Saturday, March 8, 2008

HIGHBINDER - The Highs That Bind - Interview!

A really good question came up over on the site awhile back about “sophomore slump” records. You know, the band puts out a complete blinder for their debut and then, either through brain-lock or bad advice dumps a clinker on us 2nd time around. Well, what about the band that starts out solid enough, hinting at greatness and then proceeds to open up more jets than the Blue Angels on their next one, let’s call it the “sophomore explosion.” Think Priest unleashing “Sad Wings Of Destiny” after “Rocka Rolla,” that kinda thing. Well, this very same sort of Technicolor, panavision follow-up has been accomplished by Michigan/Ohio-based HIGHBINDER, with their massive “Moreneverthanever,” a disc that impressed so much around the ‘REALM that it came in a strong #2 on my 2007 Album of The Year list. Taking a base in pure, raw metal they bring in influences from hard rock, country & industrial and they do so without muddying the waters but rather, stirring them up into a boiling cauldron. Or…well, lets’ just say they’re real freaking good. Recently, I had the opportunity to pose some questions to the HIGHBINDER guys and the results are one of my absolute favourite interviews ever on this site, as well as one of the most entertaining. Handled mostly by drummer Nick, the rest of the band kicked in here & there but due to the sensitive and weird nature of the questions and answers, they will strictly be known collectively as…wait for it…HIGHBINDER.

RAY - You guys are called HIGHBINDER. It was mentioned to me by an associate that this is in some way related to smoking herbal materials. Having never ventured near a substance frowned on by the US Gov’t in my entire life (by the way, I have some swampland in lower Alabama for you to take a look at after we’re done here), I wasn’t sure. Can you fill us in on your choice of band monicker?

HIGHBINDER - In our younger days, working on building the railroad in the old American West, discrimination against us was a common occurrence on account of our rich Asian heritage. While not technically slaves, we were the next best thing. We worked day and night, driving rails. During this time, although we had pretty cool hats, an idea was forming in our heads about what we should do when the rails were all laid. Years passed, and finally, when they drove the golden spike at Promontory, our time had come. All we needed was a name. Enter Highbinder. Where did it come from you ask? In ol' Frisco where the first Chinatowns grew, the local yakuza employed hatchet men, called 'highbinders' by the white folks. They literally carried hatchets and chopped dudes up. A fine tradition that carries on to this day! We wanted to be part of that glorious tradition, and here we are. Yes we smoke dope.

RAY - It was once told to me that the best place to start is at the beginning. Since I’ve already fucked that up and this is the 2nd question, I’ll just say “fuck it.” Then, after I say “fuck it,” since that isn’t a question, I’ll ask this: How did y’all get interested in music? And, yes, I mean from the beginning, for God’s sake. If you’re mother went to a Fred Waring concert when she was pregnant with you (mine did…sheesh!) , we want to know about it. Points for knowing who Fred Waring was.

HIGHBINDER - Knowing that you attended a Fred Waring concert en utero explains your pleasing diction, and I'm sure that if you were to sing your questions we'd understand you completely! No one could stress those consonants like old Fred. Old dead Fred. Back to the 2nd question at hand. It's not easy getting into music, but that's the benefit of being as skinny and pointed as we are. We can fit through holes most people wouldn't even SEE. We can even do that Lethal Weapon strait jacket trick (but only for money, which I think was the main moral lesson of that movie). The problem is, once you get in, you can't get out. Its reruns of “The Prisoner” for the rest of our worthless lives. What I don't get is, after seeing first hand how hard it is to get into music, how can you explain the Fat Bassist Union? It'd be like stuffing an orca down its own blowhole. And yet...there they are...

RAY - By this time, we should know why you’re called HIGHBINDER. What we’d now like to know is why ARE you HIGHBINDER? In other words, what led to the 4 of you coming together and deciding to make the Gosh-darn unholy racket you insist on making?

HIGHBINDER - Andy's dad is Captain Kirk. Nuff said. One song DONE. Actually, to tell you the truth, we're not even sure ourselves. The only analogy I can think of is bread mold. Leave four pieces of bread in your glove box, throw in some cottage cheese, donate car to brother in law. Two years later when you get it back, we'll be in that glove box, wondering how we got there. We are penicillin.

