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Highly Suspect (NOVEMBER 2019)



Grammy Award nominees are back, Highly Suspect are once again in the spotlight !
CALGEPO - 05.02.2020 -
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Highly Suspect continues to grow in stature and world renown while collecting Grammy Award nominations with their blend of alternative rock and hip hop denouncing a divided America. Music Waves couldn't miss the opportunity of a promo day to find out more about this band to follow. 

We met three years ago, since that last class, what happened to Highly Suspect? 

Rich: We toured extensively to support the last album during that time for 7 months in the States and multiplied the festivals like in San Antonio, it was an opportunity for us to get closer to our audience and feel the energy around the band. 

For this album you seem to have taken your time... Why, when you seemed to be on a closer rhythm between two productions?

Rich: Johnny broke his voice for a long time he couldn't sing anymore, so we couldn't compose and move forward on our new project. It took a long time before he was able to recover and then we went back into the songwriting and composing process. 

Did Matt Kofos with whom you toured regularly become the 4th member of the band ? How was his integration and what was his implication in this new album? 

Rich : Yes, Matt is definitely a full member of the band, we had been looking for a regular guitarist for a long time and Matt was touring with us. So his integration came naturally. He was a great help in writing the new album. We went to the studio, I started jamming on bass, a few guitar chords, Johnny wrote the lyrics and Matt was very involved in the rhythm lines. Everything was very fluid because we knew him for years. He came up with his ideas, and the way he saw the basics of the songs evolve was invaluable. 

So it's a team work that you propose?

Rich : Sometimes Johnny or I bring the basic ideas, and then the fine-tuning work is done in a team where everyone is free to express their opinions on this or that part. So we can talk about a collaboration where we both come up with the ideas. 

You are in Paris for the release of "MCID" this third album. In general, this number of three is often important in the life of a band. In spite of the fact that you tell us that you don't feel any pressure at the release of each of your albums, does this number of three represent something special for you? 

Rich: Every album is important to us. We never make an album and say, this is our third one, we're gonna have to do something really special. That doesn't direct our direction. We won't ask ourselves that question for the fourth one either. In fact when you make an album you have to put all your heart into it, it doesn't matter if it's the first, the third or the sixth... We have never released an album without giving the best we can do. And if we felt that a song wasn't good enough for this album, we put it aside. The place of the album in our discography doesn't guide the way we compose and write. 

In this album you push a little bit further your so particular sound which goes from alternative rock to hip hop through grunge and songs more in the songwriter style like Springsteen, unclassifiable, did you want to challenge yourself by going to the end of yourself and your limits with this album?

Rich: Absolutely, every album pushes us to our limits and must mark an evolution. For the previous album, we focused on rock with analog guitars that are very much in the forefront, with a very particular sound. 

Do you bring a more electronic flavour to this new album?

Rich: Yes, and also more lyrics and more space for the vocal lines. That explains, as I said, the delay in the release due to Johnny's illness. Mind you, we're still a rock band, but we feed our music with modern sounds.

Matt: Highly Suspect has always had broad inspirations and not just rock or grunge. We feel that every style we approach can bring something to our project. Of course we won't draw from styles that we feel are far away. We're not going to make Celtic music (laughs). Seriously, we individually have a lot of different backgrounds that we've managed to bring together and so far it's working. 

(Ryan joins us at this time)

For you the main thing is to experiment to keep a little interest in what you do? 

Ryan : Of course, the interest we maintain comes from that as well. For example using an instrument in a different way, looking for new sounds, making a bass sound like a drum kit, coming up with a riff with saturation, and if for each instrument you can do that then there's an interest in doing it. 

Do you think you've managed to keep your identity while trying new, more melodic things at the risk of losing fans? 

Rich: You know, you can't please everyone, that's a fact. However, we can't let pleasing the greatest number of people guide our work. We only do what we like, and if we don't like it so much, we don't do it.

For MCID we feel like a concept album with some transition tracks like 'Tetsuo's Bike' or 'Juzo', a bit like Dredg, I don't know if you know this band?

