INTERVIEW: The Great Heights Band

Hi Neal, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Been really good! Having fun and excited about finally releasing rad-pop” after working super hard on it the last couple of years. It feels amazing to share something that we have put countless hours, energy, and love into, and I can’t wait to see how people react to it.

Can you talk to us more about your song “Better Things”?

Sure! “Better Things” was very close to not even making this album. Eric Taft (singer/guitarist) and I worked on this song for close to two years. I remember when he wrote the original demo I happened to be living out in LA at the time. So I took his version and re-wrote it and emailed him my demo of it. This went on for those couple of years and we could never get the chorus just right. Paul Martinez (drummer) really made a big difference on this song by coming in and telling us if and when something worked, or more often, when it didn’t. He kept pushing us to write something better and I really appreciate that. I feel like we wrote and re-wrote this song about a dozen times.

In particular, I remember visiting the Grand Canyon with my Dad, and Eric Facetimed me to try to work out the bridge for the song. It was the first time my Dad “met” Eric, and we cranked that bridge out together over the phone. This band is a family so it was really special for my Dad to meet my songwriting buddy while we were writing a song. The song itself is about a sweet relationship gone sour and we really wanted the song to have that earworm vibe, with a nod to 90s alternative rock combined with our love for arrangements with instruments that typically aren’t in rock songs. The bridge in particular has French horns, which is a nod to The Beatles’
“Strawberry Fields”. The choruses really lean on fat synths to beef them up in a dance rock sort of way. I’ve always enjoyed reed organs, and we were able to put one of those in the second verse. It’s a fun song with a really interesting arrangement.

Did any event inspire you to write this song?

As silly as it sounds, I think life in general inspired this song. We’ve all been in relationships that didn’t work out for whatever reason and I think that this song really focuses on the sadness associated with that, but also on the fact that there is more to life than a relationship gone bad. The chorus is about moving on for good while the verses reflect on what happened. The bridge is all about accepting reality for what it is. It’s a break-up song for people that are done being broken up over it. I always thought of the movie 500 Days of Summer whenever Eric and I worked on this song.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

This video was a lot of fun to make. We have taken a lot of pride in the music videos we make ever since this band started. We feel like we set the bar really high with our music video for “Portland” and we’ve been trying to top it every time we make something new. We bounced several ideas off each other until we landed on this infomercial idea for “rad-pop the energy drink.” Originally, I was thinking about it as a super energy drink kind of like Redbull that could give someone super powers or help them face their greatest fear. We ran with that and had the idea for the main character, played by Eric, to turn into “Rad-Man” when he drinks the super drink. Rad-Man saves the day throughout the video in silly ways. It’s goofy and tongue-in-cheek.

We worked with our good friend Ian Bell on this video, who I have personally worked with on several projects. Ian is a musician himself and knows how a video should be shot to fit the vibe of a song. We’ve always worked well with him and the process just flows easily. He’s like a fifth member of the band when we work together and it’s really special to have that connection.

We shot the entire video in one day at a spot in Kensington, Maryland called GIGS, where Eric actually used to teach music to kids. We are super appreciative of their owner, Sean, for giving us access to their store on an off day to shoot the video. The entire place is really well decorated with cool art everywhere. It’s a special place that does special things.

Everything in this video, just like all of our others, was DIY with our bud Ian. We take a lot of pride in that and it definitely takes a lot of work and creativity to make something cool for little to no budget.

The single comes off your new album rad-pop. – what’s the story behind the title?

Over the last couple of years of touring off our first album, Songs in Eastern Standard Timing, we’ve been called pop-punk, alternative, rock, and everything in between. One time we played in a city where the local paper called us a “rad-pop band” and that really stuck with us. We never felt like we were a pop-punk band, and I think if you listen to rad-pop. from front to back you’ll hear that. I think you’d hear that on SIEST too, but sometimes people just listen to singles.

We didn’t have a name for the album until we had flushed out all the demos and had a sense of what kind of record we were making. This record is eclectic and covers a wide range of styles and influences that have been important to each of us as we have grown as musicians. When we went over the 18 or so songs that were considered for the album we realized this record was not pop-punk at all and has its own sound entirely. This record really is rad-pop as a genre so we went with that as the title. We want to own the sound.

How was the recording and writing process?

In total, we probably had about 40-50 songs to choose from for this record between everything Eric and I wrote over the last couple of years. I had been writing since 2015 and Eric had songs from different projects he was involved with as well has new ones he had written. We all listened to every song and narrowed it down to an ambitious 18 to record. Eric really did a lot of heavy lifting on this record as we produced it ourselves at his studio, Buzzlounge Record Studio, over the course of a year. We were able to bring the songs down to 13 and 11 made the actual record, with two songs used as exclusives for the vinyl and the CD respectively.