RAY - I understand that 2 of you are from Ohio & 2 are from Michigan. How the hell does that work? My 13 year old son is a geography bee dude, but I’m not. No, he did not actually win a geography bee, he is actually a small winged insect with a map tattooed to his body. Don’t ask…. Anyway, are half of you living in one state & half in the other? Are they that close? Do you practice over the phone? What the hell is going on with all that?!

HIGHBINDER - It's part of our work release program. Community outreach services blow! But yes, two in Michigan, two in Ohio. Southeast Michigan is the net that catches all the garbage coming from Detroit, however the weave is too open, which allows all the used tampons to slide through to Toledo. Toledo is the pearl of the skanky vag that is northwestern Ohio. As you can see, it's a perfect fit! Seriously, we all live like ten minutes away from each other. If they ever build that border fence between the states, we're royally screwed.

RAY - Quick, we have a red-light challenge! (I was just watching Cash Cab). I just did a mad-lib thing based on “The Night Before Christmas” with some friends & what I brought away from that was the following question: Is it possible for one to lay one’s urethra aside of one’s nose? Your take?

HIGHBINDER - Is this some kind of trick question? I haven't been able to detach the damn thing no matter how hard I try. It's always poking me in the eye. I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt, so I'll go off by myself and cry. It's not cool to make fun of peoples' horrifyingly disfiguring genital face attachments. YOU try goin to the bathroom like this; we'll see whose laughing then! That's right, GOD. And when God laughs, puppies frolic, so it's cool.

RAY - Your first album (God, I love saying “album” in this age of the 80-minute recordable medium!), “All The Way To Hell” was pretty damn straight-forward. Now before you start getting all hissy on me, I’m not saying straight-forward is bad. I like straight-forward and gave the album a good review…so good in fact, that you sent me a t-shirt. Still, when I heard “Moreneverthanever” for the first time, it was like you suddenly went from a black & white copy to a full-length feature in Panavision & Surround-Sound. You guys really opened up some new doors on this one! I’m hearing everything from country to industrial. Any commentary?

HIGHBINDER - Actually, we totally agree with you about that straightfoward thing, also that it's not necessarily a bad thing. Dare I say we were rushed into recording the All the Way To Hell... yes I do. Go into the studio, and three mind crushing, ear piercing, foreskin flapping days latter we had our first album. Not bad, quite enjoyable really, but it was clear to us that we hadn't fully delved into what we were capable of yet. The first thing we did when we got out of that studio was start work on the songs for the next album, trying to go places that we hadn't even thought possible for ourselves.
Some bands rally around other bands to form their sound. Not us. Emulation is flattery, but also masturbation. We all love The Who, as one example among many, but for us it would be incredibly boring to even attempt to sound like them alone. Our influences are far too varied and weird (we all love weirdness) to limit ourselves to one style anymore, and you can definitely see the proof in Moreneverthanever. I guess we're one of the few bands whose influences actually don't show up in the music we make. When they do, they're stretched beyond recognition to the point where even we can't say what goes where. When people ask, 'what are your influences?' we have to shrug and look stoned.
Most of the credit for the leap from All the Way... to Moreneverthanever has to go to our producer, Randy Wilson, who had to deal with us for two years, in three different studios, in various states of mental breakdown. Without him it might have sounded just as scattershot, only also like shit.
The answer to this question has been much too serious. Zebra chunks.

RAY - Speaking of what the hell does certain stuff mean, what the hell does “Moreneverthanever” mean?

HIGHBINDER - Its a state of being. Actually, of being in the state of Ohio and playing rock shows in a post industrial city that for all intents and purposes might as well be in the gulag. Crackheads accost you for cigarettes and offer you one tooth blowjobs. The only decent skyscrapers are flooded up to the fourth floor with mercury water. The only good riots happen in polish town. Bars and churches outnumber all the other buildings. Sometimes the bars are in the churches, and sometimes punk bands here write songs about that. As you can see, it’s hard to find a word to describe what it’s like here. After about fifteen minutes of unintentionally huffing gas fumes it just popped out of my mouth.

