Interview: High Highs
Words by Richard Gifford - Published on February 1, 2013
High Highs, originally a Sydney-based band, have spent the last few years in Brooklyn, working on their debut record Open Season. It’s been released in Australia about a week ago, and it’s top notch. We loved their self-titled EP, and they’ve gone one better on this latest release. These recent releases have given them sufficient buzz to earn them a much deserving spot on the highly sought after bill of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2013.
They’re playing at Laneway in Brisbane today at 2.2opm on the Zoo Stage, and we highly recommend catching their set. We caught up with Jack Milas to pick his brain on Laneway, living in the states, silence and other random, fun, interesting shit!
SCENEWAVE: So you’re calling from a hotel in Melbourne right now, how’s that going?
JACK MILAS: Really good. It’s my first time properly in the city and it seems really nice. I mean, I’m just looking out at the Southern Cross Station so it’s not all that scenic. But it’s really cool to be home.
SW: 2012 shaped up to be a ridiculously successful year for you guys, with a posting to Laneway amongst heaps of other achievements. How pumped are you for Laneway?
JM: Really really really pumped. We’ve been looking forward to it ever since last year and the line up is awesome. it’s great to be back in Australia. It’s wonderful. I’m really excited.
SW: So your debut album Open Season was released just 4 days ago which must be a pretty surreal feeling and at scenewave we’re already addicted to it, what was the first thing you guys did to celebrate the release ? Straight to the pub?
JM: Ahh… what did we do on release day? I think it came out and I just had a family day because I hadn’t seen my family for a while so we had a bit of champagne at home but it was pretty low key. Then there was a BBQ at my house with Oli and Sean, our drummer and our manager Mike and that was pretty fun. It’s pretty weird cos we’ve heard it on the radio a lot as we’ve been driving around Sydney so we’re still getting used to the fact that it’s out to be honest.
SW: Rumour has it that to test the ‘releasability’ of an album Cloud Control listen to their tracks full volume in a car. How did you guys know when your album is ready to release?
JM: Well for us to be honest it was getting to a point where we just had to let it go cos we were going to fiddle with it forever. It would’ve been a good idea to hop in the car but we don’t really drive as we live over in America and don’t have a car to test it out in. But towards the end of the process I really opened up to the whole idea of playing it to my friends and stuff because I never used to like playing it to my friends unless it was totally done in my mind and that was actually kind of having a reverse effect so opening up and playing stuff socially was really helpful towards the end. I mean, we didn’t test it out in a car, but we ended up playing a lot of stuff at home on my flatmate’s sound system and that was working out well. Just putting it on in social situations and not putting too much pressure on it is a nice way to get it out in the public space. You immediately get more perspective on it. But I do really like the idea of playing ot loud – the idea of having it blearing is a good idea because it gets you out of that studio headspace where you internalise everything. I kinda like that idea of Cloud Control.
SW: What do you find are the main differences between a festival crowd and a smaller more intimate gig?
JM: Well they’re both really different. In the sense that outdoors like Laneway we’ll play a slightly shorter set and some of the quieter songs we will not be able to play because it’s a different vibe for a different set. But I think music sounds best outdoors. It’s really nice to be breathing in the fresh air, playing to a group of people in the sun which is a great feeling. But indoors if we do our club shows, we get to play some of the quieter songs and we have some more interesting light shows going and it’s a bit more intimate and a bit more intense.
SW: Have you got any pre-gig routine that you swear by?
JM: Aside from the boring stuff – like me and Oli warming up and sing together – if we have time to exercise I really like to do that but usually I don’t. But yeah, I’m trying to get the other guys to do it, but they haven’t really bought it yet. I’m trying to get them to jump around to get my heart racing a bit more rather than slinking out and I know a lot of bands do that in that they warm up physically. And you know when we start playing big shows I’m sure we’ll do that too.
SW: Is there anyone you’re really keen to hang out with afterwards at Laneway?
JM: There are loads of bands I want to see. I don’t know if I’m going to have the confidence to approach them, but I’ll tell you about the bands I want to see. I’d really like to see Japandroids… Oli and I actually saw them in a few years ago Brooklyn and the funny thing was we both ended up stage-diving which was pretty wild and I’m not a stage-diver at all. It was the first time and I haven’t done it since. But when the opportunity really presents itself, I just did it and I probably won’t stage dive again but I’d still like to see them because they were really fun. And Shlomo – I really like Shlomo – but basically I want to see most of the bands and I’m going to try and spread it out over the 3 Laneway dates that we’re playing. A bit of Alt-J, Bat for Lashes and Holy Other. I like all of those guys.
SW: How did you come up with the name the High Highs? Is it a direct reference to drugs or is it more the style of music you play?