Rich : Dredg, I don't know

Matt: Yeah I know the name, I think they do a little stoner.

Yes, a Californian band that needs almost progressive alternative rock, precisely this album comes close with these transition tracks, concept album: is it an impression or a reality?

Rich: No, it's not a concept-album, it's about songs that are independent from each other. It's an impression. The short titles are there to give the whole thing a breath. 

What's the reference to the cartoon Akira in this concept?

Rich: Oh yes, we love this manga, the movie is amazing and we wanted to make a wink to this work that we love. More broadly we are fans of Japanese manga. This movie is probably one of the best in the genre, there's a lot of racing and that's why we wanted to make a cameo in this album. Akira is a bad ass and it suits us well (Laughs). 

According to our research 'MCID' stands for Minimal Clinically Important Difference, which is the smallest change in treatment outcome that an individual patient would identify as important and which would indicate a change in patient management... who is this patient? Would it be the USA and what would that change be? 

Rich: A medical term then. Oh boy, that's an incredible interpretation, I can see you've done a lot of research and unfortunately no, it's not that reference, but it's cool that you looked it up. It's more down to earth than that. It's more musical, MCID is more about family, the family of musicians that we are and that brings us together. It's amazing the connection that music can make between people and the means that we have today to listen to it. Whether it's in Australia or New Zealand, everyone can have their own playlist. Before DJ's, programmers had their playlist and you could go to them and ask for a track, in this day and age everything is immediate. This way the industry has evolved is impressive. 

Just this way of varying your songs anchored in what's best in the USA : rock, hip hop, acoustic... in the end it's totally in line with the way people listen to music nowadays by zapping from one genre to another like playlists.... (Johnny arrives at this moment)

Rich speaking to Johnny: he asked us an interesting question about the interpretation of IBD

Johnny : What is that interpretation?

A medical interpretation : Minimal Clinically Important Difference ...

Well done man. Yes, you can find this acronym on the internet, I've seen this acronym before but here it doesn't mean that. It means beyond the letters, it means something that is closer to the concept of family and love and not a medical term. You can also see the name of a christian music band too but here it's not the case. 

We were talking about the way people listen to music nowadays and the fact that your varied album fits this standard of listening. How do you relate to this evolution and in the end, unconsciously, you meet this standard?

Johnny : I don't know, this album is a kind of musical journey and I don't know if people will be aware of it or not. It's a full album in the sense that if you listen to it from beginning to end, there's a story...

But nowadays, you only pick up a few tracks from albums...

Johnny : Yes certainly and it's very difficult for us to defend and explain the fact that it's a full album. But that's the difficulty that a lot of bands have nowadays and often release EPs that are more in line with the times. 

In this album there's a particularly personal track for you Johnny 'Sixteen', we know that for you writing is a catharsis, aren't you afraid to expose yourself so much, to give yourself up to excess even if you don't want to keep any part of the mystery?

Johnny : I'm afraid so, yes. 

But you continue in spite of everything, why?

For me it's a therapy I can't escape. Expressing something makes me feel good. There's of course a shameless part to it. Rich shares the benefit of expressing, of putting personal words to songs. Psychologically it feels good to be able to take dark things out and share them. 

The clip that accompanies the song is impressive, there are references to science fiction ...

Johnny: Thank you, we love science fiction. It's one of the first times we've referred to it. We wanted to mark the occasion and do something different from that point of view as well. There's a Tanrantino and Akira side to it... 

And precisely, would you be attracted by an acting career?

Johnny : Wow, it's a fucking job (Laughs)...

Why, the fear of being a prisoner of a character when the music seems freer? 

Johnny : I think it's different especially. You have to be in the studio for hours waiting. I think you have to be patient, waiting for roles, chasing castings. It's not a profession I'm really attracted to even though I love film. 

In "MCID", your voice becomes more and more assertive, you always keep this power and variation but with a stronger sense of interpretation, did you do a special job compared to the previous albums?

