October 2024

Getting So High

the blackmailthe blackmailthe blackmailText: Caroline Clements Images: Mario Camilo

Getting high in New York is pretty easy, especially when you’re two Sydney boys with an alto range. Caroline Clements speaks to Oli and Jack from the High Highs about the upcoming release of their debut LP and how they are trying to be better than Enya.

It was in a derailed train carriage in the a the backstreets of a Brooklyn suburb that I first saw the High Highs play. The carriage, however was not on a moving train, it had been stationery for a while in an iconic bar in New York called Pete’s Candy Store, where this carriage has become the cosy band room. It was their first gig, and the turn-out was small, but it filled the dimly-lit space, with tables of two one behind the other down the side of the carriage.

The High Highs are a three piece band based in New York, but are mostly from Sydney; two of the band of three: Jack Milas (vocals), Oli Chang (keyboard, vocals) and Zachary Lipkins (drums).  I speak to to Aussie boys, Jack and Oli from a studio in New York where they write music for television by day, and have recently been recording their debut album in the evenings. “We’re really close to finishing the album”, Oli notes, “we’re actually working on the last song tonight.”

Composers of jingles for advertising campaigns, TV commercials and short film projects, Jack and Oli are able to write and produce all of their own music. “We have both been writing,” Jack comments of the band’s songwriting. “I mean technically I write the songs but he (Oli) wrote them as well – everything that isn’t the guitar and voice he wrote. It has really turned out to be a 50-50 thing because without Oli the songs are just these weird sounds and he makes them sound like a High Highs song, and there is so much that goes into that.”

The sounds of a High Highs song that Jack speaks of is ambient folk/pop; music that can be down-beat at times, but also has quite a poppy sound in other tracks, coupled with high-pitched vocals. “In a lot of ways it actually feels really anti-commercial, ’cause we work on commercial music all day,” Oli comments. “It’s a totally different headspace, a slightly aloof, psychedelic, simple but ethereal headspace. A friend actually described it the other day as Enya meets Cold Play… I mean I like Enya, and both of those bands obviously have their merits, but I would just hope there’s something a little more special going on (for us). “We can only try to be better, than Enya,” Jack quips.

I’m speaking to two thirds of the High Highs, but the third member who recently joined the band in New York is very much in the picture. “We’ve got this amazing drummer Zach as well”, says Jack. “He’s got this massive room with all this amazing recording gear in his house and basically we just send him an MP3 and a drum track and he sends it back to us.” Originally from Long Island, New Yorker Zack Lipkins is an electronic musician and producer in his own right.

While recording their debut LP, the High Highs have also shot a video clip for their single Ivy. “Our friend Ejay just shot this amazing clip for us and we’re so happy with it, Oli adds. “It’s incredible, he’s a director for MTV and he’s just got such a good eye.” Soon to be release the clip was shot at the Belmont Stakes, which is like the Melbourne Cup of New York.

“It’s pretty incredible the level of professionalism that you get within the people that want to help you”, Jack says. “I guess it’s quite a hard city because there is a lot of really ambitious people here and they are very active, but it’s so great to cross paths with them, and be able to help each other out.”

Though the High Highs are not yet signed to a label, they don’t seem to be to concerned about it. “There’s lots to be said these days about not having record deals so we’re not stuck on the thought we need a record deal, we just want to release the music the best way we can,” says Jack. “But I think you also need to have the infrastructure of a label that understands how to market you music. I mean we can produce it, we can record it, we can get clips made, so we‘re totally in control of all the content, but obviously it’s great to have people to help you with your momentum.”

The band’s name was inspired by the Viva Voce song named High Highs. I’m not familiar with it but Jack tries to sing it down the phone anyway. “We also sing very high,” Oli says, “so it’s also a very literal name describing what we do in a really precise way. And I think it’s nice to have a name that can sum up a band, better than The… Somethings.”

Over in the big smoke the High Highs are playing gigs at locations round the city, from dive bars to raised city gardens, performing on the High Line for the Rooftop Films Company season launch in September. And in amongst writing jingles for the man by day and working on their own music by night, somehow they also manage other projects like making prank call iPhone applications and collaborating on projects with fellow Australian New Yorker, Craig Redman, aka Darcel, (Oli wrote the music for a short animated clip of of Redmond’s illustrated character Darcel for an exhibition that showed earlier in the year at Colette in Paris).

With all this on their plate, the High Highs are busy boys and seem rather content on staying put in the Big Apple for a while.

High Highs

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