JM: [Laughs] Unfortunately no, I’m afraid we’re a bit of a boring band in the drug sense. None of us really take drugs or anything … But if people like to interpret it that way, that’s cool. But I mean it was actually my dad who was listening to a song 4 years ago and he heard a song called “High Highs” and I really liked the song but more so the name sort of stuck with me. And I talked to Oli about it and we decided that it would be a good name for a band and also it was kind of evocative in that it resonated with what we were doing musically at the time. It was at the time 4 years ago we’d we just written a song called “White Water” – of which a different version of this made it onto the record. I mean I was singing a lot of falsetto at the time and it sort of just fit at the time and it stuck and we haven’t worried about the name ever since. At some point I think you can overthink a name to the point where, fuck, names are just so hard.
SW: You’ve said on your Facebook and Last.fm pages that a huge influence for you guys is silence. Can you elaborate on that?
JM: Part of that is because we try to attain a stillness to our recordings where you can just meditate on the one idea and present it in a really pure way. But at the same time, it’s sort of an anti-influence question because I could say Neil Young who I love and I know I talk about it a lot and your favourite Neil Young song might be “Rockin’ in the Free World” but I’m not particularly influenced by that song at all. Sot I don’t think influences are always a healthy thing to discuss. So the silence thing is on the one hand an anti-influences answer but on the other hand it does sort of represent what we strive for with the recordings. It’s sort of a purity and that’s what we aim for or what we have in the back of our minds when making music all the time. But we really allow the core idea is to breathe in allowing a lot of space on the record.
SW: So it’s more so the silence in the musical space sense than it is about writing or composing your music in silence?
JM: Well, yeah, it’s more to do with the fact we’re influenced by a minimal approach to arrangement. There’s a lot in that but I think the way to sum it up is more like some of the songs like “Pines” and “Open Sea” were written out of the city in Byron bay and at my friend’s farm in Hunter Valley and there is a stillness to the nature and that influenced me specifically with writing but also stillness in the sense of allowing for space and silence in the arrangements was super important for me and Oli when producing the record.
SW: What’s the weirdest/craziest thing a fan has ever done to you?
JM: When we played in Japan once, we’d just come off stage and we were in this place at the hotel that also sells food, but someone had organised and presented Oli with a scrimp cocktail and that was kinda cool. He ate it. I mean I don’t know if that’s the weirdest thing ever, but it was a really nice gesture. We really love food in the band.
SW: What’s Elton John like?
JM: He’s a really nice guy. He wasn’t what I expected because he’s just a musician. I mean He looks amazing, the jewellery on and a jacket with glitter on it. But before I met him, I was just completely shitting myself before he turned up and then pretty quickly that went away when you shake his hand and he treats you like another person. He’s just a very kind generous person. To this day he’s still a working musician, tours a lot, and all the bands his company manages – at Rocket and we’re one of them – he knows so much about all the bands. It’s not like he’s just off being Elton, he’s much more interested and aware of what all the other bands are up to so that sort of humbles you a bit that he’s so caring. He doesn’t have to do that, I suppose. I’m looking forward to seeing him again but I don’t know when that will be.
SW: It must be very exciting for your family and friends to have you back in Aus, will you have plenty of time to see everyone?
JM: Well I came up earlier for two days in Sydney and it was good to see my family. But already we’re down in Melbourne. But I haven’t had much time to see my friends yet, I’m looking forward to seeing them at a couple of the shows in Melbourne and Sydney. But Oli and I have a bit of time at the end of our tour and we’ll be able to catch them then. I’m looking forward aswell to spending a lot of quality time with my pets.
SW: What pets do you have?
JM: Well my family, we have just welcomed into the household a little cat called ‘The Flash’ and a dog and another cat. And also, I haven’t met them yet, but we have two chickens that lay one egg each per day and I’m really looking forward to meeting them and eating their eggs on the weekend. Apparently you just can’t beat the freshness of a fresh egg.
SW: If you could listen to one song on the Moon looking back at Earth, what would it be?
JM: Possibly “Wildlife Analysis” by Boards of Canada just because that’s what came to mind just then.
SW: If fashion wasn’t a concern would you wear lace up or Velcro shoes?
JM: I think I’d stick to lace up because I like the kind of shoes where I tie them once and they stay like that for a few weeks where I can slip them on. I mean, Oli’s sort of the more fashionable one so I think he’d have a completely different answer. But I’m going to stick to lace to make my life easier.
SW: If you could bring any artist back from the dead, who would it be?
JM: Probably Nick Drake because he never got to realise how awesome he was at the time.
SW: What’s on the cards for 2013?
JM: We’re going back to the US after the Australian tour and play some shows. Then we’re doing the UK and beyond that we’ve already got a lot of stuff hanging around for LP 2. I think we’ve learned a lot from what we’ve done with the first LP and I think the second one will be even more exciting. So you can look forward to that. Hopefully it won’t take as long as last time!
You can see the High Highs at Laneway in Brisbane today at 2.20pm!
They’re debut LP Open Season is available now, and you can pick it up from iTunes, Spotify or Rdio! If you want to have a listen on SoundCloud before you buy follow this link: https://soundcloud.com/bossymusic/sets/high-highs-open-season-lp/s-Mhih5