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Interview: High Places

LA via Brooklyn based duo High Places is Mary Pearson and Rob Barber, two multi-instrumentalist who have worked together since 2006 yeilding some really uncanny collaboration — a relationship that shines throughout their songbook of coming up three LPs and mezmorizing live performances.

With a well-tailored spot on the always imaginative Thrill Jockey roster, High Places has recently announced the release date for their third full-length Original Color due out October 11th, naturally declaring “it’s totally a Libra!” on their Facebook page.

Speaking with Mary and Rob you get a sense of a reciprocal energy towards their art flourished with a long-running technical savvy that surfaces throughout their strange textures and smeared pop songs. We exchanged a few questions about their relocation to LA, the geographical inspiration for the new album, and even scored some good advice about how to eat vegan on the road!

So you guys recently announced the release date for your third LP which was recorded in your home studios in LA. When you were based in Brooklyn how did your recording set-up differ? Do you have more room to work with now?

M: When we lived in Brooklyn, we were roommates. We had a really rudimentary set-up in the corner of the loft with Rob’s geriatric desktop Mac and a bunch of musical odds and ends. Those were the days where we did everything related to the band side-by-side, including responding to emails!

In LA, we’ve lived in separate houses, but always within a rough mile of each other. We each have a home studio where we record our respective contributions. Most of the song construction is then done together at Rob’s house. It’s a nice walk to his house from mine.

You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you are very inspired by nature and its patterns of sound–being in a traveling band you get to experience that literally all over the world. Are there any specific places that have really inspired Original Colors?

M: The lyrics in Original Colors were largely inspired by Australia and Mexico. We’ve had the amazing luck to play both countries multiple times, and they are some of my favorite places to be. The wildlife in Australia fascinates me. It’s so specific to the place, and Australians really seem to know the names of their flora and fauna. There’s a sense of raw isolation in both Australia and parts of Mexico that I find ceaselessly inspiring.

R: NYC and Philadelphia was where I have spent most of my life. When I was younger (late 80’s, early 90’s) I was very much involved in the urban side of NYC and Philadelphia culture,  particularly hardcore (CBGB matinees), hip hop, graffiti, and sneaking into dance clubs. It was WAY different then!

As I got older and the city changed, I was charmed into being more escapist in my art and music, sorta dreaming about some idealistic Topanga Canyon, wind chime-y, Cali life. When we started HP it seemed so alien to me and often still does at times.

Now that I am here in California it is less about escapism and more about just absorbing where we are at a given moment, so now urban places like London, Sao Paulo, Santiago, Tokyo, Berlin, Prague, Lisbon, and LA for sure, they really inspire my aesthetic feelings about music but still being able to explore the natural parts of those countries offers a nice twist, being that I am sort of a earthy dude at heart.

Something that really comes across in your music and visual presence is a sense of preservation–you collect sounds, post an incredible amount of pictures, and re-use and mix the pieces into your art. Is that collector mentality a shared passion?

M: I’ve never thought about that, but I think you are correct. Just a quick glance at Rob’s immense vinyl collection, and it’s pretty apparent the dude is a collector. And that’s even after he parted ways with tons of records when we moved from New York. I have always been disciplined at keeping blogs and diaries and photo albums. I like the ordered chronology to them. Making field recordings and taking photos allows us to record moments that are otherwise so fleeting.

R: I am sorta of trying to be less of a pack rat! I really want to invest more in my memories, but more like how you idealize things. I sorta stopped taking photos, except if it is for a specific project. I moved out here with basically just our music stuff and our sound system. I actually built all new furniture when I got out here. Now I basically just pick up rocks everywhere we go and bring them home. So I think I just remix my memories, which honestly makes for some weird ideas sometimes because I am about as lucid as Mr. Magoo.

Your Flicker account is a mecca of food porn, I mean, vegan meals. Is it difficult to find vegan-friendly spots on the road? Do you have any tricks when you’re on tour?

M: Luckily it’s gotten really easy to find vegan food in the States. I will admit that I’m a bit of a Whole Foods junkie on tour. I can get a muffin and a coffee and a salad in the morning before we drive to the next city, and then I’m set until dinner. There’s a sameness about the stores that is comforting to me when I’m on the road.

A big reason we have that Flickr account is to share our food discoveries with our other vegan touring friends. Having a specific diet makes us that much more excited when we’re presented with nice things to eat. And colorful produce is very photogenic.

R: Whole Foods makes me feel confused and disoriented. I walk in and it is so big, I just forget what I am hungry for. Although shaving in their bathroom is nice, and generally the toilet seats are clean.  I never feel like it I am suffering on tour because of my choice of diet. I think being vegan just allows you to appreciate the simplicity of really basic food.

This past May, High Places celebrated its’ fifth birthday–congrats on that! If your five-years-ago selves could get a glimpse of where you’re at in 2011, what would they be most surprised to find?

M: Thank you! It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around all the changes that have happened over the past five years. We were introduced by our mutual friend Beau Velasco, and we have often discussed how almost everything in our current lives can be traced back to that initial meeting in December 2005. I would never have believed we would still be collaborating half a decade later. That would seem too good to be true.

Thanks so much Mary and Rob!

Don’t miss High Places Saturday, August 13th at Tammany Hall with ITAL // SHAMS

Get yr tickets HERE

For all general enquiries and hate mail, please reach us at info@popgunpresents.com or tweet us @popgunpresents

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