eMusic Selects: High Places
Mary Pearson and Rob Barber are High Places, a Brooklyn band so fantastic that they actually inspired the entire eMusic Selects program. Before their amazing, eMusic-only compilation 03/07 — 09/07, High Places had only released three 7-inches and a couple of compilation tracks. Still, that has been enough to earn them a growing following.
Recently, Mary and Rob took a break from recording their debut album (it will be done the end of February, they hope) to sit down with us at a cafÃ© in Brooklyn. Below are selections from that interview. (You can read the entire Q&A on our blog, 17 Dots.) Mary and Rob are incredibly friendly, engaging people, and their dynamic was a joy to behold. Rob is very dedicated to being independent, following a DIY ethos as much as possible. Mary, a classically trained bassoonist, holds those same views, but is much more playful about it. Together, they make an exceptional (non-romantic) pair.
Rob Barber: I’m from a hardcore and punk background, and there are a lot of good hardcore and punk 7-inches, but there aren’t as many good LPs. Being that our songs are pretty short and our attention spans are pretty short and we know we have this opportunity to put out a 7-inch, that’s easy. It’s low stress.
In other words, I think putting out all these EPs and comps is just playing it safe and being scared of actually…
eMusic: This is why you’re nervous about the things you’re giving us, right? If it’s a bigger statement, then it’s easier to scrutinize.
RB: It’s not a big deal if it’s marketed as a six month period of a bunch of prolific EPs and songs. That to me is fine, as long it doesn’t come across as, “Man, did you hear High Places’ first album? It’s totally the most random bunch of songs I’ve ever heard.”
eMusic: Have your parents seen you play?
Mary Pearson: Yeah.
RB: Mine haven’t. My parents are older than most people our ages’parents. They were married in ’59. Compared to their military, Catholic families, they would think we were the weirdest thing in the world.
eMusic: Do they ask about it?
RB: Sometimes my mom is like, “When am I going to hear it?” And I just kind of skirt it.
eMusic: Have you ever tried describing it to them?
RB: Yeah, I try describing it to them and my mom is like “That sounds neat!” But they don’t understand…
MP: I walked into the kitchen before and my dad was next to stereo just playing our demo CD, standing there listening to it. It was pretty funny. My mom is an elementary school teacher in Michigan and she commissioned us to write their theme song last year.
MP: Yeah. So we went to the school and did three assemblies.
eMusic: Playing it for the whole school?
MP: With the kids, yeah, and they did choreography. It was amazing.
RB: I thought it would be 30 kids at a time, but it was like 200 kids. It was pretty weird.
eMusic: Did you write the song with them?
MP: No. I wrote it and sent it to my mom on a CD, then she would play it with the kids and they’d learn it. It was so funny ’cause we walked in the music room and it was written out on a huge notepad with the lyrics. It was just so weird to see my lyrics written out on an elementary school board.
We performed it with second through fifth graders. They were really energetic. I threw in lots of “hey”s and stuff in there. There was lots of jumping going on.
RB: The most nervous I’ve ever been was playing the elementary school.
MP: We’re playing at twenty percent of our normal volume, but the kids are still like, “Owww!”
RB: [Laughs] We’re the weird hippies from New York. Somehow the school wasn’t like, “These people are dangerous.”
MP: No, they put our name on the marquee.
RB: Here’s the thing — when I was in 5th grade, I was listening to, like, metal and rap and I was skateboarding. I was getting into whatever Thrasher told me was cool to listen to. So if I saw our band in 5th grade, I would’ve been like, “This shit is corny!” I would have been so not into it. So that made me the most nervous.
MP: Oh they also wrote us thank you cards that were amazing. We heard about so many bands that were started because of that day.
eMusic: Do you like most of your songs?
MP: It’s so hard.
eMusic: It’s an awkward question, I know.
MP: I think because my voice is involved, it’s so personal. There’s nothing you can really do about your voice, it’s part of your body. I’ve gotten to where I don’t scream in anguish when I hear it come on somewhere, or turn totally red. It’s still totally awkward, but â€”
eMusic: When VH1 comes on and you’re at the gym.
MP: Yeah. When someone’s cell phone goes off and it’s me singing. [Laughs]
RB: I feel like if it was just me, I would hate it. But because there’s another human involved, who brings a bunch to the table, it makes me embrace it a little more. I think what I like about us is how our approach to making music is unique, so I feel like, “Wow, I didn’t expect that song to come out that way at all. We started out with this idea and it came out completely different.”
MP: But I didn’t expect it either, so it doesn’t feel like either of our music.
eMusic: So how often does something come out the way you hear it in your head? Never? Would it be a good thing if it did?
RB: The way we record is so non-pro. We’ve said this before in other interviews, but we record pretty much 98% of the stuff using an old program I bought in 1998, it came on two floppy disks, it only runs on OS 9 on a Mac, all it does is cut and paste and we record with a little mic. It picks up so much room noise, we can play around. If we had this exacting studio thing, I think it would make it more finite of a result. But because there’s a lot of haphazardness to the way we record, that’s what makes it kind of cool and surprising.
MP: And when people ask us about our “power struggle” and, like, “Who’s band is it secretly,” it’s totally — I don’t know, I think there are bands that are like that. The person where it’s their band and they have people playing with them.
RB: People they allow to play with them.
MP: It’s like, what’s the point of playing in a band? I know what my ideas are, I can’t escape them, I’m so sick of them. What Rob brings to the table — he probably feels the same way about it — but when we combine the two, it makes this brand new thing. It’s almost like it becomes a third person who’s making the music.
It sounds so corny, but it’s true. I think we’ll both listen to the end result of the song and think, “That sounds so weird.” I wouldn’t have thought of that, you wouldn’t have thought of that, but when we compromise on all these ideas we had and made this new thing that is so weird, but I guess if we were trying to be objective we’d say we liked it. It’s almost like an out-of-body thing, like, “Who made that?”
RB: I’m coming from a more experimental side of things and I think I bring to the table more of the weird recording techniques. That’s what I had been doing for so long, but without her ability to, like, write songs and put songs together, my stuff would just be weird noise music.
MP: I think people think that I’m totally “poppy” and I want everything to have â€”
RB: I didn’t say “poppy.”
MP: — a catchy melody to it.
RB: No, that’s more me.
MP: I think we were just like: we can make a noise band, it could be really weird and two people could like it, or we could try to make something that could stick in someone’s head or they could sing in the shower, but it’s also maybe kinda weird.
RB: When we were playing shows with Lightning Bolt, we just doubled our soundsystem just to make it bigger. I think people hear it recorded and think, “Oh, it’s cute,” and then they see it live and it’s mega loud. I thought it would be cool to channel something like Beat Happening and filter it through Black Dice. That’s how I looked at it, at least. And you being from Michigan, you were like, “I hate noise music!” [Laughs]
MP: I don’t hate it, I just…
RB: You’re wary of it. [Laughs]
MP: I’ve just been to one too many shows where a dude got naked while playing.