NXNE: The High Dials Interview

The High Dials— from Montreal— have been around since 2003 playing indie rock influenced by everything from classic psychedelic rock to modern power-pop. They’ve released two EP’s and three full-lenghts, the most recent being 2008’s critically acclaimed Moon Country. I got a chance to ask them a couple questions as they gear up to play Rancho Relaxo on June 19th for NXNE.

A lot of music media had The High Dials pegged as a 60’s revivalist band, but the sound seems to have evolved into more of a vintage psychadelic take on power pop. In the past you’ve stated that psychedelic isn’t the best fit for the band, what genre would you say The High Dials identify with the most?

Well, we’re a pop band that likes to wander and listens to mostly old music. I don’t think there was ever a scene we could just plug into. Because our first album was a such a retro fetish fantasy I know we have frustrated the purists, who expected us to follow the well-beaten path. I’d never be happy holding a torch for any scene other than the one in my head. The High Dials scene! Hopefully that intersects with people with similar taste. Genre music to me is a hobby, like collecting sports memorabilia or old fashioned cars. That’s cool for some people, but I need and expect something bigger, even if it’s hard to achieve. You have to play the game though in order to reach sympathetic ears and labels are needed so let’s say we’re a little bit power pop, a little bit 60s etc (insert favorite awesome genre here!)

The montreal indie scene had a pretty big explosion of indie bands focused on having lots of members and an orchestrated sound— like The Arcade Fire for example. Did you find it hard solidifying the precence of your band in a scene that might not have embraced your style so easily?

Yeah, I’m not sure people in Montreal get us too much. Maybe we need to play here more often. There are other cities where we seem to click with people so much more easily. We were touring a lot during that whole Montreal explosion, so it came up in interviews but it wasn’t part of our reality. I don’t have much of an opinion on it.

You recorded some of your 2008 record “Moon Country” in Ireland. What was that like and what made you choose Ireland?

I love Ireland. I’ve had some of the best times of my life there. It’s been way too long, I need to get back. I think the Irish find my romanticism ridiculous, but secretly they know it’s a magic place. It’s all about the light. The weather changes every few minutes so you get all these rainbows, strange shadows etc. A good place for hallucinations! For that and other reasons, Ireland has been a muse for me.

As I mentioned, “Moon Country” came out in 2008 and was very well recieved critically, how has the response to the album/band been in the years since it’s release? Growing steadily?

We put that album out independently while the band was going through a lot of change and didn’t tour much so I don’t feel it got the push it needed. It’s a shame cause I think it’s our best to date. It had no master plan behind it and is still not distributed outside North America. But you have to take the long view. The music is out there and it will gain exposure over time as we tour.

You’ve had some pretty high profile supporters like Steven Van Zandt and Andrew Loog Oldham. Do you feel honored that they have given the band their stamp of approval?

Absolutely! Steven has been a really vocal supporter and ALO is the coolest guy. Honoured that he would even listen to our stuff. He once had a Rolls Royce that played vinyl records, space-age stuff in its day. He took John Lennon for a spin in it! I was in Colombia last year and got to hang out with him a bit (he lives in Bogota).

It seems like every article or interview with The High Dials makes mention of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Would you care to explain how you guys met BJM and how they might have influenced The High Dials?

We met them at a formative time. It was before Dig came out and Anton became the cult hero. Anton came bounding up to us at an outdoor festival in Ontario saying “I love you guys. You sound like the Zombies!” He kind of took us under his wing then, like an older brother and did a lot to get the word out. He inspired me with his total commitment to the cause even if the world could care less. He’s a fearless rocker, the real deal and that’s why people respond to him.We have played a lot of shows with them and there’s a comraderie. I’m happy they’re doing so well. Good memories.

Is the songwriting process a collaberative one or is there a specific member who is the driving creative force?

It’s a band not a solo project, but they are my words and melodies, with some basic direction given. Everyone in the room adds their magic stuff. I’m a crap musician. At heart, I will always be a band guy. That’s how I learned to make music at 16. I need that interaction. Laptops are great for editing cool sounds together but no substiture for a real music experience.

In the past I’ve read that you very much support the idea of an album being something to digest all the way through. Do you think that notion of the “album” as a package— art, sequencing, etc— in music is dwindling as of late?

For sure, but there’s nothing that can be done. Album length was just the arbitrary amount of music you could fit onto vinyl in those days. It’s nostalgia now. I still think it’s the best way to enjoy a band, but no one has the attention span for that never mind reading a book!

Are there plans for another album, or are you focusing on touring more these days?

We have a new album coming out this fall. I took a break from working on it to answer these questions.

Can Toronto crowds expect some impromptu jamming at your live shows, or do you try to keep things a little closer to the record when performing? And finally, what bands are you going to try to see at this years NXNE when you come?

Hmm, jamming unlikely given the time constraints. Best to come see us in a hick bar on a dreary night for that! But our setlist is an interesting batch of tunes that span our history and we have a new line-up, with our buddy George Donoso III back on drums. There will be some surprises, it’s live music! I think we’ll be sticking around the Rancho Relaxo to catch the other bands on the bill, especially our friends Asteroid #4.

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