High Places is Mary Pearson and Rob Barber. The two make dreamy experimental pop. Their music has tropical influences and is electronic in nature. They like nature. They live in California but used to be a “Brooklyn band.” The two-some just released a split with Soft Circle, their contribution, “Late Bloomer,” the 11-plus-minute behemoth of a melancholy yet gut-wrenching song, is below the Q&A. (stream it here.) The song is a little Alice in Wonderland like for the first couple of minutes, but then it breaks out. So good.
High Places are very busy, always touring and making music, and this Friday they play at the Guggenheim Museum. I can’t think of a place with better acoustics…be there!
Read on for the differences between Cali and BK songwriting, what Rob thinks of Todd P, being food nerds and much more.
Q. How is California? Why did you relocate?
Mary: California is great! We had talked about moving here from the very start of High Places. Seasonal depression sucks, and every winter in New York I swore I couldn’t do another.
Rob: I was in NYC most of my life, and it is of course awesome on so many levels. But change is good. I am pretty “outdoorsy” and CA is a pretty good place for that. That is mostly the reason for me. I enjoy very different things about both NY and LA. I can’t really compare them. I had some UK friends in town lately and we all agreed that NYC has more in common with London, than LA.
Q. Is the “scene” there more inspiring in some ways? Your music feels natural, inspired by beauty and nature perhaps, does California aid that? But, you live in L.A. right?
Rob: We joked that our next record was going to be like industrial. I actually started wearing more black when I moved out here.
Mary: Los Angeles is full of beautiful plants and wildlife. Rob and I both live next to mountainous, rugged parks that are great for hiking and running. There are lizards who live in my garden, and I saw a coyote near my house the other day. It’s funny because I think I wrote more nature-inspired lyrics when we lived in Brooklyn. I guess writing about what you don’t have is a common thing.
Q. Do you miss Brooklyn? How often do you get back?
Mary: This will be my first time back to New York since February. Feels like it’s been a really long time and I’m excited to return!
Rob: I was just back a couple weeks ago visiting family. I have been back in NY still like once a month almost. I still have a lease there, just subletting to my friends. One thing that is important to note about our move, was that for the last year or so we were on tour pretty much constantly, with maybe like a week at most off here and there. It started to feel to me that my actual location was pretty metageographical. So basically the world became a very big place in that time. I have grown to feel less attached to being “home”, or “still”.
Q. You are one of the early Brooklyn bands that received a lot of attention in the media. Why do you think that is? Your music isn’t exactly “accessible.”
Mary: I think we sort of seemed like a recession band before there was even a recession. We did things cheaply and by ourselves, and maybe that made us stand out.
Rob: That, and we enjoy playing and touring constantly, particularly very early on. For me I really felt were not accessible at all, to either the weirder bands, or the mainstream. I think it was important to us very early on to be very in the present and engaged in terms of how we were to people we would meet. I think we made a lot of friends with other like-minded bands, that were also doing a lot of the legwork themselves, especially on tour, in other cities. I think we were really into the idea of playing with really different types of bands as well.
Q. Do you miss the DIY/Todd P/Brooklyn scene? Or do you feel you’re still a part of it, or part of something new in L.A.?
Mary: We’ve always felt like our community is not limited to location. Bands travel so much that address often seems sort of irrelevant.
Rob: Todd is pretty much the best example on earth of doing it yourself under adverse conditions. Of course there are other people in other cities doing awesome things, but in NY it is so so so difficult to pull off what Todd has done. A place out here, like the Smell (which is of course amazing in it’s own right), is established and consistent, but you could never pull that off in a place like NY. So I do miss how constantly evolving the scene was in NY, primarily due to the fact that Todd was constantly having to change and evolve from location to location because of all the pressure coming from the fact that alcohol sales rule all in NY and ages shows in NY are viewed as the enemy by the city and most promoters. I do miss that spirit a lot. I don’t miss the whole “Brooklyn is the center of the universe” thing… But I think that was put on Brooklyn by outside forces.
Q. How do you write songs?
Mary: Lots of back-and-forth and workshopping ideas. We don’t really have a set method.
Rob: It has been pretty collage-like in the past. Sometimes it is like us just literally giving each other little pieces to work off of and respond to, and other times it comes from little collab jams. We lately have been trying different things with new songs so we don’t feel locked in to a process.
Q. What inspires you to make music?
Mary: Pretty much everything, I guess. As cheesy as it sounds, music and my family have been the two constants in my life, and I’m sure they always will be.
Rob: I am pretty well known by my friends as someone with the attention span of squirrel who just dug up a crack vile in the park. Music is pretty much the only thing that calms me down and makes me relax. I would be out on a corner screaming at the sun if it wasn’t for music in my life.
Q. Your Flickr page consists mainly of pictures of cats and vegan food eaten on the road. Care to explain?
Mary: A lot of times we take photos of food we eat on tour so we can remember the restaurant, and so we can recommend it to friends. Plus, I think food photographs so nicely. Cats do too! Especially our lovely feline friends Cosmonaut and Granola.
Rob: Most of our good friends who tour a lot are also total food nerds. Maybe our food photos are almost like hobo graffiti on freight trains, telling people what to look for in different zones.
Q. What is in store for High Places? What do you have coming up?
Mary: Ooh, we have lots of ideas right now! Lots of new stuff!
Rob: Hiding out and Working. Working. Working…. Like my favorite fortune cookie once told me: “Keep your plans secret for now.”
Q. You just released a split 7” with Soft Circle. How did that come to be?
Rob: It was actually a 12″. Well, us and Hisham are like super tight, and have toured a bunch together, and we just wanted to put that friendship on record, like a yearbook. Splits and ep’s are also cool places to try new things…. like a 12 min song.
Q. What does “Two dads hanging out mean,” as it says on your blogspot?
Mary: It’s totally literal.
Q. What are you listening to these days?
Mary: Kool Keith, Underworld, Power 106
Q. If you could play with any musician/band, still together or otherwise, who/what would it be?
Mary: Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel conducting.
Rob: Grateful Dead and Siege.
Q. Rob, saw that N.J. documentary clip on your site, funny! Mary- you’re from Ohio right? Do you have similar (or some kind) of nostalgia? What does yours look like?
Mary: I’m from just north of Kalamazoo, Michigan, from a town called Plainwell. I get nostalgic for Vernor’s soda (I mean “pop”), and for Lake Michigan and for apple-picking in the fall.
Rob: For the record, I am NOT from Jersey. I have just been know to hang out there.
High Places: Late Bloomer