Higher Power: “We were seeking validation in what other people thought… we had to learn to find that in ourselves”

Surging into 2024, Leeds melodic-hardcore faves Higher Power have signed to Nuclear Blast and released beautiful new single Absolute Bloom. We caught up with frontman Jimmy Wizard to talk going back to basics, breaking free from expectation, and finding self-belief deep within…

Higher Power: “We were seeking validation in what other people thought… we had to learn to find that in ourselves”
Sam Law
Nat Wood

It’s been a hell of a half-decade for Higher Power. Heralded in 2019 as the UK’s answer to genre-busting U.S. heroes like Turnstile and Code Orange, the Leeds lads’ sublime second album 27 Miles Underwater seemed set to slingshot them to stardom when it arrived in January of the following year. Then COVID shut down the world. “We were just on the cusp of something,” their mercurial frontman Jimmy Wizard sighed as we caught up in late 2021. “That was taken from us, but you can’t focus on it too much or you’ll be angry and bitter, and you’ll struggle to move forward…”

And yet, it’s felt like they’ve still struggled for traction over the intervening two-and-a-bit years. Standalone single Fall From Grace (released to coincide with that interview) felt like a fresh start, but didn’t end up signifying the broader creative return fans were hoping for. Guitarist and co-songwriter Louis Hardy had left the band, then returned during an electric set at Outbreak 2022. Further festival sets at the likes of Download and Slam Dunk, as well as support slots with homegrown heroes like Enter Shikari, Boston Manor and Neck Deep – with whom they’re currently in the U.S. – kept them limber, but the step up to the next level they’d been waiting for never really came.

Until now. Signing to heavy music mega-label Nuclear Blast and dropping celebratory new single Absolute Bloom, the stage is set for the Yorkshire quintet to finally move on to the next chapter. We caught up with Jimmy to hear what they’ve got planned as they tear into 2024 and beyond…

How exciting does it feel to kickstart the new era of Higher Power?
“It’s well exciting! We’ve been so busy at the start of the year that it’s kind of crept up on us!”

Nuclear Blast is a label that’s renowned for promoting metal heavyweights like Meshuggah, Slayer and Anthrax, but Higher Power have always been a hardcore band fascinated by the worlds of pop-punk and alt.rock. How did your relationship with them come about?
“We were without a label for a bit after everything ended with Roadrunner. A bunch of labels hit us up after that, but none of the offers were that great – it didn’t feel like they supported the artist. Nuclear Blast was definitely our wildcard – probably the last on our list of labels that we would make sense on, and we were probably a wildcard for them, too – but when we met them and their offer came through, it was easily the best that we received. We’re just stoked that someone wants to support us. It’s cool that anyone wants to give us money to make music. They’ve given us time. They’ve given us freedom. They’ve definitely not put too much pressure on us, which has allowed us time to make our next album. Plus, they seem like genuine, chill people, so it was a no-brainer!”

No pressure to write more gnarly riffs, then?
“No, not at all (laughs). I was actually like, ‘You know we’re probably going to get progressively more melodic as a band?!’ One of the guys was telling me that there were a few angry old metalheads commenting about how they didn’t like it when our video went up on the Nuclear Blast YouTube earlier today, but fuck ’em. We’re just here for a good time!”

On 27 Miles Underwater you were fascinated by the idea that every seven years every cell in the human body is reborn in septennial cycles. Four years since that record, and almost the full seven since your 2017 debut Soul Structure, do you feel like you’ve become a whole new band?
“100 per cent! When 27 Miles… came out, it felt like everyone was constantly trying to work towards [quantifiable] success. We had to ‘do this’ or ‘get that’. And you’ve got so many label people there doing their job, trying to create some some kind of success from everything that you do. Don’t get me wrong, we did some really cool, really big things, but it was also a lot of pressure. It was my childhood dream to do some of the things and get on some of the tours we did, but it could sometimes feel superficial.

"Over the past four years, COVID stripped all of that away. It levelled the playing field. We went back to being normal people living in our houses in Leeds. It was like we got humbled. Higher Power isn’t this full-time band we were trying to make it be a few years ago. We all have jobs now. We all have much more settled lives. We’re able to work on ourselves as people, learning what we’re like when we’re not part of that machine. We’re just having fun being a band. Sure, it might take us a bit longer to get shit done, but that’s because we’re living our lives.”

You’ve described Absolute Bloom as being about figuring out a transitional period. What exactly have you been working through?
“For me, it’s been about not running away. My life was the way it was for so long that it felt like it stripped a lot of the human elements away. Touring had become a means of escape. I needed to be on tour so that I’m not at home having to deal with things in my life that I never really wanted to face. And it was easy: the band world is full of escapism. Also, I was seeking a lot of validation in what other people thought of me. I’ve had to learn to find that in myself.”

