Photo: Mimi Cabell
On the eve of commencing their first tour down under, I invited fellow photographer and all-round super pal, Heidi Greenwood, to chat with Mary Pearson and Rob Barber – the creative brains behind the magical group, High Places exclusively for Those Walls, Your Ears. I assure you Heidi has seen High Places live more times than you have seen Kings of Leon on our shores. So without further delay, here is what they had to say on moving homes, the creative process and so much more.
Heidi: You just arrived in Australia from New Zealand, how was your time down there?
Rob: New Zealand was awesome. We played 3 shows: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and they were all like equally awesome, and we had a lot of days off that we could do some non-music stuff and not just tour. And that was really really good because we had always wanted to go there really bad for as long as I have known about it. I’ve wanted to go there because it’s about as far as you can possibly get. It was really cool to go there, and it exceeded every expectation, like everyone there was so nice and it was such a beautiful country and the weather was perfect – it was pretty much a perfect trip. So Australia better step up!
H: You both seem to have a common love for nature and a peaceful well-being, how do you draw inspiration from New York City. Do you have ‘get away’ spots like Prospect Park hide outs that you like to venture off to? (I know they have those great organic markets there on the weekend.)
R: Yeah, it definitely has a lot of under utilized green spaces. Like a lot of people I know tend to not really utilize it that much in terms of the park system there, but there are parks that are on the Atlantic ocean and beaches and parks that have huge rocks and hills and cliffs. New York City is pretty wild and the parks are pretty easy to get to, there is even a park (well we actually just moved) but the park in our old neighborhood in New York was pretty amazing. It was just like a big old hill, you know, that has a really good vantage point from the top and that was our big procrastination spot whenever we would be writing music or recording. We would just be like, “Let’s go for a walk” and we would get take out and ice-cream and go up to the top of the hill and sit there and that was always really nice. New York definitely has a lot but what you are saying is true, the music almost being somewhat escapist to.
H: I guess it almost makes sense though because it’s almost like this kind of post-punk anarchism like instead of using that aggression of the City, it’s kind of like working against it almost?
R: Yeah, I mean I think in a weird way we were trying to create a vibe. When we are playing live, usually in a performing situation we are very very loud and we are usually playing with other bands that are very loud and aggressive and it’s almost another way of seeming punk or against the grain as to how the people react around us, not negatively but as a kind of challenge to what is noise music and challenge what is experimental music by using a more peaceful sound palette and then project it really loud to see what the results are. So I think that that definitely ties into a lot of the other vibes you were picking up in the music for sure.
H: It’s also been said that you will be relocating to Los Angeles. What are the reasons behind that decision?
R: That is true, yes. I am actually in the process. I have apartments in both cities so I am half way there. Mary has totally moved to L.A. for sure, she’s already moved in. It’s a little weird for me I think, I mean I really love L.A. and think it has a lot to offer, similar to how New York does. It has a lot of bands and a lot of weird places to play and you can play a lot of shows and not play yourself out. The climate is amazing, I think we just fit in better there, our friends are a little more in tune with what we’re into. Not to shun New York or anything, I’m from Philadelphia and I moved there in ’96, so the two cities are really similar in a lot of ways. Philly is just like a slightly smaller New York. For me, it’s kind of part of my roots you know.
H: So relocating gives you a new environment to draw inspirations from …
R: It definitely feels like that in a lot of ways. We have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, we always have a lot of time off there and hang out there a lot on tour, so it’s not foreign to us but it definitely is nice to mix up your surroundings a little bit and see what happens. See if it effects your creative output, maybe in our earlier music we were reacting against our surroundings in New York, so perhaps our L.A surroundings will make us super goth and start wearing clothes made of trash and garbage bin liners.
H: Well Trash fashion IS pretty big in New York right now.
R: Ha, that’s true.
H: If you could play any where in the world that you haven’t already played and in any setting, where would it be?
R: We’re in the process of playing in the places we really wanted to play right now, New Zealand and Australia, and we are going to South America next and that’s the other place we really wanted to go. I really enjoy playing outside personally, in the right circumstance and context is perfect for me, but not necessarily a crappy giant festival stage, more a make-shift kind of setting is perfect for me.
Mary: I think that I would have to say Bali, I always wanted to go there. I saw a picture once of duck shepherds there and I thought that was pretty amazing.
H: You have used everyday objects to create unique sounds which you sample. What is the strangest object you have used in our music? and with this thought in mind, are you constantly listening to what’s going on around you in the everyday in hope of picking up a new sound? Like when a fork drops in a cafe?
