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High Places
music impressionists
by: Erin Roof - July 8, 2008

Brooklyn’s own High Places deliver a loosely stitched collage of feel good sounds. If you sucked out the crass punch of noise music, you would find the High Places hiding under a patchwork quilt - the genre’s charming and bookish kid brother. The band’s polyrhythmic clinks and sparse adornments make for music that is a well balanced whole: Take one piece away and it falls like a house of cards pile more on and it becomes gaudy, like plastic rhinestones in the park.

This is the music of staring at cloud-filled skies and stacking color blocks on your first play date. The songs are starry eyed and Mary Pearson’s vocals are as sweet as pie. The crux of the music focuses on the battle between its stunningly organic natural elements and the electronic production. Pearson and her counterpart, Rob Barber, discuss banging on a metal desk and using the simple sound of inhaling and exhaling as percussive mechanisms. Meanwhile, Barber feeds the music through electronic processors, mixing and matching noises until the concoction resembles a bastardized version of its original form, like spinning a color wheel and landing on that line between green and yellow.

Barber and Pearson are both visual artists, and this influence is prominent in their music.
Reverb is High Places’ watercolor. In “New Grace,” sleigh bells dart in between drumbeats, piano gets sucked backwards into the song’s warbly vortex and Pearson’s innocent vocals lull above the chaos, echoing. “Golden” floats and flutters, “Head Spins” snaps your fingers to an indiscernible beat while simple guitar loops dance into each other. “Shared Islands” has Pearson at her most angelic surrounded by drum circle thumping and the happiest of electronic handclaps.

Best yet, High Places are the nicest band in Brooklyn. Take away the snarling beards, skin tight jeans, flash bulb posing and comeuppance of the current incarnation of the indie scene, and there is Pearson and Barber smiling sweetly. I recently sat down with the duo in Williamsburg’s Café 1980. Despite their talents, High Places leave any rock posturing and bravado at the door. In person, they are cheerful and unassuming and totally the opposite of what one would expect from a band that is quickly becoming the underground music media’s darling.

Do you have a band slogan?
Rob Barber: Didn’t we have one for a while?
Mary Pearson: “Two dads hanging out.”
Barber: Yeah. “Have a good time all the time.” When we started we wanted to have more of a positive thing. I listen to tons of angry music, but I’m not an angry type of person. When we started it was easy to be more of a harsh, aggressive band but we just kind of wanted it to be more summery. Not summery… beachy. Beachy? Is that cool?

How did you get together?
Pearson: We have a mutual friend and he introduced the two of us. I was living in Michigan making art. I set up a show for Rob in Michigan. I asked if he needed a roommate in New York. So I moved to New York and we were going to tour with our solo projects and decided to try to write songs together and then it worked out so we started a band.

When was this?
Pearson: It was summer of 2006.
Barber: Yeah, we haven’t been around very long.

How do you describe your sound?
Barber: We’re into having it sounding really rhythmic--but on top of it sounding kind of kind of murky in terms of structure. It’s cool. There can be two different people listening to it and they’re not locking in on the same rhythm. There are a lot of weird layers going through it. It’s kind of poppy and psychedelic.

What are your favorite instruments?
Pearson: I play a lot of wind instruments, so a lot of recorders and a kazoo. One of our new songs has me scratching a banjo and also I was sniffing when I did it and that’s a big rhythmic part of the song.
Barber: It ends up sounding like a snare. We don’t always like to have the sounds sound like what they are.
Pearson: We always used to use this metal desk that our computer’s on. We would kick it and it would kind of sound like a bass drum. We don’t have a live drum set or guitars so we use samples.
Barber: But it’s all treated so it doesn’t sound like what it is.
Pearson: Whenever we do use more conventional instruments we make it sound like something else. We like electronic music but we don’t like electronic sounds—they’re usually really corny. So we’ll use something acoustic but treat it like it’s electric by putting it through a sampler or putting some really weird reverb on it.

What New York bands would you not mind being compared to?
Pearson: I wouldn’t mind being compared to Telepathe. I think the band we are most doing a similar thing with is Lucky Dragons from Los Angeles. We actually just played him our new single and he said, “Guys, I think we’re creating a new genre.” I think what he does is amazing so I’d be totally flattered to be compared to him.

What’s the weirdest thing that has happened to you onstage?
Pearson: There’ve been some weird things. One time I looked up at the sound guy, saw him throw his hands up and walk away from the table.
Barber: He was this weird jazz guy and he was like, “I have no idea what you’re trying to do here.”
Pearson: There was also this enthusiastic guy in Alaska. He kept screaming, “Sandy Feet! Sandy Feet! Play it again! Play it again!” It was really intense. And he came up to me after we played and he just got up in my face and said, “You have to play that song again!” I just said, “Dude, you have to chill.”

What was it like playing Alaska?
Barber: People were crazy and like really really super excited. Being that I’m someone who’s not really comfortable performing. I get really nervous. It was so enthusiastic to the point where I was freaking out. People drink a lot there.

It keeps them warm, at least.
Barber: It was really intense. He freaked us out. I was, like, scared of him.


"I think the band we are most doing a similar thing with is Lucky Dragons from Los Angeles. We actually just played him our new single and he said, “Guys, I think we’re creating a new genre.”

High Places
"03/07 - 09/07"

listen to "

what it is

Ethereal vocals swimming in thick layers of rhythm. Impressionism in music?