and Ben Eichelberger of Heart Society live for the music. They live for each other. They live in an RV. Heart Society, the musicians say, is more than a band; it’s a movement.
Their choice of domicile embodies their belief in personal freedom and open-ended possibility. And it allows them to share their message of love across the land in any community with an access road. The couple can’t believe it’s been almost three years since they set sail from Phoenix, Arizona to pursue their dreams, in their Sea Breeze dubbed “the tiny musical house,” retrofitted with a mobile recording booth.
“We had a vision of getting out on the road, and not just playing good music, but living life more fully,” says Ben.
Teneia is a fiercely independent black woman from Mississippi with killer pipes rooted in the gospel church, who commands the stage without fear. Ben is a brawny white Iowan whose first musical epiphany came listening to Garth Brooks tapes on family road trips. Before meeting Teneia, Ben was a flight instructor. “I had put the music dream on the back burner,” he said. “Meeting Teneia is what helped reignite that for me.”
Their ongoing musical road trip was made possible by their loyal fans and friends, who contributed more than $20,000 to the duo’s 2015 IndieGogo campaign to purchase the RV and launch the sojourn. “We are crazy kids in love,” Teneia told the world of their crazy idea. But for a couple who announced their 2014 marriage by eloping on camera for a music video, a journey of surprises made complete sense. They document their adventures in a YouTube series and share humorous and poignant moments along the way: Teneia drives a John Deere in Iowa; beautiful vistas in Utah; reflections on a rough week in Washington state; answering fan questions – “are you ready to kill each other?” Through it all, the common thread has been self-discovery. Their continued development as husband and wife and as performers is an outgrowth of that initial leap of faith.
Wake the Queens is a female empowerment album. An album about women standing strong in who they are and speaking their truth.
Over the past year, they’ve made Jackson their home base, writing and recording their new EP, “Wake the Queens,” with producer Kent Bruce at Malaco Records and the multi-talented musician and comedienne Rita B on drums. The folk-soul-rock-and-roll release “is a female empowerment album,” says Teneia. “An album about women standing strong in who they are and speaking their truth.” It also embodies more universal empowerment, adds Ben, “of marginalized groups, minorities, people who are pushed to the side [whose] voices are not heard.”
Heart Society responds to the frustrations and inequities of an increasingly divided world with musical messages of acceptance for people from all different backgrounds. After all, Ben and Teneia themselves bridge a color line that would not have been acceptable or even legal some decades ago.
Ben’s conservative Midwestern parents were initially blindsided when their son left his aviation career for a life on the road with Teneia. Now, they have forged shared bonds with Teneia’s boisterous and welcoming Deep South side of the family. The personal awakenings that remake the narratives of diversity in America come one experience, one story, one heart at a time.
Heart Society’s new release also represents a continued evolution of sound and process. Teneia has always been the songwriter, ever since she started penning love songs at the age of eight. What had for many years been a relatively solitary creative endeavor is now integrated with Ben’s rock sensibility and his talents for musical arrangement. “Getting Ben’s personality in the songs has been really great,” says Teneia. “It’s added a different dynamic that I normally wouldn’t go for, like these rocking guitar lines. That, for us, is finding our groove together as a team. This last year was it.”
Even whi le working on perfecting “Wake the Queens,” Heart Society has still been thrilling crowds, from playing the historic opening of the Mi s si s sippi Civ i l R ights Museum to rocking out on the open seas as part of Cayamo, A Journey Through Song, aboard the Norwegian Pearl cruise liner. The band earned a coveted spot at Cayamo by popular vote as part of the Sixthman Soundcheck competition, making the trip from New Orleans to Cozumel and Belize. They shared a stellar bill with heavyweights like Grammy award winners John Prine, Patti Griffin, and Lee Ann Womack.
There is no way of predicting the future, which is why Teneia and Ben have chosen to make their own way in the world. They draw collective inspiration from their own distinctive personal experiences. The amateur “rap” lyrics Ben wrote as a young boy in Iowa illustrate how far they’ve come and how expansive their world has become. Teneia burst into laughter as her husband unabashedly recites the decades-old verses:
We’re the funky farmers and we’re here to say, you better mow and bale your hay. Fill your bins up to the brim, or your livestock will get thin.
“That’s just a banger, man,” he chuckles.
To be in love does not require sameness, only an understanding that all people are people, regardless of gender or color or origin. “Here’s who I am. Here’s who you are,” Teneia related to Ben when they got together. “We’re both equal in how we show up in the world. And let’s move forward in that way.”
Teneia still doesn’t know everything about the punk-rock bands that Ben listened to in high school, like NOFX and the Deftones. Ben isn’t an expert on Luther Vandross or Ani DiFranco, both influences of Teneia’s. But here in Mississippi, they’ve found commonality in the ubiquitous blues groove that permeates the place.
“We were able to marry our styles, even though they weren’t necessarily similar on the surface,” Ben says. “At the foundation, they really were.”
Heart Society’s Debut EP, Wake the Queens, including their single What’s on Your Mind, Kid? is available now on Spotify, Tidal, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Music, and Bandcamp.
To learn more about the band and see a schedule of upcoming shows, go to www.heartsocietymusic.com.