Around the nineties and early noughties, rock and even general music fans united in the scream and freedom of bands like Pearl Jam, Audioslave, Rage, Green Day – all with unique sounds, yet all offering something decidedly pure, loud, energetic, and of substance. They had something new to say, and they had a new way of saying it.
Time flew by, festivals were unforgettable, sweaty underground venues had never seen such volume and energy. And then, somewhere along the way, we stopped hearing about bands like this – the sound had all but vanished from the mainstream and from many a festival stage. The excitement died down, we grew accustomed to whatever music was available, and we got on with our lives.
Fast forward a few years – to those still fresh enough to remember in detail – and one or two tracks managed to weave their way through the airwaves, across the globe, to envelop listeners; to reignite that love for the absolute grit and soul of the live-band sound and all that it is to be a rock-star. The wave – the rush – was beginning again. And right at the front of that rush, leading the way, seductively breaking the mold, was a song called Lydia, and a little-known band called Highly Suspect.
Far from new to the music scene, Highly Suspect made their minds up to do this – whatever it entailed – and their lives were dedicated to music from the moment they made that decision. The live scene in New York saw them evolve and perfect their craft, then with the emergence of two stunning alternative albums – Mister Asylum / The Boy Who Died Wolf – the band sealed the deal in the mainstream.
Creative freedom, passion and purity was back. We all reveled in the outpouring of emotion as the band’s acknowledgement of our inner struggles rained down around us – I can’t fucking breathe, much less believe, the truth… Someone understood us, and was happy for us to go ahead and try to understand them.
Few bands can celebrate three albums that intrigue and entertain, that captivate and embrace audiences, as extensively as this band. The chemistry is just perfect. This voice, this songwriting, this guitar sound, the experimentation, the raw drum-work, the unity – this is what the MCID community has come to love and trust about the band, and while their latest, aptly titled album is once again a far stretch away from their previous projects, it still categorically lets shine those very qualities that make Highly Suspect so uniquely appealing.
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Prior to a huge world tour planned for throughout 2020, Highly Suspect played a number of shows over in the states to mark the release of the new album. They also graciously stopped by in London to play a rather humble yet brilliantly-suited venue in Hackney – a place called Oslo.
Having sold out in a matter of seconds, welcoming just less than 400 emphatic and passionate fans, the show saw the band do precisely what they do best – what they love to do, and what makes the people feel so free from the weight and confines of daily life.
Knowing exactly how to win the audience over, whilst also driving with unwavering confidence and a seemingly care-free sense of swagger that’s incredibly captivating, front-man Johnny Stevens leads the set through an ocean of absolute classics and fresh hits alike.
Balancing contemporary electronic moments with plenty of distorted guitar solos and impeccable drum-lines, the band proceed to stylishly cram in everything the classic rock show used to offer. From volume, energy and bravado, to crowd-surfing, story-telling, honesty, togetherness, and an ultimately chaotic yet beautifully inclusive environment, the show presented a band undoubtedly at the top of their game; offering absolute escapism for everyone involved.
Already the fans know the new songs. 16 went down without a missed lyric from anyone, as did Tokyo Ghoul‘s unforgettable and addictive hook, as did all of the classics from the previous two albums. The band make you feel like you’re a part of it – not just a fan, but a crucial building block in the way the music feels. It’s a rare and commendable trait, and it’s one that’s likely to last throughout their career; thanks to their clear and faultless love for the process.
Something special happened in that room on November 27th, and whether it was just a taste of what’s to come, or a more intimate moment captured in time that will simply live in the memories of those who managed to get tickets, it was something real, powerful, and musically brilliant.
To top it all off – we were blessed with an interview with Ryan Meyer just hours before the show. A massive thank you to Ryan for his time and insight, and to the entire band and production team for putting on such a mighty show.
Here’s how the chat went.
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Congrats on the album! It’s everything we hoped for, yet nothing like we were expecting; as is the Highly Suspect way. How does it feel to share the album with the world after working on it for so long?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, at first – as it usually is. You do your best but you have no idea how it’s gonna turn out, or how it’s gonna be perceived. But, so far so good – pretty stoked upon all of it.
Does it feel different when performing the songs, once you’ve handed them to the fans – do they sound different to you then?
Yeah. Well, we also play them a little bit differently. The rock songs that don’t have the electronic beats in them, those sound about the same, but for the ones that we made – kind of in the box, you know, the electronic songs – when we play those live, I change them up a little bit, so it has more of a live feel; so it’s not just repeating the record and there’s more for the fans to listen to.
Is it the same method every gig, or do you play around each time?
I play almost the same thing every gig, but at first when I was figuring out how I wanted to change it up, it was different, until I finally landed on the correct power. It’s something you do until it feels right to you. I just kind of exercise patience in myself, to know that I’ll find that comfort eventually, and you just have to wait until it happens.
