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  • The Higher
    Monday, March 5, 2007

    When labels make a reputation for pursuing and promoting a particular sound or genre, any band that differs radically from the chosen style often shocks the listener and fans of the label. As such, it was quite a shock to hear a straight-up, unironic pop record (not pop-punk, mind you, but pop) on legendary punk label Epitaph. After the initial shock of hearing The Higher's Epitaph debut, On Fire, I slowly came to understand why a label would sign them--they're an amazingly good band. This band of Nevada youngsters have made a record that, well, could be programmed between any of the biggest selling pop records of the late 90s, and you'd never know the difference. Of's hard to deny that such a band would be anything less than divisive among Epitaph fans, as guitarist/vocalist Tom Oakes and I discussed. But still, it was nice to have a conversation with a talented young man, and I do wish them success with their record.

    I went online and heard some samples from your first album, and I was really struck by the difference, in terms of both sound and style--it seems like you were going for something completely different with On Fire.

    After our old guitar player quit, and Reggie, our new guitar player joined, it seemed like we gained a whole new outlook. We got off our old label, and we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. We've all been influenced by pop music all our lives and we just wanted to incorporate it into our music. We all love Justin Timberlake, we love Maroon 5, we love Third Eye Blind, and we don't want to be a "scene" band a tall. We really felt like we could do whatever we wanted. We had the power to do anything we wanted to do musically. So we said to ourselves, Let's just write songs that we would like to hear. Let's write songs we'd love to hear on the radio. Let's write songs that we could tell our friends, 'Hey, this is our song, sung by Justin Timberlake.'. We wanted to be that band for ourselves. Not that we were never writing music for ourselves before, but we had a new opportunity to do whatever we wanted to do. When so many bands release records, they're just doing the same thing over and over again, with three songs coming off of the album for radio play, and loading an album down with not so good material. We felt we could do better than that, and as pop is in our blood, we felt like jamming out some good pop songs. Reggie's a large part of that factor; he's a total pop/R&B kid, and that came out a lot.

    It definitely comes out. In listening to the debut, it sounds so much of its time, an emo-minded, and, if I may, slightly generic-sounding record. With you re-recording a few songs from it, I wonder: are you happy with how the first record came out?

    At the time? Definitely. It was our first record, so yeah, of course. But at the same time, we recorded it so fast; we recorded it in about three weeks. Comparatively speaking, for On Fire, we had ten weeks. But that album, it's definitely our first work and it's where we came from. It's like an old girlfriend; you had fun, but now you've moved on.

    When I first listened to On Fire, my first reaction was, "Wow, these guys are on Epitaph?" What made you choose them?

    We knew we'd be a standout. Plus, they are all such amazing people. We met with tons and tons of labels, and Brett, the owner and president of Epitaph, he's such an amazing man and a historic figure in independent music. Brett, he knows what he's doing. We could have signed to a major, but we knew that by being on Epitaph, we wouldn't be thrown into some lame major label category. You know how majors, they have categories, like "This is our emo band" or "This is a Drive-Thru band," "This is our blah blah blah blah band." We knew that with Epitaph, we wouldn't be thrown into any categories. If anything, you're left thinking, "How is this band on Epitaph?" We want that. Because Epitaph is known for punk rock, and we're nothing near that, we think it's going to give us a broader audience. People will hear about us, and they wouldn't have heard about us any other way, simply because we're on Epitaph. Kids will check it out and say, "Why are these pop kids on Epitaph?" And they wouldn't have even cared about us either way if we had been on a major label. So I think going with Epitaph was a wise decision and the smartest choice. They've shown us a lot of love and gave us a lot of support, and that's so important. Hell, we'd have signed to a metal label if they'd been that supportive.

    I'm sure you're prepared for this, but some people are going to absolutely hate you and your music.

    Oh yeah, definitely. I can't wait! (Laughs) Everyone's always going to have an opinion. Some people are going to go, "You changed your style, blah blah blah." Whatever. None of us really care. If people don't like our band, then they don't like our band. As long as people give us a chance, that's all we want. Kids who don't give us a chance, I think are stupid. Kids are kids; they have their own opinion and can do what they want and react however they want. That's true with any band. You'll have haters and you'll have lovers. With our band, we realize you're either going to really hate it or you're going to really love it. We really don't think there's going to be any in-between. People will call us pansies, blah blah blah, whatever. Kids do this. I know a lot of girls are going to love our record. We've always talked about this, and if the girls love our record, the guys will follow, so I think we'll be all right.

    How was the recording process for you?

    It was great! We stayed in a little apartment in Beverley Hills, and we got to hang out and have fun. We had so much time to work, and it wasn't rushed at all. Everything was relaxed and comfortable. The studio was right down the road from where we lived, so we had a comfortable, close environment. We spent a lot of hours on it every day. It was fun, man! It was a long process, but it's crazy to think that it's been over for three months now. I feel like I've just come home. But it was a lot of fun. It was a good experience. Having to not worry about money and having the ability to spend time on the record, it was really important for us to get it right, and to get the most out of it. We wanted to concentrate on the record, and we wanted to nail down what we wanted, and we really got the chance to nail down every option. I think we've succeeded, and we made a great record.

    The Higher's Epitaph debut, On Fire, is out Tuesday

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 9:55 AM  
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