Performing "Golden" w/David Horvitz projections at Dead Herring House, BK, NY
One of the great things about the internet is that you can stumble upon a band, sort of half-assedly follow their progress, forget about them and be reminded of why you became interested in the first place when another band you like takes them on tour and announces it on their website. It's like having a neverending invisible string tied around your finger. This was the case with Brooklyn's High Places. We followed them for a minute and picked the thread back up when they played shows with YACHT, Soft Circle and Abe Vigoda, to name a few. They're playing a few shows in New York in the next couple weeks, including one in Brooklyn this Sunday with a ton of other bands, so we decided to talk to them one-on-two and put it on the internet. Read our conversation after the jump and make sure to pick up High Places' 7" EP on Ancient Almanac.
How did you two meet?
Rob: Through the band Japanther. She [Mary] was touring with them as a solo artists and I met her through my friends in the band. I did a solo tour with Matt & Kim and we played a show that she set up in Michigan. We became better friends from there and we started doing music through the mail, or we attempted to do music through the mail. We decided to do a tour in the summer with our solo projects. At the very last minute we decided to just do it as band.
How did you know you wanted to make music together?
Mary: Just from listening to one another’s solo projects.
Rob: They’re pretty different. Her stuff was very lo-fi and collage-y whereas my stuff was very dense and arranged. I had this one song and she was listening to it. She remembered me playing it live and she just said, “Whoa, wait a minute! One of my songs fits over this exactly. You don’t have to change the phrasing or anything!” So we literally just mashed it together and it fit perfectly and then we decided that it worked it aesthetically as well. We had the same ideas about what we wanted to do with music but they just sounded really different. She studied music and has a degree in music and I’m just a total aesthetic kind of dude that just puts things together. I don’t have training. For me, it’s more visual and for her it’s more—
What did you study?
Rob: I studied print-making at NYU.
And did you study at Ann Arbor?
Mary: I went to Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That’s where I’m from. I studied bassoon performance and orchestral arrangement stuff.
Did you move to Brooklyn just to work with Rob?
Mary: Yeah, I kind of thought I was coming just for the summer so could we get ready to tour and then just ended up staying.
Rob: We just decided to do it for real instead of as a project.
Mary: We started getting shows in New York, so it just made sense for me to stay.
It’s interesting how you describe the way you fused things aesthetically. Did you know you wanted to work with projections during live sets?
Mary: I think we like doing a lot, but it just makes sense. The two of us live together and are really good friends and we work on music at home. We did all the artwork for our seven-inch together and I think we like the idea of High Places incorporating visual elements and basically any projects we work on that fall under the High Places umbrella: Our commune of two.
Rob: For me the projections are important because I’m pretty shy performance-wise. It helps. But I don’t want it to seem like I’m hiding behind it either, you know? She’s more engaged with the audience than I am because I have my head buried in things. For me, that’s a good thing because I wanted to have a band that connected with people. A lot of bands that work with weird gear and knobs are usually buried. As long as we can integrate the projections with what we’re doing. It can take away from what you’re doing.
Mary: I don’t know. I like it.
Rob: I like it, too. I just want to make sure it makes more sense in the future.
Mary: I like the idea of incorporating all kinds of ideas and things into performance. We just played in Baltimore there was this woman who was set up and selling food, like full dinner, from the bar. I feel like every show should come with dinner. You should be able to eat while you listen.
What was for dinner?
Mary: She had kale and rice and salad. MY solo project used to have cupcakes with every performance. They were free.
What was the name of your solo project?
Mary: Transformation Surprise.
Rob: It’s the name of a Laundromat in Seattle or that’s the story I heard.
Mary: I like the idea of listening to something, eating something, and seeing something.
Do you ever break out the bassoon?
Mary: I played out first show with my bassoon.
Rob: That show was a trainwreck. We did a weird cover of Autobahn.
Mary: We had like six minutes of music prepared and we needed to pad it out to ten.