Is that a better environment to be creative in, too?
“Hopefully! I can’t wait to release our next album, because none of us really care if it makes it big. Don’t get me wrong, working with [producer] Gil Norton was one of the coolest things I’ll ever do, but not having any of that [big-name] bullshit means that it’s just Higher Power figuring it out for ourselves. We want people to love this, and I’d love to make a living off music, but we’re just five friends having fun, writing music out of enjoyment rather than any need for success.”

Having been riding so high this time in 2020, you’ve overcome a lot of trials and tribulations to this point. Did you ever doubt this band’s ability to keep going?
“It was really hard. There have been times I’ve wondered whether Higher Power might never release music again, like, ‘Maybe this has just been a cool experience where I got to be on a major label and live out some crazy childhood dream. Maybe that’s it and I should enjoy that for what it was.’ There have been points where I’ve had to ask whether I even want to keep doing this, too. I don’t really want to be famous. Being a singer, even doing interviews like this, puts you in a very vulnerable position. And coming to understand the reasons why we’d been doing it – being naive, looking for that external validation – has made for an interesting journey to this point.”

The gleefully gory video sees some pretty literal self-dissection, but it’s got a wicked sense of humour, too. Was that about showing off this version of Higher Power?
“It’s really just about us being idiots in our practice room! I had this big, cinematic idea of the band cutting me open and filling me with flowers, and we managed to make it happen in a very DIY way, searching catering stores for things we could use as props and repurposing hand-sanitiser bags as hospital drips. We’re all big fans of the funny music videos of the late-’90s/early-’00s like Foo Fighters’ Learn To Fly, and we loved how imitating that allowed us to be the goofy guys having fun that we really are. I actually did the least out of everyone, basically just lying on that operating table for like nine hours, covered in fake blood in the freezing cold. I was quite jealous really: they were having the time of their lives chucking blood at me while I was trying not to laugh!”

Speaking of Foo Fighters, is that kind of classic early 2000s melodic alt.rock a good sonic reference point for what you’ve been writing?
“Someone asked me what the influences on this song were the other day. But we never sat down and discussed it. A lot of the time it will be like, ‘I’ve been listening to Helmet all week, I want to do some cool groovy riffs.’ But here it was just a case of Louis chucking in a riff, me throwing on some vocals and it all coming together organically. I will say that Absolute Bloom is probably the most melodic, pop-punk leaning song we’ve written for the record. It’ll be an eclectic collection!”

You made previous single Fall From Grace as a four-piece without Louis. Does Absolute Bloom feel like an opportunity to reintroduce a full-strength Higher Power now he’s back?
“Definitely. For me, Louis is the friend that I write music with. We do write as a five-piece, but any ideas that I have, I generally filter through him to make them into a full song, because he’s just a much better musician than me. So it’s just really sick to have him back!”

Is there a timescale for you to release the full record?
“We want to have an album out before the end of the year. That’s not because we’ve set some sort of deadline for ourselves. It’s because we’re just really excited to release these songs. We can’t wait to get them out. So we’re pushing ourselves to get them finished in 2024. That’s our goal!”

On top of that, you’re currently out on the road in America with Neck Deep and Drain, and you’re already booked for Northern Unfest in April and Outbreak Festival in June. Is it safe to say that this just the start of a truly massive 2024 for Higher Power?
“It could definitely be a big year, but we’re just not putting that pressure on ourselves. We don’t really want to approach things in a ‘careerist’ way or be out there doing support tours for 10 months of the year for no money. We’re just keen to enjoy the experience and having it serve us rather than us trying to serve everyone else. We’re looking forward to doing those festivals to see our friends.

"It’s particularly cool to be invited to play Northern Unfest because we’ve missed so many of those cool hardcore fests being on tour, and because it would be so easy for people in that world to hate on a band who’ve stepped out of it like we did. Ultimately, I just want us all to still be friends this time next year, doing this on our own terms, serving ourselves instead of other people and to keep living a humble life with lots of self-fulfilment. But who knows: the record might come out and blow up, or people might hate it. Music is unpredictable. There’s no rhyme or reason to how things go sometimes. I just know we’ll be happy, and that’s all that matters!”

Absolute Bloom is out now via Nuclear Blast. Higher Power will play Glasgow’s Northern Unfest on April 27 and Manchester’s Outbreak Fest on the weekend of June 29 – 30.

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