This past spring, The FADER debuted a song by hard-partying Brooklyn-based rock crew Highly Suspect. Since then, the band has dropped a well-received, commercially successful full-length of bluesy grunge called Mister Asylum, via Lyor Cohen's forward-thinking New York label 300 Entertainment. Today, we're debuting an effects-laden performance video for one of the record's sadder tracks, "Mom." We spoke with Johnny Stevens, the band's foul-mouthed frontman, about being 300's first rock band, getting compared to Queens of the Stone Age, and the sex-filled Oklahoma night on which the "Mom" live clip was filmed.
Tell me a little about the song "Mom."
JOHNNY STEVENS: "Mom" is a song about hope. You wouldn't think that at first listen, in fact, you'd probably think the opposite. I don't think I'm the only one that grew up without a parent, so a lot of people have been telling me how this song resonates with them. It's really cool knowing that not only is the song therapeutic for me, but also seems to be helping others—my brother included. I was raised by my father from babyhood on. Whether I like it or not, that affects my life even when I'm unaware of it doing so. I had to address it.
What's the story behind the live video?
This is actually a performance from Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2014. I wish I wasn't so FUCKING fat in the video. Whatever, it was a night to remember. Right after the show, I met a girl that would become my friend for life. She wasn't even at the show. We met when I walked outside. What a night; [we had] van sex while a cop was arresting some dude next to the van. After that, we went into the hotel I was staying at but homeboy didn't think I was a guest, so he got scared and called the police. I started getting belligerent at that point, but homegirl took me by the hand and we ran into the night. Just running from police and fucking in people's yards. That's what I remember about this video. What a classic summer night in America.
How does is feel to be the first rock band signed to 300?
It feels fucking dope. It feels like when Slayer was on Def Jam. Our label is pretty much true family at this point. Lyor is the homie. The man is one of the most passionate people I've ever met in my life, and his phone is always on. I feel like most artists work for their label, but we work with ours. There is a genuine friendship outside of the business of music. We all vibe. I'm so proud to be on what I think is quite a historical label. Twenty years from now people will look at the first wave of 300 artists and just be like “What the fuck was that? How did that label do that?" The one weird thing is how often we get hit up on Twitter about mixtapes. We're constantly being sent videos and Soundcloud links from people. But hey, don't stop trying, I do actually share good music with the label when I find it. It's never been from a Twitter mixtape, kid. Not yet.
Do you like Brooklyn?
Of course I like Brooklyn. I should be saying no, right? Isn't that the cool thing to do now—denounce New York and talk about how gentrified certain parts are? Brooklyn rules, always has and always will, no matter what phase it's going through. Moving to New York didn't change us, but it allowed us to feel at home. I miss small town life here and there, but it's been years since I've lived that life. It's hard to relate. Guys like us, we needed to be somewhere where there wasn't a curfew.
Do you feel like the type of rock you're making is distinctly American?
I think it's distinctly human. I'm not out here singing about Kid Rock's picnic. We like to think we're a band of the world. Yes, we're from America and our melodies are cousins with the blues, but this music is for everyone. Anyone that has a pulse. I love America. Proud as fuck to be from here. But me and the guys, we're itching to get out of here. It's been our dream for our whole entire lives to get out of here and play music together. We want to travel the world, really get out there. It's pretty much why we started in the first place. It's crazy looking back a decade and remembering stoned conversations about how one day we'll play Wembley. That day is coming up in February.
You're often compared to various 1990s hard-rock bands, whether it's in press or in Youtube comments, whatever. How do you feel about that?
Hype. No one ever said, "’90s grunge sucked." No one says that. The ’90's ruled. You wanna tell us we remind you of Queens Of The Stone Age? Soundgarden? Nirvana? Go right ahead. At first the comparisons were frustrating. No one likes to feel like they're being put in a box, but everyone always seems to need their little fucking boxes, so it's bound to happen. If we have to be in a box, I'll be in a shitty cardboard ’90s box and hang out with Sublime.