Q&A: Electro-Folk Duo Tall Heights Rockets To Higher Altitude

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

Boston indie progressive pair, Tall Heights, isn’t focused on one particular type of sound. With two full length albums under their belt, the twosome find themselves sonically all over the map from electro-folk and folk-pop to straight up indie-rock. On the other hand, with most burgeoning bands in the scene, these genre descriptions are purely at face value. 

Tim Harrington (singer/guitarist) and Paul Wright (singer/cellist) are focused on something else, and that something is their profound disposition to compose a wide range of anecdotes within their music. From the stories portraying the different sides of love and the humanized tales of those bewildered and adrift in the world, Tall Heights are storytellers first. With unequivocal purpose and desire, this band is unyielding in their pursuit for a career much grander than those who came before them and certainly those who come after.

In 2016, they released their major label debut, Neptune, for Sony Music Masterworks. It was the follow-up to their first independent record, 2013’s Man of Stone. Within the sophomore record, the duo established a prominent spike in the development of their overall sonic palette and songwriting aptitude. In fact, they had clearly built upon their debut record on a cornucopia of levels. They had pushed their resonance into lusher musical terrains, all while sounding much broader and far more exuberant. On “Infrared,” the pair exhibited a complete sonic overhaul by interlacing electronics and R&B nuances for a daring, unique, and blissful effort. On the extremely warm and catchy “River Wider,” the Bostonian group ignited another type of flame by moving past any creative limitations that might have been there. As one listens attentively, they’ll discover the sentimental songwriting, the lavish harmonies, and the deep intimacy that Tall Heights has been consistently providing since their humble beginnings busking on the streets of Boston.

Since the release of Neptune, Tall Heights has released three new songs—2017’s “Fire Escape” and a pair of new songs this year, “White Frost” and “Not Like It Was.” With an untitled 2018 LP in the works and presently supporting Judah & the Lion on tour, we chatted with the busy buds about everything from what they have in store for 2018 to who would be their dream collaborator to work with.

OTW: You guys signed to Sony Music Masterworks in 2016, how did that process unfold?

We were in the process of finishing Neptune when the “Holding On, Holding Out” version of “Spirit Cold” took off on Spotify. That got some labels interested enough to start hitting us up. Masterworks was not the obvious choice, but their respect for the artistic process was super refreshing, and their enthusiasm for the record was unmatched.

OTW: What’s the songwriting process like for you?

Tim and I live in the same house. I write downstairs, he writes upstairs. We send ideas back and forth and eventually sit down, usually upstairs, and sift through them. We try to keep an open mind in those sessions to all of the paths a new idea might take, and then we make voice memos and take time to listen back before revisiting.

OTW: I’ve read you aren’t keen on classifying yourselves into one particular genre - are there particular artists you tend to draw inspiration from when creating? 

We’ve been saying electro-folk of late which feels fine. People generally smile and nod and don’t ask follow up questions, which pleases me. I would say we turn inwards in the moment of songwriting. I personally find it overwhelming and demotivating to think about artists I adore as I try to write something new. Of course there’s some thought chatter happening about, “Does this sound like us?” and, “Is this a useful exercise?”, but it’s best to shut those thoughts down and push on. Churning out lots of little ideas, most of which will be discarded or saved for later, often works better for us than getting precious and trying to write the next album track.

OTW: What are you most looking forward to on this tour with Judah & the Lion and Colony House?

Those guys are incredibly kind and easy to be with, and it’s an honor to be out with them for the next few months. I’m excited to return to a bunch of the far-from-home cities we hit with Ben Folds like San Antonio and Vancouver.

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OTW: What advice would you offer to those busking and in hopes of making it big in the industry?

For us it was a way to gain a ton of practice performing together, and keeping ourselves afloat. We didn’t get “discovered” by any industry people out there– the closest we got was maybe Penn from Penn and Teller saying something disparaging about us. But lots of people had a discovery moment in stumbling upon our set, and they still come to our shows all over the country and take such pride in our accomplishments. That’s pretty special.

OTW: Besides your upcoming tour, what else can we look forward to for Tall Heights?

We just finished tracking the new record. More on that soon.

OTW: Who would be a dream for you to collaborate with?

Kendrick Lamar please.

OTW: When explaining the meaning behind “White Frost” you left us with this quote, “I think that beneath our culture war lurks the fear of being a stranger in your own land.“ Can you explain this into further detail?

There are two narratives happening within the song. One is the true story of a couple who isolated themselves from the rest of the world as young adults and created their own existence. The other is our own commentary on the state of our country. At times one narrative seems to dominate, and then the other pokes its head out, but they’re both speaking throughout.

OTW: You’ve mentioned before that your songs are more than love songs, that you hope to bring awareness to world issues – you mentioned climate change specifically. Do you hope to offer a voice in the areas of climate change or others?

We will continue to address climate change and social issues in our songs, and lend our music to causes we’re passionate about.  We look to someone like Paul Simon as the master of incisive commentary that isn’t force-fed. Last month we had the opportunity to perform for Al Gore as part of his Climate Reality Project, and that was a huge “holy shit” career moment for both of us. We played “Spirit Cold” and our cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” with overlapping audio from Scott Pruitt’s speech congratulating Trump on exiting the Paris Agreement. Participating in an event like that is the stuff of dreams for us.

OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?

Liza Anne, Field Report, Henry Jamison

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