HIGH WAISTED: When East Meets West

By: Steph Baghai

Brooklyn based quartet piece HIGH WAISTED has strong roots to the Big Apple - even naming their first full-length after the NY street that brought their West Coast sound together. ‘On Ludlow’ is a fun, summery yet complex compilation that is heavily influenced by 60’s classics and garage band aesthetic. The lighthearted tones are entrancing but taking a closer look at the lyrics provide a more intricate and somewhat thorny complexity. Typical to surf rock characteristics, the group utilizes fuzz box tones, reverb-drenched guitars, and doo-wop vocal influences.

Performing at Boone & Crockett, the group got a second look at what the Good Land has to offer. Their first experience in Milwaukee didn’t leave much of an impression -  they came in February (a.k.a. the dead of winter). Fortunately, this rendezvous was in peak Summer sun. This round they were able to revel in the best parts of a typical Milwaukee summer - brews, brats, and humid sunshine. After a quick day nap, a drink and a few tacos, we discussed life on the road and their new album with front woman Jessica Louise Dye, who's personality is as vibrant as her attire.   

The ETBF Tour has been surrounded by familiar faces and new furry friends, “we’re hitting cities we’ve been to before, with people we’ve met, so we have that sense of familiarity which is really cool. For example, we're going to Nashville and staying with a friend who used to have my cat who was raised with her little dog, Pizza. I'm very excited to see him. We've had a cool animal tour. In Columbus, we stayed with this dog named Chase who was super rad, he howled, he was part husky. There's a bunny [in Milwaukee] we're staying with now.”

Her animated face lit up when talking about her love of animals and how they were a common occurrence on tour. Coming from an unplanned music festival in Cincinnati, they ran into lots of furry friends, “we were scheduled to play a show at night, but we got added on for a day festival. It was outside and there were so many puppies in the crowd, which I was super into. At one point, I was thinking to myself there are definitely more puppies than people."

They traveled in their unique van along the Midwest. The van, like them, is full of personality. They found out the Brooklyn artist responsible for the detailed art passed away and that there’s a serious demand for his work, “we were in Cincinnati and these kids came up to us and asked to tag near the Next tag, ‘I love that guy but he died’. And we asked for the story cause we had no idea.” Totally oblivious to the situation, they made the traveling work of art their home, “we bought the van for like $850 bucks - it looks like we brought Brooklyn with us. People always call out to us in red lights.”

They make the most of being on the road. The group stopped at groceries along the way and packed mini meals, “we’ll just pull over on the highway at a rest stop and have a picnic. It’s really good it makes you feel good - we spend so much time inside in a dark venue so to have the daytime to feel like a separate part of tour is very important.”

Aside from all their impromptu adventures with new and old friends, they’re just a group of friends traveling the country, “we’re all very close. If anyone's annoyed it’s brother/sister shit. You just get that person a snickers and everything’s fine.”

Traveling around in a van can be gruesome so they made the most of their travels. “We try to do activities in every city. We went paddle boating in Ohio. All these day shows means we’re spending a lot of time outside. Utilizing each fun thing in each city.” Loaded on red bull and day naps, they still embraced spontaneity. They made impromptu stops and agreed to numerous last-minute gigs.

As for their music, the group is obviously influenced by 60’s surf rock which is odd being from the East Coast - but, they’ve managed to incorporate that swing, fun, cheery sound with a deeper twist. On Ludlow opens with 'Trust', a summer bop that's airy and soft but filled with dark nostalgia. Curious to how they got their sound, Jessica gave us a very relatable response, “I realized at a young age that I was a terrible dancer. I don’t do well at clubs who play top 40. I don’t make sense when it comes to hip hop. Then I figured out like, 'oh shit, I really like 60's music, I want to make this - cause then I can dance to it.' That’s how it started which is kinda weird when you’re a teenager.” Personally inspired by Patti Smith, the band looks to some of the greats, “Band Bo Diddley, Beach Boys, Link Wray, and 13th Floor Elevators psych stuff. I grew up with 80's, Genesis, Steve Miller, that kind of thing.”

Surf rock has been evolving and diverging into a more complicated genre. With a new revitalization due to bands like Wavves, DIIV, Girls, Surfer Blood, and more, creatives are incorporating decades worth of style into the one simple sound. HIGH WAISTED can attest to that, they grew up with 80’s rock bands like Genesis and Steve Miller - groups who are a contrasting style to the 60’s craze. It’s evident to see that while the lines of genres are blurring, they’re also become more complex and influence intentionally.

'On Ludlow' represents this re-emerging integration. It opening song, 'Trust' can sum up the sound of the compilation. The airy song has an upbeat bounce but brings forth a darker and nostalgic love. The compilation swings back and forth, literally, between buoyant parties, carefree attitudes and wistful disappointment and heartache. The contrast between somber affairs and unattached fun is stark yet hidden under the layered reverb-soaked guitars and uptempo drum beat. It's easy to get lost in the record, the fun loving group puts their personality in the works with playful rapport between instruments and beats. Despite the sometimes-not-so joyous story, the sound remains uplifting, providing a swayful tune to retreat to. Check out the summer approved record here.

Be sure to check out On Ludlow and catch them at Riot Fest in Chicago Saturday, September 17.