Has it happened?
Yes. We’ve been touring this record for a little over a month now. And we were preparing by practicing the songs at sound check. We had an hour and a half to check almost every night, so instead of playing the old ones that we can play in our sleep, we were playing the new ones. So when they come out, they really have an impact.
How involved in the writing process have you been with this particular album?
Well, I’m always involved in, I would say, a quarter of the writing process. There’s the pre-production, where we just get into a room and get drunk and make music; make sounds and just have fun with it, you know – try to find the appeal that brought us into playing music in the first place – the fun of just messing around with your friends, and drinking beer.
Then, once you start to carve out the songs, and it slowly starts turning into work again, you start chipping away at them. And then, once we get into the main studio, out of ours and into Joel’s, when you’re under the clock – this time we were especially prepared. I was done with the drums in less than a week – I had done all of the drums for the record. The guys worked for another three months, so I was just kinda – hanging around.
Do you stick around and stay involved?
Yeah, I always have, but in this particular album – I guess my relationship was failing. And I was trying to work through it, while we were making the record. So as soon as I was done I flew back to LA. It kind of worked out perfectly where the relationship ended and then I had quite a few months of recovery time, before I had to go up on stage and recover in front of people.
I’m sorry to hear that. You worked through it though, by the sound of it.
Yeah. You know, I think stuff like that can make you a lot stronger. It definitely did for me. So, thanks, but – I’m also glad it happened.
So, obviously MCID has been a thing long before this album came out. Is there a connection between what MCID represents and how eclectic this project is, or is it just a kind of greatest hits gathered / left over from the last couple of years?
Oh no, these are all new songs.
I mean, with the genre variation, was there a connection or did you just want to experiment?
Yeah, we always wanted to, we always listened to other things beside rock music, and we’re into that. But, at first, in order to make an impact, we had to be one thing. But then, if you stay one thing, you are only one thing – you’re only a rock band, that’s all you do. You make a certain sound that people expect. And we figured, if we made a third album that sounded exactly like the other two, we were stuck. By the time we got to the fourth album, the fans would expect a fourth album that sounded like the third, second and the first. So it was now or never. We were either gonna start doing what we actually wanted to do, and expand horizons, or be stuck forever, as just a rock band. And there’s nothing wrong with being a rock band, if that’s what you want to do, but we didn’t.
Fair enough. It still sounds like a rock record in many ways, you can still turn it up loud and get lost in the passion and volume of it. It’s still very much your sound, the big hooks and the weight and the energy – you’ve captured something special there.
You’ve got a new member this year…
Two new members. Matt and Mark.
How’s that going, has it changed things?
Yeah, drastically. So, on the second record we started adding all sorts of things that we couldn’t replicate live. But we still weren’t ready to be a computer band. We weren’t ready to play tracks and just kind of repeat the song. We wanted to be able to move and change and still have a live feel. And now – he came into our life at the perfect time, when A) we could afford him, and B) he was the perfect person.
Mark was an intern / engineer at the studio where we recorded all of our projects over the past decade. He’s one of a fraction of a percent of interns that eventually become a full-time engineer, and are on salary, and do projects and bring projects in, and become an integral part of the society we’re part of. He’s like an engineer ninja, and can do all of the technical things that we don’t know how to do, and he can play everything live.
A lot of the songs are to a click now, which actually tightens everything up, so it’s great, but we don’t have to stick to the format if we wanna extend a chorus because it feels right, or the ending – if we wanna make it more epic and longer, we can totally do that, because we a have a player in the machine.
It’s opened up a lot more doorways.
Mhmm. And then, Matt has been a part of our little family for a long time. He was originally my drum tech. But before that he was one of my best friends, I used to go on vacation with him all the time and ride motorcycles.
Ah nice, I didn’t realise. So he slots in well to the group…
Yeah, perfectly. And he’s a great writer, he’s always played in bands, he knows how to operate in the studio, he knows how to create and work with other people really well, so.. you know, he earned his stripes being the drum tech and then he came in, and – I can’t see us doing the band without him.
Amazing. So, how does it feel to suddenly be in London. You’re just playing the one show, and then you’re back next March. Aside from the tiredness, you’re about to play a sell-out show in a pretty cool venue, what are your feelings about this time?
Oh, I love it. We didn’t come over enough, we got stuck in the mud half-way through our second record. We lost our overseas label support, strictly due to a change of players, and everything went under the line, so we weren’t able to get over to London and do what we wanted to do because we didn’t have the capacity. So, instead of coming back over and playing a huge room, we wanted to do something more intimate to re-establish our relationship with the fans – do something where people can actually see you up close, and they can hear you talking on stage.
There’s no intimacy in a huge venue. It’s fun as fuck, but people can’t even see you. They can see a shape of you.
Do you think you miss this kind of thing? I know you guys have been together for ten years now and you used to always play around the smaller circuits.
