“The album unfolded itself as these events unfolded for us.”
Life can be complicated enough without extreme outside forces playing an oversized role, but over the past few years it seems like the complications have overwhelmed many people. For musicians, adulthood already has its added responsibilities, plus with COVID there has been an added chaos of events we all know lots about.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Paul Wright and Tim Harrington from the Boston electro folk act Tall Heights encountered the gamut while dealing with uncertainty all around. Rather than wallow within it, they let it fuel their creativity and occupy their time while being together in isolation. This resulted in their third album, Juniors, that came out on Jan. 14.
Wright and I recently spoke about the making of the album, what both he and Harrington had to deal with during the creative process, working with an acclaimed producer, and what they hope people take away from Juniors.
Juniors seems to have this clash of electronic pop and acoustic folk creating interesting harmonies and melodies. What did you and Tim aim to accomplish when you first started making the album and getting the songs together?
We started this process in the home that we shared for six years called the “Tall House” after our tour had come to a halt because of COVID-19. We found ourselves suddenly at home and all of us together. It was Tim, myself, my wife, his wife, his one-year-old son, his dog, and my cat, so we took the six months that we were still living together and we wanted to spend every day working towards this new record.
We were holed up in our little studio on the third floor and unlike other records we’ve made we were seamlessly flowing from the writing and drafting process into the recording process. It’s really the first record that we have initially self-produced and we were striving to translate this roller coaster of emotions we were experiencing at the time into the music while having a wide palate of sounds, both electronic and acoustic, to draw from which felt right.
I can definitely sense that wide palate, it’s a great way to describe the listening experience. As the process of making the album went along, did anything in terms of vision or approach change or evolve at all?
There were events that happened throughout the writing process that worked their way into the record while being completely unexpected. We were encountering the reality that both of our wives were pregnant and while experiencing all that joy, Tim lost his grandparents and I lost a father-like figure. Our parents encountered health issues and there were some substance-abuse crises within both our families with all of this being within the context of being isolated in our house. It wasn’t the case where all of those events were well in the past, and we were reflecting on them; it was very much a real time sort of processing our vision. The album unfolded itself as these events unfolded for us.
What was it like working with Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes on the album? He produced it and mixed it; how were you able to get in touch with him? Was it all done remotely?
It was a great experience. As the pandemic continued, we thought that we would be looking at a remote situation and we were kind of dreading that a little bit but we were open to it. It’s always more fun to get into a room with somebody and we’ve never done an album remotely, but we were sort of resigning ourselves to that fact. Mike is someone who we’ve admired so we reached out to him and he responded very positively to our demos. Out of all the people we talked to, he’s the only one who started calling the demos we sent in “tracks” and he would sort of correct himself while saying that these aren’t demos, these are tracks, and he wanted to help us finish them together.
It sounded great to us, but the only thing was that he couldn’t do it remotely and we had to come out to Omaha, so we made the trek. Tim and I got into the van, drove from Boston to Omaha. My wife was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time in the middle of December….
Yeah, we got out there and we spent a couple weeks together. It wasn’t exactly the process we thought it would be but it worked out beautifully. Mike has an amazing studio and we were adding all kinds of additional acoustic elements as he was learning the language of the tracks before adding his touches. He’s a wonderful guy.
Where do you view Juniors when it comes to the evolution and timeline of Tall Heights? Where does it stand in that sense?
I’d like to leave that to an extent to the listener to place it, but for me personally, it’s sort of a reflection of everywhere we’ve been musically and sort of the most “us” elements of what we do. That might sound redundant because that’s all of what we do, but when we first started writing it was the same kind of way of two guys held up in a room trying to figure it out.
To me, Juniors felt very much like an origin revival moment of simplifying and embracing the isolation while reflecting on the whole journey we’ve been through emotionally, musically, creatively, and just putting it into elements that are the most meaningful and personal to us. That’s sort of where the album name came from but when I listen to this record it sounds extra Tim and extra Paul.
Usually the third full-length in a band’s discography reaches a kind of apex and it sounds like that with this album. Going along with what you just said about leaving it up to the listener, what do you hope people take from Juniors after they listen to it?
Writing for us has never been about communicating our own story as an autobiography as if that’s the most important thing to be heard. The message of Tall Heights and the power of the band has always been the relationship between Tim and I and the way we sort of tied our lives together through writing music as a means of self-exploration. Our hope in how we bring our emotions and offer them up [is that] we can stir something within our fans and help them process this moment in time or even help them shift something in their own experience. Juniors is about realizing that we’re not in control, we’re not at the helm but we’re along for the ride here and the mission statement is to see the world through the wide eyes of a kid and stay humble and stay hungry. Know that everything is going to change and try to find beauty in that.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.