High Places | The Summit | May 25th, 2010 | Columbus, OH
Photos by Ed Luna
It was a quiet Tuesday night in Columbus when I arrived at The Summit. I was a bit early for the interview, so I sat down at the bar and called up Ed. He was just getting off the exit. I looked around curiously. The crowd at the venue was thin, which surprised me. About a month earlier, High Places had to cancel their show in Columbus for a reason even unbeknownst to them. It was rumored their van had broken down, but during their set, Rob clarified that the van had been nothing but good to them, and didn’t want to jinx it with whispers of malfunction. “We don’t want bad karma,” he said. ”It’s actually ‘vanma’!” joked Mary followed by a dorky laugh.
We had stepped out for the interview in front of the venue just before their set. The streets were quiet… until I pressed the record button on my phone. Planes soared noisily overhead and macho men on crotch rockets kept zooming by.
KP: To start out, how did you guys meet each other?
Rob: Well, Mary lived in Michigan in Kalamazoo. I lived in New York and friends of mine were on tour. They played in Michigan and she played one of her first solo shows with them and they became kinda friendly. So, she came and visited NY just for a bassoon lesson, because she plays bassoon. We ended up linking up through our mutual friends that she played with. Kind of immediately we were like, “Oh you have a solo project? I just started a solo project too!” This was the days of Myspace when people actually used that website. We listened to each others things and thought it was really cool. We kinda became really good friends. A couple weeks later, I mean, really fast, we just started talking all the time on the phone. Then she set up a show for me in Kalamazoo when I did a tour with this other band I’m friends with in NY. We became even better friends after that. A few months later she asked if she could move in with me in NY and then we just started making music immediately. It kind of just snowballed from there.
KP: So what is your creative process like?
Mary: Well we both make little recordings all the time. When we lived together we would just be checking email or something and the other person would be tapping and we would record it. We have a ton of those files.
Rob: Really lo-fi media type recordings of different sounds.
Mary: It’s kind of like a sketchbook. We might have an idea for a beat and we just like, basically, say the beat and make a recording out of that. A lot of times when we craft our songs we end up using those really raw recordings for the basic structure of the beat. We just edit them a lot to make them fit together. But it’s a lot of layering different recordings. We make a good part of our music just with those recordings, cutting and pasting, doing a lot of things to manipulate the sounds and the change of the pitch.
Rob: It’s like scrapbooking. It is like making a zine out of using only a photocopier.
Mary: We use guitars a lot. Like, our early music was, I’d say like 60% plus percent of it was guitar just manipulated. On this record we decided not to manipulate the guitars quite as much so we could play them live.
Rob: Yeah, before everything was like slowed down, sped up… you know? So the mixing of the records were impossible to recreate live.
Mary: And then vocals come in at some point. Usually towards the end. But not always, sometimes we start with vocals.
Rob: So its pretty immediate and really back and forth.
KP: I hear your cats interfere a lot. [Laughter]
Rob: Yeah they have, for sure. But, its ok.
KP: So you just came back from a tour in Europe. How many days ago did you get back?
Mary: We just got back about three days ago. Saturday night.
Rob: We were in Europe for 5 weeks. Then we played Baltimore, D.C., and then here.
KP: That is pretty… bang! Bang! bang!
Mary: Yeah, I think we may still be jetlagged. [Laughs]
Rob: We left on March 19th, so it was kind of a long time ago. We like it, we’re not complaining.
Mary: We just haven’t had adequate sleep in a couple months.
Rob: My sinuses have a hard time catching up. Literally it was like, 2 shows in Norway, 2 shows in Portugal, then Baltimore, then D.C. and then here.
Ed (photog): Let me here you complain more! [Laughter]
Rob: [Laughs] No that’s a minor complaint, pollen. I’m just complaining about my sinuses. Other than that its fantastic!
KP: Mary, you were in an orchestra all throughout high school and your child hood. I was an orchestra geek too…
Mary: Oh, yeah? Wait, string instrument?
KP: Yeah, violin.
Mary: Violin, ok. I have kind of a gift for guessing peoples instruments.
KP: Aw, I shouldn’t have said violin so quickly. What was your high school experience like being an orchestra geek?
Mary: Yeah, I took 4 music classes out of 6. It was choir, jazz band, band, and independent study band… which is a cool thing I made up. [Laughs] And then I did an orchestra outside of school too. Yeah, it was always a big part of my life. My mom is a music teacher. My grandfather was a music instructor. It was a big part of our family. I’m the youngest so I think I was the one who really wanted to go for it. But, I feel like I had to try a bit harder than my siblings with the music thing. They were such natural musicians. Maybe it made me appreciate it more because I’m not quite as natural at it? Then I studied orchestral music in college too.
KP: Had either of you done looping, layering, and mixing before you guys met?
Mary: Yeah, we were both doing different versions of that. Like, I was using cassette tape field recordings with my solo project. And Rob was doing pretty similar construction to High Places.
Rob: But the big difference is, when we met, we really hadn’t done too much outwardly with our solo stuff. I had been making recordings for a long time since probably about the late 90’s but I never let anyone hear them until a few years ago. I was sort of a late bloomer.
KP: Now to the really fun questions… Do you guys know the music blog Yvynyl? Run by Mark Schoneveld in Philly?
KP: He wants to know if you would like to go on a date next time you are in Philly.
Rob: Me? Or her?
KP: Mary. [Laughter]
Mary: [Blushes] Umm, I’d have to ask permission for that I guess.
Rob: She’s totally taken.
Mary: I said I’d have to ask permission!
Rob: She’s like, “I’d have to see him first.”
KP: He’s a self proclaimed urban woodsman. You’d like him.
KP: [Laughter] Joe from Bear in Heaven asked, “When was the last time you popped one off?”
Rob: [Laughs] This morning. We popped off about a dozen. We stopped at a party supply store.
Mary: Yeah, we’re always popping them off.
Rob: We can’t stop. It’s a sickness. [Laughter]
KP: What exactly is popping off?
Rob: We’d tell you but then…
Mary: It’s when people have a balloon-popping fetish.
Rob: We were on tour with Bear in Heaven and Mary’s sister’s boyfriend had sent her a link to a YouTube video. At first it was really dark, and it kind of made me sad. And then I realized that this guy was just like, totally cool with it and totally stoked on himself. It’s a little old man in boxer shorts in a room filled with balloons. He has a thing for sitting on balloons until they pop.
Mary: At the end of the video he’s like, “Do you like popping off? Email me if you like to pop off. firstname.lastname@example.org… or something.
Rob: I guess it feels…. Well we’ve tried it actually. We all tried it. We weren’t like nude or in our boxers. We tried it with clothes. You’re kind of sitting there and there is this tension like, “When is it going to pop?!” and then it pops!
Mary: Weirdly enough, whenever we play with Bear in Heaven there are balloons around.
Rob: Yeah, we played in Amsterdam and we showed up to their sound check and they had found this massive phallic display of balloons that they found on the street. It looked like a yogurt explosion but it was just what balloons. It was kind of uncanny.
KP: Oh goodness, well that explains a lot. He didn’t give me any background. He just texted me today and said, “I saw you’re interviewing High Places. Ask them when was the last time they popped one off.”
Rob: We played a place, I don’t remember what city it was. But Bear in Heaven were coming a few days later and we told the venue to make sure there was a bunch of balloons there. We didn’t tell them why…