In 2009, Highly Suspect was a Cape Cod bar band playing cover songs by legends like Sublime, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd. Six years, four albums/EPs, and two Grammy nominations later, the band clearly didn’t just change their musical concept. In fact, Highly Suspect has helped redefine a lot in the industry.
It’s 2016, and their sound mixes atmospheric interludes with charging, sludgy riffs, coated heavily with that trendy bluesy fuzziness. It’s angsty desperation meets lightheartedness, New York vs. Los Angeles, taut with sexual energy. Lead vocalist Johnny Stevens embodies that let-it-all-go, gritty, Jim Morrison-esque eccentric energy. And somehow, it’s authentic — not a shred of hipster to be found.
They don't want to be in a music video. They want to dilate your pupils with music. And if they can't do that in person from the stage, they want to make movies for you. Just check out the Wild West Tarantino-esque story in "Bloodfeather" or the controversial video for "Lydia."
The band's ability to evolve musically as a band is shown in its catalog. Pulling from the influences its members grew up with — ska punk, reggae, and blues — during the writing of their 2011 self-titled debut, the group gravitated towards a more alternative rock muse on 2012's The Worst Humans EP. After moving to Brooklyn, 2013's The Black Ocean EP was produced by Joel Hamilton (Elvis Costello, The Black Keys, Wu-Tang clan) and Joe Duplantier of death metal act Gojira. And 2015's Mister Asylum is the band's heaviest record yet, riddled with muscular hooks and double-time shuffle. But the rock trio, Stevens (guitar, vocals, synthesizer), Ryan Meyer (drums, vocals), and Rich Meyer (bass, vocals), is changing musical direction once again, as can be seen with the new 2016 single "Serotonia," which, according to Rich Meyer below, is "the desire to move away from what we've been doing."
New Times talked with bassist Rich Meyer about the next album's new direction, the artistic process behind the music videos, and his must-have element during recording (hint: it's not whiskey or Black Sabbath). The band is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Friday, April 15.
New Times: How did you and your twin brother originally come together with Johnny to create Highly Suspect?
Originally, we all went to the same high school but we didn’t really know each other. Ryan met [Stevens] a few times in hacky-sack circles, and he graduated a year after us. A few years after high school, I bumped into him at a party and we started jamming and hanging out. We moved into my cousin’s house. Ryan lived there, and my cousin as the original drummer of the band. But after a few years, he left and Ryan took his spot.
How do you feel Highly Suspect’s music has evolved from The Worst Humans to The Black Ocean, and then again to Asylum?
The Worst Humans was the first time we started playing more alternative rock as opposed to just alternative. The very first album was very reggae and ska punk and blues. Our transition to rock was The Worst Humans. We got a little heavier with The Black Ocean, and then Mister Asylum was the heaviest thing we’ve made so far. The next one will be a little less congruent with a wider range. Some songs will be even heavier than what was on Asylum, then others will be just like one person on the guitar singing. Like Pink Floyd Animals. We feel like we’ve earned a bit of artistic license because of the way things happened with Mister Asylum.
This might sound kinda vain, but there’s [nothing contrived about] to the way we write out music. It’s all from life experiences. That move to New York City had a huge impact on the overall tone of the songs we’re writing. It went from happy beachy type of vibes to more heavy, fast, and furious, in a dog-eat-dog world.
Tell me about the artistic process that goes into your music videos. "Lydia," for example. The music videos, or what you guys call movies, are very refreshing.
I like making things so different from each other, so there’s no comparison. Refreshing is one of my favorite adjectives to hear people describe what we’re doing. We like to tell stories and act and make it almost like a miniature movie. We’re not interested in making the classic music video with hair blowing in the wind and on stage. The Red Hot Chili Peppers totally nailed that; they were awesome at that, and now everyone else does it.
That mentality is clear in the video for “Serotonia.”
The desire to move away from what we’ve been doing is what “Serotonia” is. We’re departing now from that sound. We spend more time in Cali than we do in New York. But now we’re never home; we’re constantly on the road. I don’t really have a place a live. And if I ever have two weeks off, why would I spend the whole time moving somewhere to make it home?
What is the band currently working on?
We’re working on the next album. Touring for another couple months in the States, then spend some time writing, then go record some music.
What’s your must-have element in the recording process?
I don’t fuck with heroin, but I like party drugs. Nothing excessive. I’m not staying up all night blowing rails, but I like weed and things that give you a boost.
What’s something that fans would be surprised to know about you and the band?
We are all single.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.