RAY - I noticed that Andy is listed as playing lead guitar and Jon as baritone guitar. Here is where I become a musical ignoramus. (Well, I’ve been one for awhile, actually). What is a baritone guitar? Is Jon a frustrated sax player? You got some ‘splainin’ to do!

HIGHBINDER - You know that song Sludge Factory? You only need one baritone guitar to play that whole song. All the parts. Imagine how much heroin that one guy would have to do! Jesus... Jon is not satisfied with your normal puny guitars made for pinko commie bastards. Therefore we had to send off to Acme for the fabled baritone guitar of earthly pounding +5. In reality, it boils down to a normal guitar that has been rebuilt by the government into a deadly 1970s killing machine, bigger, stronger, muddier and twenty times harder to record. At last count, Jon is still not satisfied with his tone and is constantly looking for a way to make it sound more like two planets colliding.
In other words, it’s NOT a six string bass...IT IS EVERYTHING ELSE!

RAY - You know one thing I like about HIGHBINDER? I think the stuff the 2 guitarists do is just some of the most refreshing, different & kick-ass stuff this side of grits (you can send my next t-shirt to the same address!). Really, you don’t do a ton of what could be called traditional soloing, but the interplay is, to be frank (although my name really is Ray) staggering. How much time do you take working out some of this guitar stuff?

HIGHBINDER - The idea process is actually very quick. Andy opens his internal database and starts chugging out a riff or melody. Jon reaches into the primordial, unknowable depths of his soul and pulls out the first fish with legs (or tits if you prefer) which gets layered on. It’s the honing of that madness that takes time, but we never obsess over every note and pause. I think the reason it sounds different than what you're used to is down to the simple fact that we don't give a fuck about co-opting the tropes of an overdone instrument. Let's face it, too many guitarists sound like each other. Boring. Andy doesn't even have a favorite guitarist. Now that's freakin freedom.

RAY - Your song titles are eye-catchers: “Codename: Tornado,” “Terracotta Monster,” “Queen Is Bled,” “Death To False Jons….” Your lyrics are also not exactly typical fare. That is, they are unintelligible. No, I’m just kidding. What I mean is that they tend to make you think more than those of your everyday, garden-variety rawkin’ band. Any comments on this? Maybe you don’t like to talk about your lyrics, as some people don’t, but if you do, could you pick say 3 tracks from the new album(!) and tell us a little more about them?

HIGHBINDER - . I'll take unintelligible, that works for me. We like to give the illusion of meaning. Am I giving away our secrets here? Too late. We all write lyrics, as we all write the music, not that I'm going to tell you who wrote what. I'll give you one more secret...all the songs on this album are inspired somehow by zombies. I'm not joking, seriously. Different states of zombie-tude. Let's see...three songs...
The Dead Never Smile - You'll notice here that this song kinda apes a 'normal' song lyrically. Short lines and such. Yet in this case the girl who wants to hold your hand is a flesh devouring mindless monster, who you can never shake off no matter how far you run. Eventually you'll run out of gas, but she'll just keep shambling.
Codename:Tornado – It’s about being in the service of God, only instead of saving people and doling out Hail Mary’s bullets are used. That’s it; nobody ever said I was complex. Ahem …the undead.
Ebony and Irony – At the turn of the millenieum I was living in the flipperpit of an orca named Carl in Puget Sound (that’s in Washington State for you geography buffs). On December 31, 2000 a 9 foot tall steel monolith, resembling the monolith from “2001 a Space Odyssey” mysteriously appeared on top of a hill in a well known Seattle park. Three days later, and after much media fanfare, the monolith was gone. Ebony and Irony is about three people who have never met going about their mundane morning routines and stumbling upon something impossible. Oh and did I mention the Orca I was living under’s second cousin’s neighbor’s great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather fifteen times removed was a zombie?

RAY - I’m really curious also, if you didn’t above to know more about “Whaler.” That is a monster cut!