The songs themselves evolved tremendously when Owen Brinser (bassist) and Paul got their ears on them. I learned a lot myself about engineering and assisted a good bit during the recording process, but it really was all hands on deck. We took our time and recorded the album the way we wanted to record it. Our buddy Lee Hallet would come in from time to time to help out and offer another perspective, too, which was awesome. We’d run ideas by people we really trusted to sort of gauge if we were doing something cool and that really helped. Some of the bass was recorded in Owen’s home studio and some of the hip-hop beats were made in my home studio. We are really fortunate to have access to a professional audio engineer in our band along with a top of the line recording studio.

We’ve always worked super well together so writing the songs was never too tough. I don’t remember any major disagreements on any parts. It just took forever because we wanted to make it just right – and I think we did.

What role does rhythm play in your writing?

It played a huge role on rad-pop. Being a singer/guitarist, before this record I used to focus primarily on melody. But since SIEST came out, I started diversifying my listening habits and getting really into hip-hop, funk, and house music. It bounces through your veins. With “Quicksand” in particular I wanted to write a song that was all about the rhythmic vibe. I wanted to write a dance song. We thought deeply about what beats and bass grooves would make someone want to move and we built songs up from there. It was a totally different approach from what I was used to doing as a songwriter.

How have The Cure and Gorillaz influenced this record?

Last year I had this awesome opportunity to travel around southeast Asia, and I was riding a motorbike down the east coast of Taiwan and listening to The Cure’s greatest hits record on repeat. It’s amazing how music can take you back to a time and a place in an instant. As I was listening, I realized one of the reasons why The Cure is so massively popular and easy to listen to – they were able to express deep feelings while keeping the music simple, catchy, and fun. “Close to Me” is hands down one of my favorite songs ever and it is as simple as it gets. I think it reminded me as a songwriter of not overdoing things and allowing what matters in a song to breathe. Their production is also really cool in the way they pan different parts of an arrangement, keeping things super interesting for a listener. In terms of sound itself, I think you will hear the sounds of the guitars in “Better Things” being a nod to The Cure as well as some of the melodies throughout rad-pop..  Production-wise, I think you will hear The Cure’s influence all over this album.

With Gorillaz it’s all about rhythm and vibe. I love how they mix pop elements like keyboards and synthesizers with hip hop beats and electronic elements. We tried to bring some of that into songs like “What’s Real!” and “Quicksand” – some of our more out-of-the-box type of songs on the new record. They also do a really great job of mixing up vocal parts, and Eric and I play off each other a lot on this album.

You’re known for blending different genres – how did you get to balance them together?

I think we did a good job of not trying to make a song sound a certain way. Everything we did with an arrangement felt natural and was best for the song – even who sang it. We love to mix stuff up because we are all influenced by so many different styles, but when you force it I think it loses its charm and feel.

What aspect of love did you get to explore on this record?

This is a great question! As I look back on our first album, there was a lot of content on love in a romantic sense, which is beautiful and important in its own right. But love goes beyond romance – there are deep friendships and connections that are not romantic that can be just as important. I wrote “The Mountain” the day I found out a good friend passed away. I spent the next day at his funeral and that night with old friends reminiscing on all the trouble we got into and out of when we were kids. That was love. And that’s what “The Mountain” is all about – friendship and sticking with each other through it all.

Eric wrote “All In” about his dog, Rufus. I remember when Eric got Rufus he texted me asking if I thought it was a good idea to get a dog… and I said “NO!” Eric got Rufus anyway, and I am so thankful that he did. He loves that dog and it is so obvious how much Rufus makes his life better.

This record talks about love in the romantic sense, about loss, about friendship, and about companionship. It’s definitely a step forward in how we as young guys have matured our perspective on the whole concept.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes! We will be hitting the road in April with our good buds in Eternal Boy. It is mostly a northeast tour hitting some of our favorite cities to play. In May/June, we will be doing our first ever west coast tour with Eye the Realist. We are super excited to get out there and play these songs live! After that, who knows! There have been talks about some cool opportunities, and we will be sure to let you guys know!

What else is happening next in The Great Heights Band´s world?
We’ve been working on a follow-up EP that I think will surprise some people, but I am going to stay hush hush on that. With rad-pop. we are just trying to get this record to as many people that are willing to listen to it as possible. It’s a big step for us and a huge moment in our career so we really appreciate everyone that takes the time to check it out. You’ll be seeing another new music video soon as well as some other really exciting news that I gotta keep on the down low for now.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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