Johnny : Yes, I took a few acting classes where I worked on my voice, took different accents. I've been able to modulate my voice from high to low, gaining in variety. I tried to bring it out in this new album either because the song had a very melodic atmosphere or a crunchy base? The voice is above all an instrument that you have to work on and its sound, its volume has to adapt to the songs.

And it's important because you said it's a story?

Johnny : Yes it is partly a story, yes it is, and all the more reason to connect the songs with each other by the voice. That's what we wanted to put forward for "MCID" in particular, more than for the other albums. 

In this album there are a lot of featurings (Young Thug, Conor Mason, Tee Grizzley and Gojira), are they there to reach a larger audience and make a buzz or to please you or to serve the concept?

Rich: Oh no, it's more to please us than to create the buzz. We're fans of these bands and being able to collaborate with them and convince them to do it has been a great opportunity for us. They are bands that bring something different to the songs by drawing from their style, they bring their own touch and it was very enriching to do it, especially as it sounds pretty good. 

Johnny: And it's easier for us to get in touch with them thanks to the festivals we did, where we rubbed shoulders with them. We really like this kind of meeting where you can get close to Slayer, Gojira... it allows you to feed off all these influences, all these musicians, to be able to create links that can lead to collaborations, sometimes unlikely. And this album is almost a mini festival in itself. 

In this meeting with Gojira we could have expected something more metal and yet it corresponds more to a Highly Suspect song, how did you work on the composition and how did you convince them to do something else than what they are used to? 

Rich : Musically speaking, it's almost something that sounds metal to us. To them it may not sound metal, but to Highly Suspect it does.

Johnny : We're neighbours and we often discuss production together. This song was done very quickly, I think in one day in the studio everything was finished, we worked on the lyrics and the music afterwards. It was very collaborative, I didn't impose anything at all. They're musical geniuses, when he sings it's just incredibly powerful. After for this song everyone will have his own interpretation: it's a Gojira song for others, a Highly Suspect song, for us it doesn't matter, it was a great opportunity to do it.

Arizona' stands out with its acoustic atmosphere very close to what Bruce Springsteen can do, in the previous album 'Chicago' evoked a bit of that atmosphere. Why when you compose songs with names corresponding to a place in the USA, do you adopt this orientation of storyteller? 

Rich: There's not necessarily a link between the style and the name of the songs, it's pure coincidence. Arizona is a place that I've visited a lot, I have a special relationship with that place that I've travelled to a lot. I lived for a long time in a neighbouring state. Maybe it was the atmosphere that guided me to adopt something more acoustic.

Johnny : To answer your question, Chicago was referring to an ex-girlfriend from that city. A lot of these kinds of songs are about love or lost love. And giving them titles of cities or places allows you to remember those events, happy or not, without evoking people's names. It's more about moods being expressed, memories, yes.

In the previous interview you said you feared for us with Marine Le Pen. It happened just after Trump's election and just before our elections... in the end we escaped it... the next elections will take place soon in your country and despite everything that has been said, denounced, Trump has a strong chance of being re-elected with a particularly favourable economic record seen from the outside, why? Does that scare you? 

Johnny : (Mimicking the gesture) Money, money, money.... 

The Democrats don't have enough or no more... It's all about money?

Johnny : It's about money, it's about the disorganization of the Democratic party, it's about the disorganization of Trump's America. It's all about that, people are anesthetized and are in their thoughts, in their fears. This is someone who is enormously influential in our country, he is manipulative. He knows how to surround himself well and above all he is a person who has a lot of self-confidence, who is very sure or who gives the impression that he is. That's what he wants to show, a showcase but behind it... He's someone who's not intelligent, he's an idiot...

It's a paradox because he has a good chance of being re-elected, don't you see from here?

What do you want, I can't explain it to you. It's not going well because there's no one toc counter it, we're a bit disappointed about it.

What are you waiting for this album: the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one? 

Rich: I hope it will be a great success because we're very proud of it. We're scared because it's less rock than the previous ones, but rock is not just one sound. It's a mentality, a way of looking at it. 

Johnny : Look at David Bowie's discography, he went through so many styles but it's still one of the symbols of rock. So if you can be in his groove, that's great. 

Thanks to you guys.


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