HIGHBINDER - Ah Whaler, what a bitch. That one almost killed us. At some point we decided that we needed to do a sea shanty, and this is our version of what we'd be singing from the rigging on our galactic pirate ship whilst bombarding. But there wasn't enough outer space in that idea to fully satisfy us. Near the middle, when the song goes underwater, we're also riding in the stomach of a giant space whale on our way to populate a new universe. I just blew my own mind. The lyrics were written in a fit of insanity about ten minutes before going into the vocal booth to record them, believe it or not, after a year or so of obsessing over the fact that we had none. Sometimes it's best to back yourself into a corner and set a fucking deadline people. Basically, it's about colonizing and imperialism...and space whales/zombie pirates. Tell me it gets cooler than zombie pirates and I'll call you a damn liar.

RAY - Red-light challenge! If you were told that there was an entire race of miniature Richard Simmons’ living under your pillow and that they worshipped an upside-down ampersand, how would you react?

HIGHBINDER - Ask George W. He's gotta deal with that shit every day. Makes me wonder if they still have that big red doomsday button. Scary thought.

RAY - What in God’s name made you decide to cover The Ox’s (R.I.P.) “Boris The Spider?” That is a very cool and certainly unusual cover. And…IT’S CREEPING ME OUT!!!

HIGHBINDER - I mentioned The Who a little ways back, and obviously, they are a band we all agree on. Why Boris the Spider? Do I look like some kind of existential guru here? This is a problem for us, we never ask ourselves why. If we did, we'd probably never do anything, but I'll try and answer this. To my knowledge no one had done it before. If you know of anyone who has, please let us know so we can break their kneecaps. Maybe we did it so we could write an obsequious letter to Chris Stamp (former manager of The Who, and General Zod's brother) and bask in his approval. He liked it, and bask we did. All I can say is that we did. Oh. It was such wonderful basking.
We just all really like that song, and it's freakin fun to play! What more are ya looking for in a cover I ask thee, my droog?

RAY - Ok, technophile time. What kinds of equipment do you guys use? Why DON’T you use Flying V’s? Or maybe the drummer uses Flying V’s?

HIGHBINDER - Equipment
Andy - JCM 900 – 2X12 Travel Cab with Celestion Heritage and Vintage, Myriad uppers, downers, laughers, gassers, and an arsenal of Reverend guitars.
Jon – JCM TSL2000 with a shot reverb, buckshot, and a shot of Jagermiester – 4X12 Ampeg Cabinet, ACO2700 Coconut Monkey, and an Epiphone Les Paul Baritone
Keeler - SWR 750 amp - 8X10 Megoliath cabinet complete with auto-erotic Pee-Wee, Epiphone 5-string Les Paul Bass caressed lovingly into submission through a regular regiment of dropping and bouncing off of walls, and an odd scent that has yet to be determined.
Nick - I'm taking a stand against elitist, hard on for hardware, you must buy this new rubber doohickey made by drummers who work at NASA or “you suck” drummers. I look at my drums and think, "I don't give a shit about you. Now I will beat you." And they find it refreshing.

RAY - “All The Way To Hell” was on Sin Klub and the new album(!) is a self-release. Tell us about that. Did you decide that it made more business sense to go it on your own, are you egotistical, what’s the deal?

HIGHBINDER - The short answer is that our former label was in the process of breaking into lots of shiny pieces when they picked us up. Not exactly good planning on their part, I gotta admit! Even if we wanted to be on Sinklub, which did alright by us in the short time we were with them (they hooked us up with you for example), it's no longer an option. It was, for the most part, an amicable split. We're pretty freakin amicable guys.

RAY - So what’s the scene like in Michigan/Ohio/wherever you’re hanging your hat? Are there many clubs that welcome HIGHBINDER with open arms around them there parts?

HIGHBINDER - Toledo and Detroit are really what I would call our home base, and we've definitely sucked out all the juice from those two cities. We're the local go to band; people just throw shows at us here. You'd think that would be pretty cool, but man, let me tell you...this is a hard town. All the bands here agree. I'm trying not to blame anyone. Fuck that, yes I am. Audiences here don't give much back to you while you’re pouring your own guts out onstage, if you're lucky enough to have an audience that night. It's a great place to cut your teeth as a band; it toughens you up and teaches you that you ain't a rockstar. When we go out of town it's a revelation how different people are. We played a show in Newcomerstown OH once. Town looked completely dead, like a horror movie. Let me tell you, those people packed the VFW and ROCKED THE FUCK OUT. i.e. Beer and blood dripping from the ceiling.
Here...not so much. The bartenders love us.

