Leaving is arduous, a feeling Joel Hirezi, former vocalist of Northe, is too familiar with.

Northe has an indelible origin story. Hirezi was looking around Guitars United when he first met guitarist Scion Watson. He’s told this story often, and smiled when I brought it up. Hirezi (20) and Watson (16) clicked and decided to form a band almost immediately (he likens the duo’s chemistry to The Smiths’ legendary partnership of Morrissey and Johnny Marr). In the span of four years, Northe released an album, two EPs and toured extensively.

The commercial side of the industry gave the band a taste of its potential, and the band’s focus shifted from music to business. Hirezi said this was the main motive for his departure in 2014.

“The worst thing was trying to make a means out of music. I feel like we lost our priority,” Hirezi said. “When you’re contacting these booking agents, worrying what wardrobe you’re going to wear — we forgot that writing the music was the priority. It has to be.”

But that’s a necessary evil. All success has drawbacks, Hirezi added. The pressure piled onto the stress, and resentments started building. “In a world with so many DIY artists, it’s so easy to lose yourself,” Hirezi said. “You forget that music isn’t just a business.”

Hirezi took a break from music for more than a year after he left Northe. It wasn’t a refreshing rest or a much-needed sabbatical — he shut himself out from songwriting and contemplated giving up on music altogether. Blocking off that creativity proved to be a burden.

He describes the period as “bleak,” but it made him realize that music was such a large part of his life. “[Music] sustained me. It kept me sane when having to endure the monotony and predictability of everyday life,” Hirezi said.


Hirezi laughed as he compared his scratchy voice to Chewbacca (due to a sickness) in a bench outside the Nordstrom’s in the Town Center (don’t ask). Hirezi’s been recording his new solo project dubbed, “Phantom Driver.”

Hirezi is the focus of his new project (think David Bowie or Trent Reznor) providing him with a sense of creative control — with every decision initiated and orchestrated by him. But his vision is still filtered through input from a band that consists of his closest friends.

“I’m not a drummer, I’m not a bassist, I’m not a really good lead guitarist. But I have a good ear for melodies and an ear for rhythm,” Hirezi said. “I’m blessed to say the bandmates that I’m working with really made it possible.”

He spent a weekend in Georgia working on his first completed track as he returned from his musical hibernation with “Fire Inside.”

“I never have felt so satisfied with a song,” Hirezi said about “Fire Inside.” It has a jangily guitar riff and violin combination the audience can drift into. Hirezi said “The Fire Inside” is more polished and mature than his previous work.

Hirezi conceived “Fire Inside” while listening to Northe’s “To the Bay,” which he originally co-wrote about his experiences in San Francisco. Listening to it again, Hirezi noticed the meaning changed. He wanted to finish his message with “Fire Inside.” Hirezi said it’s alright to face the uncertainty and vulnerability when a situation you love inevitably comes to an end.

As for Northe, the band acquired a new singer and rebranded itself as Canopy Hill. Hirezi’s on good terms with the band. Kevin Scala, Canopy Hill’s bassist, contributed bass to Hirezi’s band in Georgia. Hirezi said he also recently had a jam session with Scion.

It’s hard to quantify Hirezi’s enthusiasm about Phantom Driver as he jumps headfirst into this new project. “Is it harder? Yes. Is it more fulfilling? Absolutely. I’m genuinely happy that I get to write and there’s a purpose.”