Words: Sam Law
Meet one of America’s hottest rising bands: Highly Suspect. They already have three Grammy nominations under their belt, and we have the sneaky feeling that they’re going to be taking over the rock world in 2019. Here are 11 reasons why:
1. THE BAND IS A FAMILY AFFAIR.
Featuring Rich Meyer on bass, and his twin brother Ryan on drums, there’s a tight brotherly bond at the heart of Highly Suspect. But singer Johnny Stevens is anything but an outsider. “We went to the same high school together, but we hadn’t really met until afterwards,” remembers Rich, “A couple of years later we were at a party one day and we started to hang out. We ended up hanging out every day for years. He moved into my house a couple of months later. We’ve been living together ever since!” “You don’t get to choose your family!” agrees Johnny. “This [band] feels like that!”
2. THEY’VE WORKED THEIR WAY FROM LOCAL BARS TO THE WORLD’S STAGE…
Highly Suspect might be enjoying a stratospheric rise right now, but they worked their way from the back-rooms up. Hailing from the Massachusetts seaside town of Cape Cod, they started out as a local bar band playing cover versions of tracks by artists as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Sublime. It took a move to New York City to get things really moving. Saving $6000 dollars and moving to a single studio apartment in Brooklyn, the trio busked and worked in bars and contracting until success came calling…
3. THEY WON’T LET SUCCESS GO TO THEIR HEADS.
If coming into the crosshairs of Lyor Cohen – the former chief of Warner Music and Def Jam – and being signed as the first rock act on his label 300 Entertainment was incredibly fortuitous, then earning three Grammy nominations in the space of two years is the stuff of young bands’ dreams. Highly Suspect won’t be getting ahead of themselves, mind. “I don’t want to be playing ten thousand people and feeling miserable,” explains Johnny, “I’d rather be playing a couple of hundred and having fun. I see a lot of bands getting to a really big place too quickly and it just tears them apart. I don’t want that to happen to us.”
4.THEY’RE NOT AFRAID TO STAND UP FOR THE OUTSIDERS
“Oh, you’re racist/Geez, that’s neat/Get the fuck up out my face with that shit/Man let’s beat!” So scream the lyrics to Viper Strike – one of the band’s trademark tracks. Rejecting the idea that Highly Suspect are a political band, Johnny reckons that they’re actually just “a band with a political conscience.” The opportunity to help the downtrodden, though, has always been too much for the singer to pass up. “I’ve seen it first-hand, people from areas in what would typically be regarded as “red states” in this country, who don’t feel like they have anybody for them in their family or in their community.”
5. THEY’RE KEEPING THE TRADITIONS OF SEX, DRUGS AND ROCK’N’ROLL ALIVE!
Having set up shop in the hipster haven of Brooklyn, you might imagine the band would jump on the quinoa and artisan-coffee bandwagon. Anything but. Although Rich reckons that latest album The Boy Who Died Wolf was more of an alcohol-soaked affair than their drug-fuelled first LP, stories of wild nights, naked parties and sexual adventures still abound. “It’s just important to balance the fun things and also the healthy things,” understates Rich, “I’d never want to be that guy who only ever does yoga and eats carrots. I want to have a cheeseburger every now and then, and enjoy my beer.”
6. THEY’RE NO FANS OF PRESIDENT TRUMP
“What’s up America? Anybody but Trump, please.” That’s how Johnny Stevens opened his band’s performance on the nationally-aired Conan O’Brien show last year. It’s hardly surprising, perhaps, that the band regard the orange one as a representative of “all the things [they] stand against” and “embarrassing for America.” They’re not afraid to stand up to their commander-in-chief, too, referring to him as the “giant-manbaby elect” and continuing to needle him with a tongue-in-cheek offer over Twitter to play his inauguration if he still couldn’t find anybody else.
7. THEY WEAR THEIR HEARTS ON THEIR SLEEVES (AND IN THEIR LYRICS)…
In a world where rock-music seems to be increasingly fixated on out-there fantasia or emo introversion, Highly Suspect have never been afraid to channel their own demons into their music. Their song For Billy was a direct response to learning that a friend had committed suicide. Breakthrough single Lydia is about Stevens’ brutal break-up with an old girlfriend. Bath Salts references a drug overdose. Mister Asylum is a chronicle of anxiety in early adulthood. Mom is about Johnny’s abandonment, at an early age, by his troubled mother. The intensity of that personal history unquestionably bleeds into the emotional rawness of their sound.
8.THEY’RE OUT TO BLAZE THEIR OWN TRAIL.
When it came to recording The Boy Who Died Wolf, the band’s Grammy-nominated buzz meant that they could have their pick of any number of legendary studios. Instead, they opted to record behind the twenty-foot-tall walls of what could be described as a fortress in Bogotá, Columbia. “We wanted to get away from that thing where people go to record where a famous album has already been made,” explains Johnny. “Like ‘Let’s go to Mussel Shoals, because this great album was done there. Or Abbey Road. Or Electric Lady. We thought that we could go and create our own spot where no American band has really been before. It was borne out of that sense of adventure.”
9. THEY’VE GOT MUSIC VIDEOS EVERY BIT AS GOOD AS THEIR SONGS!
Although their music is undeniably great by itself, Highly Suspect have never been backwards about embracing the extra-dimensions that can be added with an excellent music video. From the proto-visionary zombie antics on the $600 clip for early release Bath Salts to the LSD-trippiness of Claudeland to the sunbleached intimacy of Serotonia, there’s absolutely loads to feast your eyes on on Youtube. But in the trapped-underwater surrealism of Lydia and the Wild-West slugfest that accompanies Bloodfeather, we’d argue that they’ve also managed two of the most memorable cuts in recent years.
10. THEY’RE ALL ABOUT THEIR FRIENDS (AND FANS)!
Stevens has the letters “MCID” inked across his knuckles. It’s an acronym for My Crew Is Dope; a phrase that’s become the band’s go-to manifesto. “We only work with people we know!” reckons Johnny, alluding to their tendency to employ old friends in key roles with the band. “To me, it means family, it means fans, it means everyone that’s around you,” expands Rich, “They’re your crew. It’s everyone that you want to see when you get home from work. Or, if you’re as fortunate as us, it’s the people you actually work with. We only work with our friends.” Tellingly, the band refer to their ever-growing fanbase as the “MCID Nation”, too, and tend to cheerlead the “MCID” chants that ring about their live shows – signalling that fans play an integral role in their overall vision.
11. THEY’VE GOT A SWEET SIDE, TOO.
Johnny might’ve gotten inspiration for the band’s breakout track from the soured relationship behind Lydia, but he also got to keep the couple’s cat, Pam. Listing a house with a yard for Pam to explore and a fireplace to fall asleep next to might be among the singer’s greatest goals, but for now he’s happy to have her alongside for the life he’s got. “I’ve only got a few main goals,” he tells us, “I want to be able to continue making songs, and putting them out. I want to be able to feed my cat. I want to be able to keep a roof over my head. And I want to be able to travel. That’s it. Anything extra is great. But as long as those things are covered I’ll already be doing better than I ever thought I would.”
While you’re here, be sure to check out these 7 Insanely Good Highly Suspect Songs below!
According to the band’s Instagram, the exchange appears to be all in good humor.
Here are 12 rock musicians who deserve your respect, whether or not you think their music is great.