RAY - Have you played much outside the greater Michigan/Ohio/etc. area? When the hell are you coming to Baltimore?!?! We need bands to roll through this way who actually plug their guitars in and turn the volume up when they play?

HIGHBINDER - We'd love to come to Baltimore. Know any good bars where I can get a long island for less than seven bucks? We'll play there!

RAY - Do any of you have hearing damage from playing? Do you use earplugs? Are you as loud as HIGH ON FIRE? What do I have in store when you pull up the HIGHBINDER express into my local watering hole?

HIGHBINDER - WHAT?! We've never actually sat down and compared hearing loss, but I'm sure we're all dealing with it. Keeler (bass) has been wearing earplugs for as long as I can remember, and the rest of us are starting to follow suit now that we can't hear the police sirens behind us. Its not very fun though. So much more rockin just to blow our heads off with volume, but, alas we're not kids anymore. We'll gladly blow YOUR head off with volume.
And none of us wear earplugs onstage. That's just wrong.

RAY - Red-light challenge! What is the difference between George W. Bush and a rock hyrax?

HIGHBINDER - I was going to say that, like the common rat, a hyrax's teeth never stop growing...but looking at Georgie boy I'm not sure that counts as a difference. I'm gonna say two points. IQ points.

RAY - What is next on the agenda for the HIGHBINDER guys? Touring, I’d guess, although I understand you have some personal things going on like a new baby in the “band family?” Any ideas percolating for the next set of slaying songs?

HIGHBINDER - What's next, what's next... Basically we're in standby mode for the moment until Jon's son can learn to lock his own cage. Then it’s ON! For now though, we're really bearing down on our next recording, writing songs, and thinking up cover art. Probably a shorter format this time, five to seven song EP or whathaveya. As for the music itself, somewhere between the driving riff rock of All the Way... and the melodic weirdness of Moreneverthanever.

RAY - Ok, here’s always a fun one! Tell us the most stupid, funny, ridiculous, sad, tragic or just plain weird story that has involved HIGHBINDER.

HIGHBINDER - We were playing a show in Bowling Green, and as per usual our ritual involved a tobaccoless product via a short stop in the van. There we were, just minding our own bidness when one of us gets the bright idea to peer out of the blinds our van comes so readily equipped with. Only a few feet away, talking to a compatriot of ours was a local law enforcer, the kind that would’ve run all 13 of us in like dogs had he known what we were up to.
Needless to say something had to be done, so in a brief fit of panic/genius Andy called the very fellow the officer was talking to. Conversation is as follows:Andy: “Hey (name deleted), is that a cop you’re talking to?Friend: Yeah…Andy: “Can you make him…y’know….go away from where he’s at right now?”Friend: “Oh yeah, okay man, see you tomorrow, then! Nice talking to you!!”Andy: “Alright then!”A few moments later, and with the help of our buddy, the officer left, and we rolled out of the van like a clown car on fire.The rest, as they say, is irrelevant.

RAY - Any final comments for the readership?

HIGHBINDER - Andy – Build an elevator….
Jon – Ice-cold Hamster
Keeler- (Expletive Deleted)
Nick - Come out and see my new band, Fuck Phil Collins.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more that needs to be said. What we have here is a failure to fall into the typical, the clichéd or the worn-out. HIGHBINDER is a band who have taken a form of music sometimes known as metal, sometimes known as heavy and have blasted all expected life-forms off the map by making it into something all their own while still producing songs that are exciting, memorable and kick-ass. You simply won’t find an album released in 2007 (and many other years) that’s better than HIGHBINDER’s “Moreneverthanever.” You know what to do.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Outstanding! Great band and great interview! Fans of John Bush era Anthrax or stoner / riff rock should check this band out.