How did The High Dials get their start?
Well, we’ve been at it for a while. I suppose it’s been seven years now. At one time, I was in a band called The Datsons, which changed its name to the Datson 4. We were a pretty different band, a 3-piece, and then a fourth later on. More of a mod-rock kind of thing. We evolved into The High Dials around 2003.
When your first record came out.
You’ve done 3 albums so far, and you’ve got a fourth coming out this week: ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth.’
Where was this new one recorded?
Kind of an interesting story, actually. We decided to build our own studio for this record, which I guess a lot of bands do now. We had access to this abandoned building; we actually went in there to do a photo shoot, and while we were taking photos we noticed that there was this incredible reverb in some of the rooms. It was like a lightbulb went off in everybody’s head and we realized this would be an amazing place to record. We made some inquiries and found out we could do it! It’s a huge, really old building right downtown [in Montreal]. It’s four stories and it used to belong to the Canadian Navy. I don’t know what they did there, but it was fascinating in there. The basement was full of classrooms, and there was this huge shooting range, a full-size gymnasium, and catacombs down there just full of stuff. Where we recorded was up on the third floor. There was this giant ballroom with a bar. It felt a bit like The Shining. You just kept expecting some butler to appear and start serving drinks from the bar.
That sounds awesome.
Yeah, it was pretty intense. We didn’t record everything there, because it would have been overwhelming. We did try to get some dry sounds, isolate things… we moved around town a bit, but the bulk of the recording was done in this place. It was spooky, too. Very creepy place. We also heard afterwards that it was haunted.
You built a whole control room and everything there?
No, no, it wasn’t like that. We didn’t go to the hardware store and build anything. We just recorded in the room as it was.
Just to an 8-track or something like that, and then took that to a studio?
No, we just did it all straight to digital. But we rented quite a bit of a gear, and we had things sectioned off. There was quite a bit of planning involved.
Ah, so it was kind of a one-time deal — you’re not turning that into a permanent studio.
Yeah, we got kicked out in the end, actually. The owners decided they weren’t comfortable with it when they saw the extent [of what we did]. I don’t think they realized what they were agreeing to.
There must be a certain tone or sound that the record has from having been done there.
I think it’s subtle on the record. The record is largely pretty poppy. I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking it’s this crazy, ambient shoegaze album. It isn’t. But there is definitely a lot of depth behind each song. There are a lot of soundscapes that we sculpted in the room. Robbie, our guitarist, is pretty good with pedals, and he created all kinds of different chains through his pedals. When he pumped all those sounds out into the ballroom… there’s nothing like natural reverb, you just can’t [recreate it]. In large part, I believe that whatever is newer [technology-wise] is usually comparable [to its previous-generation equivalent]. I believe that digital recording is fine, you can do a lot of things with the computer. Except when it comes to reverb — you just can’t simulate it. When you get in a natural room like that, it has no corner, it’s all wood, and it’s really big. Also, just to record in an environment like that is very inspiring. It ends up stimulating you creatively, and for that reason as well it was great to be working in there.
That’s cool. I heard a couple of tracks from the record and I’m looking forward to hearing the rest.
Thanks, it was very good to meet you at the show.
It was a great show! It was a very crowded, sweaty show at Local 269 in the Lower East Side of New York, for CMJ.
Yeah, things were running behind schedule as they always do — that was the only frustrating thing. We were looking forward to playing a longer set. It was a good turnout, though. We do seem to have fans in New York.
I daresay! It seems like your fanbase has just been steadily growing over the years.
It’s [not a huge] following, but I know that we are appreciated there. It’s strange, we’re actually appreciated more in New York, and in other places like Toronto and Vancouver, and Seattle even, than we are in our hometown. I think we have been neglecting it a little bit — we don’t play much in Montreal. But we also just don’t seem to fit in with what’s happening here.
You seem to do well in California, as well.
Yeah, we do great on the West Coast. I’ve always felt more of an affinity to the West Coast. Early on in The High Dials, we met these other bands in Los Angeles. I mixed our second record out there in 2005, and I spent a lot of time there, and there’s obviously a lot of really cool psych-pop bands out there. I don’t think you find that quite as much on the East Coast, but they do exist. Asteroid #4 from Philadelphia are great and The Hoa Hoa’s from Toronto. But in Montreal, I don’t feel there’s that same brotherhood of bands.
Interesting. Jumping back a few years, how did you hook up with Rod Argent (of The Zombies) on your song “Picture of a Fading Man”?
Well, back when the band was called The Datsons, we got invited to open for The Zombies at The Village Underground in New York. That was the first time that we met Rod and Colin [Blunstone], the singer. I’m a huge fan of The Zombies, so that was a really exciting moment for us. It also happened to be the same day we met Little Steven [Van Zandt], who’s also been really helpful to us in our career. Anyway, a couple years passed, we became The High Dials, released ‘A New Devotion,’ and then Rhino Records was reissuing ‘Odessey and Oracle’ remastered with with bonus tracks… and it just so happens that the guy at Rhino Records was also a big High Dials fan, so he had this idea… he knew there was a connection, that we had opened for them before. So he thought, “Why not have a younger band interview the older band?” So he set up this website, and we did this interview, where I interviewed Rod Argent. We got along great.
There are other things we have in common with The Zombies, such as that they are from the same town where half of my family is from, St. Albans. Kind of a weird coincidence, because it’s a pretty small town. Anyway, we got on really well, so when the interview was over, I thought to myself, “I bet he would play on our record if I asked him.” So I did, and he was into it. We just sent him the track, he recorded a pretty classic Zombies-style Hammond solo in the middle of the song. It was pretty cool.
Beautiful. So that Local 269 gig was a part of CMJ. Was that the only CMJ show you did this time around?
Yeah, we just came down for that one, we didn’t play any other parties or anything.
And have you done CMJ before?
Yeah, a couple of times. It’s always worthwhile.
Do you have touring plans?
Well, touring is always tricky, because it’s really hard to not lose money at this level. But yeah, obviously, we are dying to get on the road. If something really big comes up, we’ll do it. We do everything ourselves, so it’s hard. We used to tour pretty heavily in the earlier years. We don’t tour as much now, just because it’s costly and difficult to organize. We’re always down in New York, though. It’s only six hours away. We’ll probably be down there again quite soon. Hopefully I can get us down to the West Coast, and we also want to get back to England. It’s hard to plan too far ahead at this point; we’ll have to see what kind of response the record gets.
Is the record coming out on vinyl?
It is, it’s the first one of ours to do so. I actually have the test pressing here in my apartment right now. I haven’t even had a chance to listen to it now. It just arrived a couple of days ago. It’s multicolored vinyl, gatefold sleeve… should be awesome.
Awesome. Where can everyone pick it up?
It will be available through all the usual digital outlets, but if you order it from our website, that’s the best way to support us. You can also stream songs from the new record on our site.
Thank you, Trevor!