M: I don’t think that we are always listening for weird samples. I mean, we do occasionally hear something really beautiful and we will make a video on one of our cameras to capture it because it’s the most immediate recording device we have, which we have done a few times with church bells or something when we are traveling. I think the strangest thing we have ever used was a book – the David Lee Roth autobiography. We used it pretty early on as a percussion element of a song by flicking through the pages of the book (which is a hard cover) and then slamming it shut which had a really nice sound. That’s probably one of the weirdest things we have used.
Photo: Mary Pearson
H: You both took part in the design of the cover of the album. Do you still find time for your art practice, or do you consider your music a part of art in the sense of, do you you still hold a certain conceptualism to your creative processes?
R: That’s a good question, because I feel like earlier with this being my first real band, I had been making a lot of bedroom recordings for a very long time but this is my first actual band. I think that I always had this issue with art and music sort of congealing with each other in the sense of space and time. I feel like a lot of times unfortunately cancel each other out. I never really felt happy with either. If I was working with one I would be too distracted by the other. I felt like when we started – the first year and a half or so – we were putting out a lot of records and 7″ where we were really involved with the artwork and they were small editions. We were printing them ourselves and things like that, and it was the first time in particular that made it a pretty daunting process because it was an etching which is really time consuming. At the time we were doing videos earlier, like Mary did some video early on and I did some video for a specific show that was more like an art show, so it’s always like we have considered the band more of an art project by trying to involve both sound and music so it has a visual aspect to it as well. But I think lately and why I think it’s such a good question, I feel like the touring side of it is taking over from a lot of the weird, little, fun projects that we could be doing and feeling like there just isn’t enough time. We wanted to do this cassette project for a really long time which would involve pretty elaborate printing and stuff but that ends up on the backburner by the fact that we are constantly on tour. You would think that there would be a lot of down time on tour, and there kind of is in a way, but it’s just really hard (for me at least) to focus. Mary is pretty steady about photography, she is always taking photos and uploading photos and they are more than just diary type photos I think. I think they are pretty good photos.
H: I have seen the High Places flickr site and it is really good, Mary definitely has a certain idea in mind that she is shooting.
R: I think that she finds an immediate satisfaction with making art from the road, in photography. I’m not really that comfortable with photography myself and so I think that I am still trying to figure it out. I start a lot of projects on the road but I have a difficult time trying to finish them and that is something I have been trying to figure out lately. I went from someone who was solely visual to now someone who is totally musical trying to see where I can fit the visual back into it. Like you said, you mentioned the cover and stuff like that and that’s obviously really satisfying but I think we would like to do even more still if we had the time. I think that’s the main issue with anyone that’s making music or making art, there just never seems like enough time to deal with all of the ideas that are in your head. Which maybe seems like a cop out but I really think that it is because you are over stimulated all of the time because you are always seeing other bands that are cool and you are seeing new places, really beautiful places and inspiring things.
H: It’s almost overwhelming…
R: Yeah, with all of the ideas in our head you can only finish 20% of them if even that. So maybe just learning to feel satisfied with what we’ve achieved is probably a goal. Also trying to find more time to work on my ideas so I don’t feel so frustrated all of the time.
H: There is also an atmosphere, not only in your music, but the visual and physical sense of High Places, of Rising Above, or being ‘golden’ most obviously in the song “Golden”. Does this idea stem from a personal belief system or rather a general concept?
R: This is a double headed answer for sure because the lyrics are Mary’s. I think a lot of her lyrical themes come when we are working on songs, I will put an idea out there and it will have a vibe then she’ll sort of interpret that vibe and then the lyrics (a lot of times) will stem from the music because we are writing the music. The lyrics tend to come on second, not always but most of the time – she will have a rough idea. The lyrics are reflecting the vibe from the music, so for me, I feel like I am trying to mix up a new palette for an idea and not always have one, uplifting feeling to it but I feel (like with the previous music we have made) I wanted to keep a positive and chin-up kind of feeling even if the music was a little bit darker, kind of like light at the end of the tunnel, that kind of thing. But Mary has some real perspective on the golden and light motif which comes up a lot in the music and she has put a lot of thought into it.
M: Golden is a very personal song about a friend of mine, and I wanted write a song about his passing away that was somehow upbeat and looking for the good in that situation and so it was important to me that the song had a certain uplifting feel.
H: What are you most looking forward to about your visit to Australia?
M: I am pretty excited to swim in the Indian Ocean and then surf. And spending summer here is great because we have left behind a pretty chilly winter in North America. It’s pretty great to be here in the sun.
H: That somewhat ties into my next question, I read in a previous interview that you skateboard?
M: A little bit very very poorly but I do it. Rob is better than me but I would say I am fairly mediocre.
Don’t forget to catch High Places on this upcoming tour for Summer Tones. A massive thanks to Rob, Mary, Sophie and Heidi for taking the time to make this happen.