Jul 28, 2020
May 29, 2019
|The High Divers. Photo by Joelle Rosen.|
Here’s the new single from Americana foursome The High Divers, “Stick Around.” It’s a bouncing, mid-tempo plea to friends struggling with dependency or mental health issues. While that sounds like it could tend pretty dark, “Stick Around” rides on hope. Lead vocalist Luke Mitchell’s voice is comforting and soulful, and the production is simple and crisp, focusing on the central theme of love and support. Friendship is always a timely message. RIYL: Great Peacock, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, American Aquarium.
From Luke Mitchell:
“This song is about losing friends of mine to suicide and overdose, and just wishing they were still here. I think the lyrics reflect on some of the things I wish I could have told them, and is my way of reaching out to them for some closure. I think times are really hard right now for everyone, and our society has made it easy to feel ashamed of having problems with your mental health. Getting help is hard, and our healthcare system is failing people miserably. Having been through mental illnesses within my family, I know that things can change drastically if you're not checking up on your loved ones, and getting them help is like running uphill. The stigma and red tape surrounding these issues is ridiculous and outdated and has to change.
I wrote this song as a plea to anyone feeling really terrible to reach out, and to those around them to just listen. I think it's natural for people to look back and think "What if I would have called them?", and that question haunts me.
When I was writing this, I was focusing in on a childhood friend that I lost to a heroin overdose, as well as another good friend of the band, who had helped us get going in the very beginning. I thought of them sitting in the room with me, and what I would tell them If I could see them one more time. It was hard to go to that place, but I was able to tell them how much I love them and miss seeing them around. They were great people that made a big impact on me and helped me through my own struggles.”
More information about the band and their upcoming EP Ride With You, below the song player.
The High Divers // Ride With You (June 7)
The High Divers have been covered by Paste, Performer Magazine, KDHX, practically every outlet in their hometown of Charleston and are consistently named one of the best bands in South Carolina. Now, with their new Sadler Vaden-produced EP, Ride With You — an emotion-clad and wholly triumphant project — this four-piece are poised to break out on a national scale.
“Sadler wanted us to really focus on songs that were entwined with our lives and real experiences, which got us writing from a much deeper level. There are songs about losing friends to suicide, trying to live with gratitude while struggling with PTSD, abusive relationships, busting out of your close-minded hometown, and finding peace falling in love with yourself and someone new. We would play Sadler a bunch of songs, and then we’d play one that was really close to our chest, and he’d say “Why didn’t you play me that one first, that’s the song!” We were hiding from songs that felt too vulnerable and raw, while that’s exactly what he was looking for.”
“I’m still kickin’!” frontman Luke Mitchell howls with guttural intensity on the closing track. “Still Kickin’” is the snow-capped peak of this new batch of music and the statement piece of the band members’ lives in this moment. “It happened so fast / Do you understand how lucky you are to be sitting here?” he provokes the listener to engage with their state of being, as well. The air slips out of his lungs in hurricane gusts, but it’s his conviction that is especially moving.
The raw, unsettling realization that life could slip from your grasp any minute is the bedrock of the EP, which was recorded at East Nashville’s Jeremy Ferguson-owned Battle Tapes Studio. The band, consisting of the married Luke (vocals, guitar) and Mary Alice Mitchell (keyboards, vocals), Julius DeAngelis (drums) and Kevin Early (bass, vocals), learned that hard lesson nearly two years ago when their touring van was T-boned by a semi-trailer truck. They rose out of the wreckage with broken bones, deep scars, and a new perspective on human existence.
Swelling with melancholy, the title cut “Ride with You” mourns that empty feeling born out of small-town life and needing something more reinvigorating, while “Stick Around” is an urgent call-to-action in the wake of numerous friends falling prey to suicide. “If you’re hurting, your house is haunted / You just need a friend around,” Mitchell beckons, his hand extending in an enveloping token of compassion.
Out of Hilton Head Island, the band members played in various entities, including multiple cover and original bands in their youth, but wouldn’t link up as a proper collective until 2014. With Mary Alice calling upon her classical piano training, she would seamlessly add a whole new element that would perfectly compliment Luke’s songwriting sensibilities, where her gifts have never been more suited. Her voice, a force of its own, is a perfect counter-balance to Luke’s woody timbre.
Mary Alice and Luke tied the knot two years ago, and that romantic entanglement allows the band to display even more heart and tremendous amounts of sacrifice. “Being married and out on the road can be challenging, but we make a good team and have a good support system in place. We are each other’s creative counterpoint, and we’re constantly working. We have to remind ourselves to try and have a day off every now and then, to do normal ‘married couple’ things.”