Oh yeah, we played a lot smaller venues than this.
Do you think you miss this then?
I like the intimacy of it. I don’t miss the technical stuff – it’s so much easier when you’re on a bigger level and everything works, and it sounds better; it’s easier. I don’t have a sub-woofer, really – things like that. But, all of that stuff is forgivable, because when the technical stuff can be put aside, the fan love and the crowd being right on top of you is amazing. I mean, someone could just, like, toss a hat on to my drum, as I’m like four feet away from them.
And you can see their face…
Yeah, you have a connection, and I can laugh, and have conversations with people cause they’re right there. That’s how we got to where we are, because we loved that so much – I think people pick up on that. Would you want to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be friends with you? You know what I mean?
You’re doing a pretty big tour next march, will you throw in some smaller venues, too?
Yeah, in places where we haven’t really had a chance to do that. I think the smallest room will be in Glasgow, it’s got a 500 capacity.
Is that King Tuts?
King Tuts, yeah. And that’ll be fun, too, cause we all know the Scots are crazy, so.
Awesome. Are you coming to Wales at all?
I’m not sure, let me check.
Did you hear the story of the first time we were in Wales? The first time we came over to the UK we were supporting an arena tour with Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown and Halestorm, and we had never been over here before. We were this tiny band that had no draw – we were just thrown onto the stage because we were in the same management group as the other bands.
We get to Wales, and like – we don’t know our fuckin’ ass from our elbow. We thought – you know, it’s not that far of a drive; so we didn’t know we were in a different country. And we get up on stage, and Johnny goes – Hello England! To a crowd of people that aren’t English, and they took a lot of offense to it. And we were nobody, nobody knew what our music sounded like, you know, they were completely impressionable and mostly stand-offish – who are you, prove yourself. And the first thing we did was insult them.
Oh dear. I’m sure it’s happened before though, many times.
Yeah, probably. I don’t think we’re the first band to fuck up like that. I mean that’s the spinal tap movie, classic.
With Rich singing on Arizona, and Johnny venturing off to do some solo stuff, do you think you will – are there other projects you want to do?
Yeah. We’ve been doing only Highly Suspect for so long, it’s only healthy that we do other things. You have to have some sort of balance. So, yeah, definitely – for sure.
What do you think you’ll be doing?
Well, hopefully I find something that really gives back to me. I’ve been getting into doing sessions here and there, when I have the time. I love to get into things that don’t involve music as well. Business, real estate, modeling, film – you know, just to sort of test myself, see what else I can do, cause I’ve been playing drums since I was eleven years old. And those new experiences will only make the music better. Your art is your life translated through your skills. You evolve as a person, you become a better artist.
Absolutely. Makes sense.
So, obviously there’s a positive message to a lot of your music, but there’s a lot of struggle in it as well. What’s the thing that keeps you optimistic – what would be your advice to people who are struggling to see the good in the world, as you continue to do what you do and keep the energy high?
Well, I mean – I’m not gonna lie to you. The world is shit. Humans are destructive, we’re fucked up, we have mass suicides, mental health issues. I mean, you look at other animals – other animals are fine. Dolphins don’t have suicide. Humans have suicide. We’re fucked up.
So, you can choose to be depressed, or you can choose to focus on the things that are good, and stay happy, because – there’s a massive amount of things that are negative, and if you focus on those, you’ll be negative. If you want to be happy, focus on the happy things. It’s pretty simple, in theory, but it’s difficult – it’s easier to say.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
Elon Musk. I think he’s totally bat shit, and that’s what makes him a genius. I’d want to see – I don’t know. I think what he’s doing is pretty smart. I have this theory that what he’s doing could save our environment. Even though he’s sending ass-loads of burnt rocket fuel into our atmosphere. Besides that…
There’s a strange state of mind that happens to astronauts when they go up into space. They get up into the cold, dark vacuum of space, and they turn around, and they look at this small floating little orb that we’re all sitting on, and they all get the same feeling. They don’t feel like humans anymore, they feel like earthlings. Because, once you zoom out, you see that we’re all in this thing together, and outside of this super delicate eco-system that we have, there’s nothing.
I think if you make space travel a commercial vacation, something the super rich and powerful can afford, then those are the people that have the most weight – they can change the most. And they’re also the ones who are the most fucked up. They’re stock-piling money, and they aren’t doing any good with it in order to save the planet – at least not the vast majority of them. So if you take those people, and you put them up in space, maybe it will change their mind, and they can take their wealth, and they can put it to good use. Because otherwise, we’re totally fucked.
We’re speeding towards a red light, we’re flooring it, there’s no change happening. So it’s either, take the most influential people, and change their minds, or it’s not gonna happen.
Is that something you’ve thought about before then?
Thank you for this – really looking forward to the show – you guys are awesome. Have a good one.
Lovely to meet you.
Lovely to meet you!
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