Tall Heights, an electronic folk duo, from Boston, MA. Formed in 2009 by Tim Harrington and Paul Wright, keeping their set up simple so that they could perform them on the streets. They joined Sony Records in 2016 with the release of Neptune. They recently toured in support of Judah and The Lion on the "Going To Mars!" Tour.
Josh: How was the transition for you guys going from street performing to performing for sold out crowds on tour?
Paul: There were a lot steps between then and now. I mean we started street performing because we needed more experience and we could only get gigs in shitty bars and that didn’t feel productive for us or people who might be listening. So we were working on figuring out a compelling performance and a way to present our songs that would resonate with people. So obviously that goal stands regardless of the venue. Then we started touring as a duo and playing small rooms and it was a conscious decision for us to play rooms that look more like the room in Indianapolis, instead of like seated rooms. Eventually it lead to us getting the opportunity to open for other bands like Wild Child way back, and then later on Ben Folds, and Judah. I think the biggest challenge is how to translate the exact same performance that was compelling for a small audience to a large audience. Trying to convey that for people to people that are 300 feet away from you and cant see your face, the same way that you do for people standing 5 feet from you standing on the street. As hard as it is being a street performer and dealing with all the elements literally, for the people that found us I think it was an incredibly powerful experience for them that they connected their exploration of the city to a band or a song.
Josh: With that, the music industry has a lot of rejection already, but when you perform on the street do you just prepare yourself that people are going to pretty much walk by and may not even acknowledge you?
Paul: Yeah I quickly learned that a lot of people will just walk on by because its not their thing, and that was an important thing to learn. (laughs) Another lesson is that people value something based on how they see other people valuing it. If we had nobody standing around watching us then everyone will walk by and its hard to sell a cd. Whereas if we have sort of a wrapped audience of 100 people then like 75% of people that walk by will at least stop and be like I clearly need to pay attention to this. I think this is true of the music industry in general not just in live performance, but in terms of how people value your music and how bands can build momentum, which is a challenge but very rewarding when they get the momentum.
Josh: Can you walk fans through the album making process for you guys?Do you guys make a conscious decision on how you will perform a song live when you are putting it on the album?
Paul: It’s definitely an exploration for us, we don’t go in with a singular vision of it before we start. With Neptune we made it over the course of 9 months, we were evolving as a band at that time, and we went into it with a huge list of songs and most of them were not going to make it but the ones that did would hopefully going to be special. That allowed us to shake off a classic studio pitfall of nows the moment and you have to transcribe how you want this to sound, it can be multiple takes but today is this song. It allowed us to be much more casual, which led to a more positive experience for us. We didn’t really think about how it would be to perform live, we just put that to the back of our mind. We’ve done that on the album we are working on now. We want to just work on creating recordings that are fully visualized and then worry about how to play it live later.
Josh: For the new album is that due out later this year, or have you guys planned that out yet?
Paul: We don’t have an official announcement on it yet. But we are very excited to have new songs, and we will have more on that soon. And hopefully be releasing stuff before the album release.
Josh: So lets talk a little bit about the tour with Judah, and The Lion. You were out on tour with them for about 2 months, what’s it been like to be on the road with a band that has been blowing up over the last year or so. What kinds of reaction have you guys gotten? Do you feel like you’ve been received well by their fan base?
Paul: Yeah we feel really lucky to be a part of their tour. Both Judah and The Lion and Colony House are wonderful guys. It is kind of a summer camp feel, doing the same thing with same people and becomes a routine and those people become sort of your home. What’s been cool about these crowds is they show up early, and have been very enthusiastic and attentive. Even when we play for a rowdy crowd we just aim to communicate our songs in our way. We try to create a set that has the full range and keeps people’s attention. We seem to get a lot of people that have maybe heard “Spirit Cold” but not really know much more about us. So its kind of a fresh audience every night to keep them engaged. And Judah called us before the tour to tell us to get them involved and sing along. The importance of having the crowd feel like they are a part of the show is one of the big things we’ve learned from Judah and watching their show.
Josh: If you had to pick 3 songs as must listens to for people checking out the band what 3 songs would they be?
Paul: That is a great question. I would have people start with “Not Like It Was” so they can hear the new direction. Then “Spirit Cold” and for the 3rd track would be either “Two Blue Eyes” or maybe “Fire Escape”.
Josh: Some of our big focuses here at You Make The Scene is community and mental health and depression. There has been such a stigma put around depression and mental health and the music industry is one of the places that a lot of rejection comes from. From your perspective coming from street performing and shitty bars to now, what advice can you give for bands and kids that want to make their moves but don’t know how or are scared of the rejection?
Paul: One of the biggest challenges I think is finding contentment and peace of mind in what, for most bands, is a very long process to get to whatever success, or sustainability or making a career of it. I think that a lot fall into the trap of looking at bands that have done it faster, but there is always going to be someone that does it faster. I remember years and years ago our buddy and kind of mentor, Ryan, said, “Make sure you’re enjoying the ride. I know you aren’t where you want to be but it’s a luxury to make music as a hobby or job.” I think it’s important to find contentment, and I know that may seem like I’m side stepping the question, but I guess its about looking for ways to step outside yourself and find happiness in the small strides. If I were to look back on the shows we played 5 years ago, I would never want to go back to playing those, but 5 years ago if I looked at the calendar at what was coming up I was excited because even though they were small rooms we were moving forward. You have to find the ability to take pride in your growth even if it is small. And I think the 2ndthing would be that everyone has hard times stepping outside of their act and performance and looking at it from the outside to see how their performances and recordings are to others. And whether that is actually their artistic vision or if it is a compromise due to the circumstances of gear, and how many people are in the band, or who is in the band, or whatever. You have to know how to say, “Ok we aren’t where we want to be but here’s what we can do to improve that.”
Josh: It sounds like one of the ways to do that would be to have a friend or someone record the set and then watching or listening to it after the show to see how it came across.
Paul: I think there is definitely value in that. We never really watch any video of our sets, but we have listened to the audio. I think the more you play for crowds and the more they grow you could have those talks after the show you can say “I think we had them until here and we lost them a little.” I think having the courage to listen to audio from your performance is really helpful. Obviously once you have a mixing engineer that can help make the performance sound the way you want it will make listening to them much easier to do. Even if it’s band practice doing a listen back is helpful.
Josh: Awesome, I really appreciate it. Why don’t you tell fans what you guys have planned for the rest of the year and what ever you want to say to people that are going to be coming out to shows.
Paul: I hate being vague but I can’t tell a lot yet. I will say we’ve got some exciting fests this summer, before that I guess I should say we will be back out with Judah and The Lion and Colony House for about 10 days. We will have more announcements about summer club shows and then stay tuned on stuff about new music for us. And definitely thank you for getting out to shows and showing up early to check out the openers and listening to us.