Ride With You was born out of struggle, but across these six tracks, there emerges warmth, love, understanding, and freedom. “Having to do the thing you’re most afraid of for your job is hard. We're a little more nervous than we used to be driving from city to city. It’s really put touring into perspective for us. We always took it seriously, but now, it’s much more so. We always hold it in higher regard,” says Luke. Mary Alice chimes in, “We try to give it our all onstage because it’s like...what if I don’t get to do this tomorrow?”
The High Divers have never sounded better. Even as they are forever haunted by that fateful day, their spirits are intertwined together in a powerful new way. This new EP then underscores their courage, determination, grit, and ability to forge an even brighter future against all odds. Working with Vaden as a producer helped them find a sound that they are excited to share as they continue to tour the country.
“Working with Sadler was one of the highlights of our creative lives, and his ability to cut through the bullshit and get at the heart of the song was so refreshing. This is some of the best work we’ve done as a band, and Sadler was there in the trenches with us the entire time.”
Mar 8, 2019
|Photo by Chad Cochran|
by Kasey Anderson
“It seemed odd to lose my relationship with a manager and label because I made a rock ‘n’ roll record, but that’s what happened.” Andrew Leahey is stuck in Nashville traffic, talking to me about his new album, Airwaves, the making and release of which brought Leahey to yet another unexpected career crossroads. The good news this time around was, after undergoing a life-threatening brain operation and rebounding to play 180 shows in 2016 in support of his debut album, parting ways with a manager and label was, if not small potatoes, certainly a less dire set of circumstances.
“In Nashville it’s easy to lose perspective. Nashville is the center of the Americana world so when I took this album to my label and my manager, the immediate response was, ‘Well we don’t really know what to do with this,’ which is like, really? It’s not a hard-to-understand kind of music.” In fact, for anyone who grew up during the era when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band dominated the charts, Airwaves is a very-easy-to-understand and equally-easy-to-embrace album, full of bright, chiming guitars, swagger, and anthemic choruses. According to Leahey, this was very much by design.
“We started playing ‘Make it Last’ at shows before we had even begun working on the record and it caught on immediately,” Leahey says. “For me - for us - we play a lot so it was important to make a record where any song could kick off a show, or could close a show. Songs that were maybe bigger in scope than the songs on my last record. And as we saw people at shows responding to those songs, it was an indication to me that we were on the right path. I wanted to make a Heartland Rock ‘n’ Roll Thriller,” Leahey’s thought is interrupted by his own laughter, “on a much, much smaller scale, obviously.”
Leahey and his band, The Homestead (and friends, including the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden), succeeded there, and Airwaves is indeed loaded front-to-back with songs that recall Petty, Springsteen and T. Rex. “Flyover Country” edges closer to what Americana purists - if there is such a thing - may have expected from Leahey while “Working Ain’t Working” recalls some of David Lowery’s twangier leanings but, by and large, Airwaves is kindred in spirit to the bands now relegated to Classic Rock Radio.
This is not to say Leahey and his band are unwelcome in Americana circles by any stretch of the imagination. Long a fixture at Nashville venues like the Basement and the 5 Spot, and with an ongoing gig in Elizabeth Cook’s band, Leahey continues to run in the same circles he always has, maybe just a little further out towards the fringes. “It’s all the same small pond,” he says, “I guess I’m just one of the weirder-looking fish right now.”
“When I came back from the operation, I really had to start over -- to repay all my dues, with my own songs, working on other people’s records, all of it. I struggled with it but ultimately, I had to rediscover what it all meant because I’d had it taken away from me so -- not that I didn’t appreciate it before the operation -- every opportunity is meaningful to me in a very different way now.”
Perhaps because of that, and likely also because Cook is one of the most dynamic and talented artists to come out of Nashville in the last several years, Leahey isn’t looking to relinquish his role in her band any time soon. “I love playing with Elizabeth, and my hope is I’m able to continue to balance both jobs because that’s a really important gig to me. I guess if there comes a time when I’m unable to carry both workloads, that would be a pretty good problem.”
Beyond Cook’s band, Leahey mentions that in Nashville especially, he’s happy to be known as more than just a singer, songwriter or bandleader. “It’s important to me that people remember I’m a player, too,” he says, “it’s really important to have those two halves come together and make a whole.”
With Airwaves, Leahey has achieved that symmetry. There’s no filler here. Just unabashed, infectious rock ‘n’ roll from an unapologetic Disciple of Petty. But make no mistake, this is not imitation. Following in the footsteps of others without tracing those footsteps is a delicate balance but Leahey and his band pull it off admirably.
Having survived the Nashville traffic snarl, Leahey has arrived home to meet the demands of his cat, and my own dog has grown restless so we agree that this is as good a time as any to cut things off, but before we go I tell him that to my ears, this album is as much a testament to Leahey’s own survival as it is to Petty or Springsteen or Stevie Nicks or anyone else.