Rob: The thing about the bassoon that’s a deal-breaker: she doesn’t do as it much, but for a while she was playing in a lot of orchestras and it was her livelihood and she’s obviously going to start doing that again at some point in her life, too. One day we were like, “You know what? The bassoon costs more than all our equipment and the van combined. How the hell are we going to take this inside some weird, sweaty, smoky loft?” If someone hits the vocal piece while she’s playing, it’ll stab her in the brain.
Mary: Yeah, it’s stressful.
What’s Kalamazoo like?
Rob: Outside point of view— the first time I was there I played a house show. When we got there it was a potluck dinner. It felt like some kind of 90s Olympia kind of thing: really wholesome and really cool. Like sort of nerdy, but good nerdy. I remember being downstairs and the dude at the house asking me if I could start the show. I was like, “It’s just you and me in the room, totally alone.” So I start talking into the mic and all of a sudden this huge crowd of kids starts filing into the basement. My first impression of it was sort of this utopian small college town with a really awesome scene where kids are amped. But it seems like in the last year and a half, a lot of people have moved away. That’s the problem with towns like that: kids graduate or get jaded or move away. I was very surprised because I’ve only lived in Philadelphia and New York my entire life, so to go to a small town and see this awesome scene was amazing. I think that’s why we toured so much and why we really like playing small towns. We can play a show here and it’ll be bananas, but it’s really good to play a show to 50 kids in a basement. It just feels right.
Are you guys planning on putting out a full-length soon?
Rob: We have a bunch of small projects coming out.
Mary: The full-length keeps getting put on the backburner.
Rob:We keep getting happily sidetracked. We have a picture disc coming out in a week and then a split and there are couple other splits and comp songs we’re working on. Our label in Australia asked us to do a benefit comp; we need to write a holiday song. Basically half of our music sounds like it could be holiday music anyway.
Mary: We have a lot of sleigh bells.
Rob: Earlier on we were heavy on the sleigh bells.
Mary: We’re trying to lay off the sleigh bells!
Rob: I hate breaking our 14 month existence up into things like “The Early Years.”
How does the writing/arranging usually work?
Rob: It’s a bit like Exquisite Corpse.
Mary: Are you familiar with that? That game where you draw and fold the page after you draw something so the other person is forced to continue drawing from there.
Rob: I draw something here and I leave a little bit sticking over. I don’t know what that it is. It could be a sandwich and with those lines you could draw a hand because you don’t know what it is and you think it’s an arm. They do it with writing, too. You only see the last sentence of a paragraph.
Mary: It’s not as boring as that, but he might have been working on some beat and he’ll show it to me and I’ll put a keyboard line on it.
Rob: It’s weird because on my end, I’ll make a lot of the sounds out of household things. I might use a drum machine or a real drum to solidify the structure of a beat, because if it’s paper bag being crumpled up instead of a high-hat, it may need to be tightened up a little bit. SO a lot of it is just real scrapbook-y. I’ll record all these weird sounds, like (taps drinking glass) and I’ll slow it down and be like, “Oh, I can make a weird structure or melody out of that.” I’ll get to a certain point where if I go to far, it’ll throw her off. She’s got to then put something in it that will make it work for her. It’s back and forth a lot, separately in a weird way. If she’s working on something, she’ll sometimes tell me, “Dude, go away. You can’t be here.” So I’ll have to sit in the bathroom and read. Other times we’ll just sit there and tap something out together and record that. Since we’re only a two-piece and the stuff we do has so many parts, we end up having to record as we write. I always use the “tinking” of the glass thing. Don’t use that, because that’s been in everything that’s ever been written about us. I always say “tinking” of the glass and they pick up on it every time. So, for your own interest, say “crumpling of paper bag” or “unzipping a zipper.” It’s funny, this morning I was telling her we were going to meet this guy from The FADER and she was like, “OK, make sure you don’t use the analogies you used in the last interview because it’s kind of annoying. “
This will be a Q+A.
Rob: You can leave that in, then.