Interview: High Highs (album of the week)
January 29th 2013
High Highs are a duo hailing from Sydney and residing in New York that make dreamy, catchy synth-pop. Despite the fact that Jack Milas and Oli Chang are just starting their career in music, their Cut Copy-meets-Empire of the Sun-esque production has been getting shout outs from the likes of Pitchfork, NME and The Guardian. Returning to the homeland this summer, the boys are playing a string of shows from Laneway to solo gigs in Sydney and Melbourne – featuring material from their debut release, Open Season, currently FBi’s album of the week.
The Flog’s Tom Nall caught up with one half of the High Highs team, Jack Milas, before they come to conquer their hometown.
Flog: You guys have been over for New York for a little while now, how long has it been?
Jack Milas: Ahh, about 3 years probably, just about 3 years. Yeah, it has been a while now.
But yourself and Oli originally met in Sydney?
Yep, we met originally in Sydney and we were kind of making a little bit of music together, but it didn’t really start until we both found ourselves over here about 3 years ago.
So what were your musical backgrounds, how did you guys cross paths?
We met at a studio, Oli was like the assistant at the studio and so he was around. We met through our friends – we had a bunch of mutual friends as well, sort of in the scene or in Sydney anyway. I don’t know, we were friends for ages before we started making music together working here or something and it just kind of felt very natural, we just started doing weird stuff together. The early stuff is never going to see the light of day though, it’s just… it’s pretty weird. The first few songs were pretty…
…Experimental? Maybe you can put them on a B-side or something?
I don’t think anyone’s going to thank me for that [laughs]. I think that they’re staying on my hard drive somewhere.
So what prompted the move to New York? Was it for your musical endeavours first of all or did that come a bit later?
No, I was over here living and working and then he [Oli] was over here as well, he came over about 4-5 months later. And we were like, “Oh, we should pick up that project,” when we both got settled over here – “We should keep playing with those songs you were writing”… Our ideas only really started developing then. The Sydney days were cool and we sort of established a little bit of a vibe then but we really started working hard over here developing into what it is becoming, or has become now.
And what was the original sort of reaction from your gigs in New York?
It was good… well, when we played our first show I was just very very excited to be playing anywhere at all in New York City, and we got that show filmed and when I look back I can’t even watch that. But it was still positive, even though it’s been a journey for us over here and we’ve slowly assembled a team over here. But it was good, and now we’ve finally reached something where the EP came out and the record’s about to come out and we just did our first headline show the other week at a venue called the Mercury Lounge… That was kind of huge for us because we’d been seeing so many bands there, it was a real achievement for us, so it has been really really positive over here!
And it sounds like the reaction pretty much everywhere has been really positive, you’ve been getting a lot of shout-outs from places like Pitchfork, NME and Radio 1…
It seems to be pretty positive which is weird. I mean it’s not weird because it’s a bad record or anything it’s just a strange thing. It’s great that people seem to identify with it, we’ve just made the record that we wanted to make and we haven’t really thought about it much, other than following our intuitions… so the fact that other people are feeling the same way that we do is just a bonus. The LP is really just expanding on what the EP did… you know… you like the EP, you’ll like the record [laughs].
How do you find the reaction in Australia has been compared to overseas, have you found that we’ve caught onto it as quickly?
Well I mean the EP was out for a while before it came out in Australia, it just took a while for all that to come together. But now that it is out it seems to have gone really well. I haven’t been back yet but I mean my parents and all my friends, its very weird I’m getting a lot of messages and emails and Facebook comments of people saying they heard it on Triple J or FBi or wherever – and that’s really weird for me because I never really thought… I mean, I used to listen to them when I was driving around Sydney and I never really thought we would be on there or anything! It seems to be really positive.
In the live setting, have you had a chance to figure out exactly what you’re going to be doing? Do you play your tracks verbatim or extend upon what you’ve done on the record?
The live sets are a bit more raw. The album sound is very lush, at least to us, and the live show is a bit more raw and stripped down because it’s me, Oli and Zach [Lipkins] on the drums, but we’re all sort of doing a lot… it’s definitely a big sound but with some more intimate moments as well. Oli has a very complex setup that I cant really begin to understand, so it’s sort of a landscape, the sound is a big wash. The live set is actually like a journey and the songs feel very live still, which is cool, it’s an ever-changing thing where we’re changing a bit from the last few shows we’ve done in New York to the shows we’re going be doing in Australia. It’ll be a bit different and always expanding on the core songs, so we’re really psyched that it’s going to be a bit different.
Does the album have a narrative that you try to translate at all?
Well, no, I mean … the songs on the record come from a lot of different places, and some of them didn’t come easily and some of them felt very natural and some of them we had to go looking for them a bit. But I think narrative-wise, I wouldn’t want to discuss lyrics or anything like that, it’s kind of intense for me to listen to some times. I think the take-away emotion is whatever you want to take from it, but it’s there and it’s a very honest record in that way.
… It’s up for peoples’ own interpretation.
Absolutely, I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s the way I’ve always enjoyed music and I think that’s what we’ve tried to do with this record, definitely.
Lastly, how would you go about describing High Highs to someone who has never listened to you before?
Well I guess I would describe it if I had to as ‘ambient pop’, there are some folky influences… but we listen to a lot of electronic music as well and we love synths and we love warms sounds. I think ambient pop as a genre, but with a focus on melody. But hopefully rooted in some kind of classic song structure if you will, but that’s not the case for all songs.
Open Season is our album of the week on FBi: 24th – 31st January 2013
WHAT: High Highs tour
WHEN: Thursday 31st January
WHERE: Oxford Art Factory, 38-46 Oxford St, Darlinghurst
HOW MUCH: $35 from moshtix
We’ve got FIVE double passes to give away to the Highs Highs gig at OAF on Thursday! Just email email@example.com with your best double-trouble band name. (eg. Dumb Dumbs, or No Nos… you can do better than that!)