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The music of New York

Talking With High Places

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Talking With High Places

Mary Pearson, vocalist for erstwhile Brooklyn duo High Places, answers her phone as the band crosses the Canadian border -- Rob Barber is driving. Having just released their fourth LP, Original Colors, they're headed back to New York City, former home and place of the band's genesis, to play Glasslands, Thursday night, with friends Test House and Matteah Baim.

Nonstop Sound: Why did you move from New York?

Mary Pearson: "It's something we've talked about doing since we started the band. There's something about the area that suits us both. We both love the weather. Rob's is from Philadelphia and I'm from Michigan so we're really used to humidity. It was a natural move. We love New York City but it's hard to take advantage when you tour so much."

NS: The desert has been a topic of interest for High Places for a while. How does that climate influence you?

MP: "The desert's just peacefully inspiring to us. I think it's so foreign in a way, almost like another planet. You tend to think of the natural world as just and good, but there's a lot of darkness there. The desert also represents a lot of hardships in human society. Humans have harvested the desert insisting on living there though it's clear we're not supposed to. Millions live in Los Angeles and there's no water whatsoever out there."

[Hands phone to Barber]

Rob Barber: "I personally went through the Mojave in Arizona and northwest Mexico and they've carved it up into pots of land they've hoped to sell. Everything looks so wide open out there, but from above you can see they've carved it into exacting grids. There's a lot sadness and forgottenness. I have to go now. I'm driving."

[Hands phone back to Pearson]

NS: You hinted at the dance feel on High Places vs. Mankind. But every track on Original Colors would almost fit in at the club. Are the two of you fans of that culture, or any peripheral to it?

MP: "We are. There's always been a night or two on tour where we end up on the dance floor. Our last album, Vs. Mankind, took us into a rock-oriented context and taking the High Places sound with guitar sounds, using guitars on stage for the first time. And sort of out of the blue we started working on dance beats. We dialogue really well that sort of rhythm, that four on a floor kind of stuff. And these tracks came together."

NS: Your releases have gained fidelity as they've progressed. What does the phrase "lo-fi" mean to you?

MP: "It's always made us scratch our heads a little bit. It's never been, 'let's up our game and buy new equipment.' It's just a matter of learning as we go along. We used to do things that would obviously make things lower fidelity. More than that we just thought it was so awesome when old hardcore recordings or old blues records end up with errant sounds. Our cats meowing or a truck backing up, when we recorded in Brooklyn. It's never a mistake and we really like that human quality."

High Places - Sonora from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.


NS: The video for "Sonora" sort of encapsulates the sinister vibe that Original Colors seeps in. Where did that darkness come from?

MP: "A lot of inspiration came from our travels. Being a two-piece I think we're lucky we get to see places a little more. We've spent some time in Australia the last couple years, particularly western Australia. The city of Perth is very inspirational, it's the most remote city on earth. And seeing these plants and animals that we've never seen before and the isolation that you feel from that, but something melancholy too. You're cut off from the world. That dichotomy is something we've always explored. Organic vs. organic sounds. Beauty vs. ugly. Man vs woman, in a collaboration."

NS: How big a fan of golf are the two of you?

MP: "We're not, but I thought that was an interesting thing to incorporate into the video. I'm a big basketball fan, so I thought it was interesting the director decided to incorporate sport."

NS: Are you fans of Popeye?

MP: "Rob is actually really into the live action Popeye. [He denies.] Aren't you? But the Shelly Duvall one is great. But the original black and white Popeye, I just think that's a cool reference. Although that spinach was the worst thing I've ever eaten. They were really detailed in the set dressing. The newspaper I'm kneeling on was celebrating Richard Nixon."

NS: Am I mistaken or is that Angus Andrew of the band Liars in shackles?
MP: "Yeah that's right."

NS: What's your relationship with that band?

MP: "We actually live together in that house. When we were talking to the director about keeping it true to life, we thought it would be better to have my actual love interest be the one I rescue."

High Places' Original Colors is out now.
 

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