Under The Radar is a column inspired by material sent in by the readers of Burgo’s Blog, alerting me to music that I may not have otherwise heard. If you’d like to let me know about some of your favourite tunes that I may not know about, then drop a line to the email address listed on the “About” page.
In the course of doing this gig (and by “doing” I mean “writing”, and by “gig” I mean “blog”), I come across a lot of new music, and a large percentage of that is via suggestions that come in from my readers… whether it’s an email, or a comment left here or there, the readers of this blog have turned me on to some great tunes.
As I’ve said before – in fact, in my last “Under the Radar” post – some of the suggestions are… well, ok. Some are good. Some are great. And some are special.
One of those special ones recently landed in my inbox, and inspired me to bring the “Under the Radar” category back out of the closet. A gold nugget of a band called “High On Stress”.
When I first heard “High On Stress”, a smile spread across my face within the first few seconds of the song starting. There’s this undeniable influence from The Replacements in their tunes, and a Paul Westerberg-like croon always reminds me of better days. Honestly, the songs I heard off their 2005 “Moonlight Girls” album sounded to me like it should have been placed on the “Can’t Hardly Wait” soundtrack, alongside Westerberg and Co. and Matthew Sweet… with a little of Uncle Tupelo thrown in for good measure. A more innocent time, for me at least; when anything was possible, and music was the frikkin’ saviour of the world.
In other words… it was extremely good times.
After spinning the disc a few times, I decided to ask lead vocalist/songwriter Nick Leet some questions, to find out more about the band. So, here you go…
Burgo: Nick, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. So, first things first… I’ve been listening to “Moonlight Girls” on some pretty serious rotation for the last few days, and I’m absolutely loving it. Obviously, I’m hearing a pretty strong “Replacements” rock influence in your tunes, some Soul Asylum, and there’s also some newer alt.country tinges ala Whiskeytown in there. Do you think you could talk a little about the band’s influences, and what sort of role those influences played in the formation of the band?
Nick: Thanks Matt. I really appreciate that. All of the bands you listed are influences. We wear them on our sleeve I guess you could say. We all are into a lot of different music but because of that I don’t think we sound like a cheap knockoff of anyone but more-so hopefully a buffet of goodness.
Burgo: Minneapolis – your current base – has always had a pretty strong music scene. Did that make it harder or easier to get your name out there?
Nick: Minneapolis is a great place to be in a rock band. There are so many cool bands here. Many people that I know only buy local CDs because they feel like they get what they need from what they see around town. I think in some aspects it makes it harder to get noticed because there ARE so many great bands but on the other hand everyone is so accepting and excited for new music that you can’t beat it. I would highly recommend checking out MPLS bands like Romantica, the Hard Left, the Red Flags and Six Mile Grove.
(Ed’s note: Actually, check out my past post about Romantica here)
Burgo: Related to that, after listening to the scathing “Minot”, it’s pretty clear that you’re originally from North Dakota, right? How did you guys all meet up in Minneapolis?
Nick: Indeed I am. Ha. Some things about it I have begun to appreciate but mostly it was pretty stifling to play music in that town unless you were playing punk rock or in a cover band. Let’s just put it this way, I wouldn’t go back. I met Mark through a “band wanted” sign I posted. Jim was a co-worker and songwriter friend of mine and Chad is originally from Minot as well.
High on Stress are: Nick Leet, Mark Devaraj, Jim Soule & Chad Wheeling
(Image credit: Steve Cohen)
Burgo: One of the reasons I really enjoy listening to High On Stress is the way that you guys obviously value lyrics that make you think, that actually say something (in particular, the wry “Gold Star” gets me). Are there any authors/other sources that you draw inspiration from when it comes to getting the lyrics down?
Nick: My favorite lyricist is Blake Schwartzenbach. He was the singer and guitarist of Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil. He’s currently not making music which is very sad. The dude could make simple words sound like a goldmine. As far as sources, my inspirations stem back to whatever is going on with me. Some advice I got awhile back is to “write what you know.” If you do that people can relate to it and in the process I can get it out of my system as well. Everyone wins…unless you think we suck.
Burgo: So most of what I’ve heard so far is based on your 2005 release, “Moonlight Girls“, but I’ve also heard the single entitled “Cop Light Parade“… the title track from your upcoming album, due out in September I believe? So let’s move on to that… first off, “Cop Light Parade” is a cracking tune, and it bodes well for the release. Care to tell us a bit more about the album? Has it been wrapped already, what should we expect?
Nick: The album is in the can and will be released into the abyss on September 2nd. We’ve worked really hard on this record and feel it’s a step forward from “Moonlight Girls.” There are a few more guitar solos (without going on a wankfest) and some really great harmonies from bassist, Jim Soule. If you liked “Moonlight Girls” you will probably like “Cop Light Parade” as well.
Burgo: “Cop Light Parade” seems to have some major Whiskeytown influences in it… that sweeping chorus, in particular, recalls hints of Whiskeytown’s “Crazy About You” for me. Did Adams et al. play a part in the formation of the record?
Nick: I’m a fan of the music of Ryan Adams. Sometimes his antics overshadow what he is trying to do which I think hampers him in a lot of ways. His self promotional machine I think is detrimental to his career. With that said, we like his songs but we really weren’t thinking “let’s write a Whiskeytown sounding song.” We’ll take it though. :)
Burgo: Finally, want to pimp any of your upcoming shows?
Nick: September 5th at the Fine Line in Minneapolis we are having our CD release show for “Cop Light Parade.” We’ve got a great line-up. Romantica (Top 100 albums of 2007 – Paste Magazine), the Snaps (featuring members of the Flamin’ Ohs – Mn Rock Hall of Famers) and Slim Dunlap (former guitarist of the Replacements)
(Ed’s note: With a line up like that, you’d be pretty brain dead not to head across to the Fine Line on September 5th for High On Stress’s CD release. Check out their calender item for more info about the night, but whatever you do… get there)
I’ve included three “High On Stress” songs below. The first two are taken from their 2005 release, “Moonlight Girls; the brilliant “You Have Conversations With Jesus“, and – perhaps my favourite – “Gold Star“. The third, and final tune, is the title track from their upcoming album, “Cop Light Parade“. If I wasn’t slightly disadvantaged by way of being based in Australia, I’d definitely try and check these guys out live… and you should too.
Listen. Love. Support.