- Posted on Mar 1st 2011 5:45PM by Brian Voerding
How did the band form?
Oli and I met in Sydney, working at the same recording studio, and we started mucking around. I was bringing songs. He was making this dance music but pushing himself in a new direction. We only did two gigs in Sydney. It wasn't that serious. It slowly grew a bit serious. I suppose that's how all bands start, really.
How did you end up in New York?
It's a boring story. We were here working. It was lucky we both came over here so we could pick the project back up. We both work for the same company. First I had an offer to come and then Oli did, too. I was doing my own thing, enjoying the city, writing as well, then when Oli came over, we thought, "This is an incredible opportunity to keep working on High Highs." We were lucky to find a drummer, Zach [Lipkins]. It's definitely gotten more serious since we've been here.
Was there a culture shock, coming from Australia to New York?
I was just in Sydney, and coming back here, for one, it's absolutely freezing. New York is a special place to be, but also an intense place to be. You have to fight for rehearsal space. It's very crowded. [Oli and I] both live in Brooklyn and are surrounded by so many musicians everywhere. It's really motivating.
Can you compare Sydney's music scene to New York's?
Sydney has a lot of amazing stuff going on, but it's true that it's a long way away from everywhere. That sense of being far away from where the majority of exciting stuff is happening in the world, that can be daunting. There's a lot of really great music in Sydney, but it's hard to break out sometimes. It's tricky.
How did you make that transition to a serious band?
We both realized there was almost an album written in Sydney. Then when Oli came over to New York, we figured it was too lucky to not take action. We both moved halfway around the world -- we had to give it a bit of a stab. I kept writing songs, and you sort of have to do something with them. Otherwise, why write songs? We had to keep going with them. We've only put out two songs, and that's the story of it so far.
You've received quite a bit of attention for those songs. Does it feel overwhelming at times?
It's pretty weird, for sure. It's that old thing where we're so close to the music that it's hard to know what people are going to think. You put it out and remember why you started doing it in the first place, and it's so amazing to us to see that people like it. People so far away from my home, people in New York, they like High Highs.
So far, you guys are unsigned. Is the DIY approach intentional, or are you waiting for the right opportunity?
When you start a band, you learn how important it is to assemble a team around your band. Every step is so crucial that we don't see a reason to rush. You really have got to be sure. We are talking to labels, but it's too early to commit to anything there, and too early for them as well. We're going to put out an EP, and we'll do that mostly ourselves. We're holding off because we're handling it fine at the moment. It's mainly because we're trying to be really careful to surround ourselves with people we really like.
How do two guys who come from very different musical backgrounds write together?
I write a song and bring it to him. Oli has an amazing ear. He knows how to write dance music, but he's also a great producer, great at producing beautiful, warm sounds. Often I'll just bring something in, and we'll record electric or acoustic guitar and sing on it, and he'll work on it for a day, and I'll listen to it and think, "Wow."
As a songwriter, what are your influences?
I love Neil Young. We both love Boards of Canada. Oli is particularly influenced by their sounds. He has a laptop setup with these really textured sounds he's been working on for ages.
How long have you been writing music?
I'm only 22. I haven't been writing a long time. I certainly haven't been writing anything good for many years. High Highs is the first thing I've ever done that isn't terribly, shockingly bad, or the first thing that wasn't played for my mother when I was living at home.
Did you always plan on becoming a musician?
I thought I always wanted to be involved in music somehow, but I never thought I would be a singer of a band. I remember joking with my mother about if I were singing in a band and how ridiculous that would be -- and I'm actually doing it now. I was the worst singer in my group of friends at school. I always thought I had a pretty terrible, or limited, voice. I didn't know I would be a singer of a band. It's still weird.
Where did the band name come from?
High Highs is the name of song by a band called Viva Voce, who are great. But actually, I didn't know them when I heard the name. My dad -- I consider him to be a cool dad -- listens to the radio in Sydney and recommended the song. The song was great, but I was struck by using the name for a band. I said it to Oli one day, and he said, "Yeah, cool," and it stuck. It's also a bit literal for our style. It sort of describes us. It works well.
How does it describe you?
I sing high. I sing in falsetto some of the time. Even when I don't, I still probably sound like I'm singing pretty high. I find it easy to write songs in that register, easy to hear melodies. It's a literal name, as well, for our style of music.
Our PR agent, she wanted to insist that our genre of music is "church wave." I find the whole "wave" thing really funny, in a good way. It works. It's not music that's religious in any way. It would just sound good in a church. Maybe we're on to something.
Catch High Highs' SXSW Set on Saturday, March 19 at The Velveeta Room (521 E 6th St.) 12AM.