Band On A Mission- Highly Suspect
Photography by Kurt Anno
Raw, dirty and somewhat chaotic. No. this isn’t a description of an adult movie. These are a few words that jump out at you when you listen to the sound of Grammy-nominated band, Highly Suspect. This power trio from New York, via Cape Cod has jumped onto the music scene head first in what seems like a very short period of time. While it might seem that this is a band that has fallen ass-backward into good fortune, the fact of the matter is that these guys have worked tirelessly since 2009 to make their mark. And now it is now paying off in spades. The sound you hear on their debut release, Mr. Asylum is the same sound you will hear live. Crunchy, punky, bluesy and hard. It’s this sound that caught the attention of 300 Entertainment, an independent boutique label distributed by Atlantic Records and founded by industry veterans Lyor Cohen, Roger Gold, Kevin Liles, and Todd Moscowitz. Mr. Asylum features 10 tracks that are all evidence of personal beliefs and personal struggles. Grammy Nominated for Best Rock Group and Best Rock Song for Lydia, the band has garnered industry props from all directions.
Made up of vocalist/guitarist Johnny Stevens and brothers Rich and Ryan Meyer on bass and drums respectively, this is a high energy, in-your-face band. If you like the Black Keys, Jack White and other “stripped-down” sounds, then this is a band definitely worth checking out. However, Highly Suspect stands alone in their style and sound. Mr. Asylum is an album that is not over-produced and that on the surface, seemingly simplifies the recording process. Produced by Brooklyn-based Joel Hamilton, whose credits include Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello among a host of others, has seen to it to produce the live sound that reaches out and smacks you upside the head. All of the tracks on the album were recorded live in the studio, with only minor tweaks to the guitar parts and the vocal tracks by Stevens. This is a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get album. That’s what makes this album stand out. The live show is no different. Tons of energy spews forth from all three members with loud guitar and pounding rhythms. This seems to truly be a group effort where no one stands out in front of the other. The feel of the music is very natural as each of the guys is totally connected with each other.
Onstage Magazine sat down with the trio for a brief conversation:
OnStage: What was it like being nominated for not one, but two Grammy’s?
Johnny Stevens: It was fucking surreal. It was unexpected being nominated.
OS: What was the coolest thing that you experienced at the Awards Show?
JS: Hanging out with Pamela Anderson. that was pretty cool. Also got to speak with the guys in Muse.
OS: Muse is one of your influences, correct?
JS: Definitely. Among others.
OS: Who are some of the others?
JS: Pink Floyd, Police, Hendrix. The list goes on and on.
OS: What is the process for songwriting? Johnny, you write most of the lyrics?
JS: Yes. However, we all come up with the riffs and pieces of songs that we’ll bring to each other and see if anything happens.
OS: What was it like working on this album with producer Joel Hamilton?
JS: He was amazing. Wonderful. We plan on working with him on the next album as well. He has a very straight forward approach which fits us well.
OS: Were the songs recorded live then?
JS: Yes. We would do as many takes as it took and then we would have the basic recording. Having it done like that, would then allow us to go in an tweak the guitar here or there. I would then go in and record the vocal track separately though.
OS: I read that you have suffered and maybe still do from anxiety and panic attacks. How do you handle that when you are playing in front of thousands of people?
JS: Actually, on stage is the one place that I don’t have to deal with that. Being on stage is the one time that I’m not anxious. It’s the idle time. Time when there is nothing going on that the anxiety and attacks become an issue. Ryan suffers from anxiety as well. We don’t like to take the meds though. We just don’t want to be robots. So staying busy and focusing on the music is pretty good medicine.
OS: Are those issues the basis for the song Mr. Asylum?
JS: Definitely. It’s about struggling. In fact, most of the songs are about struggling for the most part.
OS: There are some pretty dark lyrics in most of your music.
JS: But it’s therapeutic. I have had people tell me that the lyrics in my songs actually help them as well. So it’s cool if it is helping someone else too.
OS: Where do you see the music going from her forward?
JS: We don’t really know. There is no real goal. We will just let things happen as they will in an organic way. We are having a lot of fun and we love to travel. We just got done with our first tour of the UK and we will be heading back as well as to New Zealand and Australia and Japan in the future.
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