Tall Heights Melds Two Voices Into One on Latest Album
When you’re an artist, touring comes with the territory. For Boston duo Paul Wright and Tim Harrington of Tall Heights, it solidifies the all-consuming music-making experience far beyond conceptualizing and production. On the heels of the release of their latest studio album, Pretty Colors For Your Actions, Tall Heights is set to embark on a tour of over 30 cities, with shows at venues like The Roxy in LA and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg. “…when we’re on the road, it’s where we get to learn or re-discover the value of what we do in a macro way,” Harrington said in our interview where he detailed the immeasurable reward that is connecting with fans at live shows, drawing inspiration from The Greats, and the process of crafting a project with a singular, identifiable sound.
The album’s metaphorical title distinguishes an engaging exchange between two entities for the product of something greater—a tantalizing quid pro quo. Stepping back from production-heavy elements, Pretty Colors attests to Tall Heights’ pivotal aim as a pair, such being able to synthesize two voices into one with the aid of man-made instrumentation. Read our interview with Harrington below and stream Tall Heights’ new album here.
What was the contemporary production process like on this album?
For this one, we were kind of moving from what we did last time. I feel like we’re always reacting to the thing that we just were; you’re always examining the most recent version of yourself and kind of updating that. Trying to find the part that’s truly you, and the part you’re willing to leave behind. It’s this process of sharpening [yourself] over time. This time, after listening back and examining our catalogue we realized there’s something very unique, and there’s a fingerprint about all the work we’ve done, even while all the production elements have changed so vastly over time. It still sounds like Tall Heights to us when we listen back to our first EP and our first album and then Neptune, and now Pretty Colors For Your Actions. I think we really tried to lean into what makes us us–the story here is the sound of our voice. This kind of sets you free on a production level, because as long as you stay loyal to that voice, the combined sound of our voices and the true blend of two perspectives and two unique individuals, it’s going to work out just fine for us. For this one we captured much more of a “band in the studio” thing, rather than doing something that was more meticulously copy and pasted, putting different samples here and there. We tried to trust in the individual human performances of the people we had in the studio with us, and of course we layered some cool modern production elements on top of that. But, all in all, we wanted to capture something that feels like a live, living, breathing human thing and then go back and put our vocals on top of that.
Who were some of your biggest musical influences when writing and recording the album?
Well, you can’t not have influences; music doesn’t happen in a vacuum and if you’re going to make a good record you need to kind of know what you want it to sound like. I think beautiful art is always deliberate art. For us, we wanted to be loyal to the thing we’ve always done, which is the sound of our voices. But, also that live human production thing is very Michael Jackson as well as very Radiohead. Listening to some of the greats who know how to make albums just so fucking good, you realize that some of the stuff that you always imagine — the worldly, sent from the ether, beam-me-up kind of larger than life recordings — the secret is that they’re all just stupidly human. It’s a person performing something that was well thought out, performing it in a way that’s real and meticulous, but human. With Radiohead, you think about their music and hear something that’s ethereal, and you almost can’t believe it’s just five instruments, you would think instead it’s like an alien soundtrack from another planet. You have to dissect what that is — a trumpet, a guitar, and a bass guitar. It’s just good decision-making. Both of those references are huge. If you combine Michael Jackson with Radiohead and if that equals Tall Heights then I’m so fired up.
Listeners are without question hearing a complete story through both the production and lyricism in this album. What story were you intending to tell?
There’s definitely a linear thing happening with the album, that’s how we intended it. “Pretty Colors For Your Actions” is an embedded lyric from the track “Midnight Oil,” and the song is an exchange from a lover to their significant other. It’s like a desperate move of like, “Let me give you this for that, let me decorate your life, let me satisfy you.” There’s desperation there. We liked the exchange that’s occurring there. The word “pretty” seems so small, and when you think about it that way it could be the decor that’s coming out of those little iPhone speakers or a coffee cup as you are sitting in your work cubicle doing your job. Pretty, in that case, is something very small. When you think about actions, it’s something much bigger. Actions can be life-changing, world-changing and a point of activism. We love that that’s true on every scale. It’s like this for that, a quid pro quo. That’s the overarching goal of [the album]. It’s our deal with the world: here you go world, now you uphold your end of the bargain. Not even just on a massive level, on a small level too — you keep on living as best you can and here are some pretty colors to accompany you. But also, if you want to do something bigger than that, put these colors on your flag as you wave it.
What are some of your favorite songs on this album?
I love “Midnight Oil.” It feels like a thesis statement or something. I think it perfectly sits there right at the crossroads between Neptune and this album. It’s like a pivot piece because it’s got that electro thing, then it pops right into an almost Golden Age of disco chorus. Quite literally, the verses are where we’re coming from and then chorus is where we’re at. I love that one; it feels emotional, it feels important to us. I also love “Oslo,” that would be my runner up.
In relation to past works, how has your artistry evolved over time?
It’s changed a whole lot — our ability to create in the studio has improved a lot. Our understanding of how to make a good record continues to grow. On this album, I think we created something that feels more confident, more mature. I think there’s growth in a singular focus; doing the same thing deliberately is an empowering move. The repetition of an idea is called conviction and I think we’ve grown in our conviction around our sound in that we believe there’s something that’s singularly ours when it comes to us combining our personalities and perspectives and voices, both in unison and in harmony. Pretty Colors represents a new chapter in the way we created, but it also represents our best work yet on doubling down on what we know we do best, which is create one sound with two voices.
You’re touring very soon, about a week after the release of the new album. What are you looking forward to the most?
Going out on the road is the moment where we can get out of our heads and get into the actual rooms with our fans, with the people who actually appreciate [the music]. I always feel like when we’re on the road, it’s where we get to learn or re-discover the value of what we do in a macro way. When you’re in the studio, and even before that when you’re writing in your bedroom, it’s very solitary…you can’t quite quantify the value of what you’re doing because you’re so isolated. I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle, and I treasure that part, but it comes with a whole lot of darkness and isolation and insecurity. I think that’s the part of the process that really makes us artists, when you’re by yourself mucking through your feelings and perspectives. Then, when we get to go out on the road we’re sharing in a very tangible way something that we created long ago. There’s more of an emotional release. It feels really good to be out there in the rooms with the people. You play a show and then you’re chatting with a fan who tells you, “My father passed away last Spring and this song single handedly brought me through that time. I couldn’t thank you enough.” We hear that story in different ways and it doesn’t make me feel big, it makes me feel very much alive, it makes me feel valuable. I don’t identify as a singer or a guitar player, I identify as an artist and as a songwriter. So when we can go out and actually present those songs for the people who care about it, it’s just perfection.
So what’s next for Tall Heights after the release of this album and tour?
Oh man, I don’t know. We’re going to tour around this album for a while hopefully. We believe in the album and hopefully more and more people will discover it. I hope that it gets out there in a way that sustains a lot of touring around it. I believe in what we did, and I know [the album] could move people, I know it could be the pretty colors for their larger actions. Now, I just go out onto the tour and meet the people and say I love you and hope more and more people discover [the album].
Featured image courtesy of Jimmy Fontaine
Stay tuned to Milk for more first listens.