Relationships are often created in the unlikeliest places at the unlikeliest times. At hand is a particular duo that met as one half pursued a music degree in bassoon performance and the other worked in visual art while teaching etching and lithography. Meet Mary Pearson and Robert Barber, the pair better known as High Places.
The Brooklyn, NY duo began their fruitful union by collaborating and releasing what they casually refer to as, “a series of miniature fully-realized albums”—or in other words, a string of singles consisting of an amalgamated mix of tribal beats, underwater samples and vocals exploring all things fantastical with a sonically-endearing, childlike wonder. Eventually archived by Thrill Jockey, the resulting set of singles were culled together and released earlier this year as an album under the rather lackluster title 03/07– 09/07 to both critical acclaim and general fanfare.
According to both Pearson and Barber, they are similarly like-minded musicians that possess differing personalities that just happen to get along really well—and luckily, “High Places has blossomed into a very organic, natural extension of that odd friendship.” Furthermore, they will readily admit that although they love making music, their primary motivation for starting a band was to be able to travel and tour together. Now that their self-titled debut is hitting record stores everywhere—also out on Thrill Jockey—this twosome has the fortunes to be able to travel fulltime, driving their hypnotic sounds directly to the masses. But keep in mind, it’s never as easy as it seems.
“As far as the ability to play it live, it’s a constantly evolving thing,” says Pearson. “We use so many different instruments when we’re making our music that we just can’t play them all. So, we are constantly trying to figure out how to make our live show better. It’s important to us that High Places remain a two-piece—and pretty mobile so we can travel to all sorts of crazy places. Also, I think there is a big element where people aren’t always sure what instruments we’re using to create our sound.”
“And we like that,” adds Barber.
“It’s not as though we’re trying to be mysterious,” continues Pearson. “We’ll gladly tell anyone what we’re using. But, I think that kind of creates an environment where people can interact with us and interpret our sound more—if someone wants to hear steel drums, they can hear steel drums. If we had these glass cups Robby was banging on and I was playing the bassoon I feel the audience would be too distracted to even listen to the music. Instead they would be watching the spectacle. So, we’ve always wanted to be able to connect to the audience more—which is why I mostly just sing live, even though I play a lot of instruments during the recording process. That way it’s more up to the listener. If they were sitting there watching us create all those things it would take away from that mystique.”
Another key aspect generating that aforementioned mystique is the fact that they find influences in the most improbable places, as opposed to just standard rock bands and musical genres. Both of them really like performance art, not to mention the visual approaches to creating. They also happen to love southeastern Utah.
“I’ve been to Utah a lot, just for the sake of being there, not on tour,” says Barber. “I really like the whole state. It’s probably the most geologically diverse place in the entire country. It blows my mind how fast the terrain changes, how you can go from high-alpine to desert in 20 miles. There’s something about the vastness of it too, I’ve never heard such silence in my life.”
“We have a song on our new album called, ‘From Stardust to Sentience,’” adds Pearson. “It’s about being in southeast Utah looking up at the stars and getting really freaked out because the stars are so in your face and there’s nothing else around and you’re thinking about your own mortality, your relationship to the universe.”