“Yeah,” he says. “It took everything I went through to get to this point, to get to this record. Sometimes I wish I’d had some of these realizations when I was 22 but you really don’t know anything at that age beyond hormones and being pissed off at your hometown. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here now.”
I tell Leahey he’s not alone. A lot of folks are glad he’s here now, too.
Jun 12, 2017
Album Review: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
By Kevin Broughton
Last year was a sonofabitch for nearly everyone we know.
-- Jason Isbell, “Hope the High Road”
A thought occurred to me while reviewing Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free a couple years ago: “At some point, you run out of superlatives.” So let’s get this out of the way. Right now, Isbell is without peer as a songwriter. He couldn’t have a better band – and God bless him for giving The 400 Unit billing on The Nashville Sound. Throw in a producer – Dave Cobb – who should just buy a gadget that makes Grammy figurines, and you have a legitimate American musical juggernaut.
And a quick word about the band. It’s proper that current 400 Unit – Sadler Vaden and Amanda Shires are newcomers since Here We Rest – gets a spot on the marquis. When the book is written on this band, this lineup will be viewed as the Mick Taylor-era Stones were.
There are several great songs on this record, bookended by a pair of wholesome ballads. “The Last of My Kind” is just another great story of an Isbell blue-collar guy, who wryly notes that some Scripture might only apply when back home. “Something to Love,” on the back end, is a sweet, hopeful homage to Isbell’s rural roots, a companion piece to his “God is a Working Man” on Brother Cobb’s Southern Family compilation.
More than one song recalls Isbell in his peak Drive By Truckers days. (And no, they’ll never be that good again, and were never better.) The driving intensity of “Cumberland Gap” captures the defiant malaise of Never Gonna Change, only in middle age. Here’s a guy who probably wishes he’d been thrown off the Wilson Dam.
If you’re looking for other perfect B-sides, how about “If We Were Vampires,” a sweet, morose counterweight to “Flagship,” till now Isbell’s most tender love song?
Sadly, the album is not as good as the sum of its parts. It’s a good but not great record, lacking the continuity and flow that made Isbell’s previous three studio offerings so compelling. Consequently the default focal point becomes the overtly political.
Have you ever thought about what a vile, racist country this is? This republic that twice elected a black man president, with solid popular and electoral majorities? No? You’re in luck, because Jason Isbell is here to beat you over the head with it. “White Man’s World” would be better titled “White-Guilt World.”
Granted, Isbell didn’t completely lose his mind the way his 50-something former band mates did last fall, stopping just short of pissing on Old Glory and renouncing their citizenship in a bid to curry favor with millennial piss-ants and Bernie Sanders-loving losers. One wonders, though, how many minds did they change? How many people came around to their cop-hating, white-guilt, socialist point of view because of DBT’s temper tantrum of an album? Likely none, though countless bedwetting, gender fluid NPR fans got enough affirmation to stave off being triggered for at least a day.
While Isbell employs a modicum of subtlety compared to Cooley and Hood, “White Man’s World” is still heavy handed. And lest you think blacks are the only oppressed people in this fascist nation: “I’m a white man living on a white man’s street, got the bones of the red man under my feet. Highway runs through their burial ground…”
Yeah. Step right up for self-flagellation, Cracker Boy. You will be made to care. And never mind that “red man” is way more than a microaggression.
You want privilege-checking? Got some of that, too. “I’ve heard enough of the white man’s blues, I’ve sang (sic) enough about myself” is our entry into “Hope the High Road,” an otherwise hopeful postmortem of the 2016 election. Oh, and “Anxiety” will be perfect fare for the “safe zones” (you know, where they exclude white people) on the campuses of Mizzou, Harvard, Brown, etc. It’s just flat-out whiny. The crybabies and victim-pimps will love it.
It’s a sad thing when music – something that should draw everyone together to admire it as art for art’s sake – is politicized. More than a couple of the artists I’ve interviewed for FTM have told me off-the-record why they avoid it. “You're 100 percent right about the music and politics thing,” one told me recently. “I've worked really hard not to do that. The only thing that can come from that is that you piss off half of your fan base. And you won’t change anyone’s mind.” Indeed. But those on the Left seemed determined to politicize every aspect of American life and culture, as we’ve seen happen in the world of sports over the past few years.
Will Isbell lose some fans? A few. Not this one, who hopes it’s a one-off. Still, look for plaudits from all corners: “Jason Isbell courageously speaks his mind.” Yep. Takes a ton of courage to toe the Leftist line in song.
Ultimately, though, if you can do this, you can do anything you want. Nice record, Jason. Wish it were better.
The Nashville Sound will be available everywhere this Friday.