On the Road with Highly Suspect
by Katie Alcock
Let’s start at the beginning, can you tell us about your move to Brooklyn back in 2011 and the way it shaped your debut album?
To start at the beginning I have to take you to Cape Cod Massachusetts. Picture this; three best friends, two of whom are twins, growing up on a beautiful peninsula that has three months of heavy tourist traffic/revenue. During the 9 months when the beaches are too cold to visit, time stops. There are no tourists, there are no youth, there is no money to be made and nothing to do. This commonly breeds two types of people; Creatives and drug addicts. In some cases both. We began as a cover band before we had our own songs and we would play to groups of people who did not give a FUCK about us... We were just their radio in a sense. A sound that made it less awkward to be in a bar room while they try to get laid. We didn't care though because we were just having fun playing together and the gigs paid surprisingly well. Most clubs had a decent summer budget for entertainment so all we had to do was get drunk for free and spend 3-4 hours pretending we knew what we were doing. Once winter rolled around we would have to buckle down and find whatever work we could. We did this together as well. One of us would land a gig framing a house (in the snow) or a house that needed painting or plumbing and then we would convince the boss man that we knew a guy or two that could help us get the job done faster. We would make enough money to pay for our house ( until that time we didn't and we lost our house) and just spend our nights playing in the basement. After we lost our first place Rich and I moved into my dad's basement. It's not a finished basement. It's moldy and it's my dad's. Morale hit a pretty big low at that point. I was 23 years old and we decided enough was enough. We had to get out of this place and go join our peers in the real world. By this time we had about 12 of our own songs (none of which are on Mister Asylum) and we followed Jay-Z's advice-Head to New York.. If we could make it there, we could make it anywhere. We spent the summer of 2011 playing the cover shows again and by now we were one of the top acts on Cape Cod. By this time pieces of our hearts were breaking off and dying inside because we were faking the fun. We didn't want to be there.. We didn't want to play the cover songs anymore, but we knew if we just stuck to the plan and exercised patience that we could make it out, and we would save every penny towards the move. By the fall we had 6k left over after all of our bills were paid up which was just enough for first, last and security in a little studio apartment in Brooklyn. We loaded up a uhaul trailer and did the damn thing. Of course we didn't know how we would sustain, but that isn't the point. Once arriving in Brooklyn, it was immediately clear that we could never look back. We lived on pure adrenaline. Suddenly there were pretty girls everywhere, people our own age, commerce, art, fashion, music, LIFE! It didn't feel real for a while. I still look out over the skyline in awe of that city. New York is a fucking beast. Their is no room for the weak. You make it or you don't. Most people know within 3 months. I've seen so many young excited faces move in and 4 months later they run away, beaten, broken. I have been frequenting New York since I was 16, but to live there, as a young adult.. Whole different level. You find out what you're made of real quick because no one waits for you and everyone is ready to eat you alive. Over the next few years we would hustle in subways, tend bar, build lofts for apartments, experiment with almost every drug, have girlfriends, get arrested, hear gunshots every night, play legendary New York bars as the opening opener for the opener in front of no one for free, make a friend group that will last us till the end of life, write songs, inherit a Cat, and spend our twenties in a place that underwent a massive change between then and now. It was honestly a historical time in NYC and Brooklyn. A time that will be written about for many reasons in many ways, and somehow we were lucky to be a part of all of it. I guess it wasn't luck. It's crazy to think now about the different groups that have made it from NYC.. Their aren't that many, but every few years it happens. We had a residency at a little bar the Yeah Yeah Yeah's use to play at and at the time that felt like everything. Once we got to NYC/BK and realized EVERYONE was in a band or some type of artist it didn't seem like "making it" was a thing that could actually happen. But it didn't matter either.. It was like "we play music in New York... This is it, why ever go anywhere else, the bus stops right here and that's ok because this fucking rules and the cocaine is really good." It still trips me out. Thinking about all the ridiculous shit we went through in Brooklyn.. It almost puts a lump in my throat. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I miss that struggle in a weird and twisted way. I miss those house parties and bar rooms and all the crazy shit we got into before anyone knew who we were. Everything was new, unknown. Everything was sexy and dangerous. We are almost never in Brooklyn anymore. We stop in a couple times a year. But those formative years of growth.. Those are what shaped Mister Asylum..
Great visuals on the cover, how did they come about?
Thanks! I went to Florida after the recording process was finished with my good friend and now Stage Manager, Tim Murphy. It was dead of winter and we just wanted to catch a tan and get away from it all. One night we were stumbling around a neighborhood smelling weird semi tropical plants and I looked up at the night sky and saw the stars in a way I'd never seen before. I'd been recently digging in to the collage works of Eugenia Loli and when I was looking into the sky at this very moment, drunk on wine and the scent of flowers... It all clicked. In the piece we used you have a man who is living a life of order and discipline as he is obviously military (Navy) but he is staring into the universe and she is embracing him. I see a beautiful contrast of order and chaos. We reached out to Eugenia and asked for permission to use her work and we were so overjoyed when she agreed. Turns out it was a super solid move. We've had people tell us that they bought our album before they ever even heard a song. Vinyl snobs that became fans AFTER they bought the album so they could display the art on a shelf. Kind of wild to think about that.
Your story reads like a rags-to-riches rock'n'roll dream- so you were picked up busking on the subway?
Haha, sort of.. There are 4 years and 6000 let downs in between then and now that led to this point, but yes. The first piece of this crazy puzzle, at least industry wise, came from being noticed when I was busking in a subway station in NYC. We would barely have rent covered every month from odd jobs and gigs, but it all went into one bank account. We didn't have any personal spending money because we all made a pact to dump our earnings into the band fund. We shared a cell phone plan (still do), rent, insurance on the whip, gas money, groceries, heat, electric, etc etc etc. the band fund still exists and to any aspiring band here is a tip.. If you and your homies aren't putting it in, you'll never get it out. But whenever I needed a little extra money for smokes and a sandwich, This is how I would get it. I would take my acoustic guitar down to the Bedford/nostrand G stop and head to the metropolitan/Lorimer stop for 2.25$ I could make an honest 17 dollars in 2-3 hours which could cover the smokes (8 dollars at the crooked bodegas) and the sandwich and my fair home. But on one fortunate day a woman heard me and passed on my information to a man named Joel Hamilton who would eventually become our producer. More importantly our best friend. That dude is seriously the opposite of a suit. He's just a genious and he understands music and sound probably more than anyone I know. Coincidentally he also grew up on Cape Cod and that gives a person a very specific sense of humor. We get along like Kream n' Kone. I can't imagine what our lives would be had it not been for that lady hearing me play a slow sad version of Billy Jean, in a subway stop on a cold winter day. She skipped her train just to stay and listen.
It’s such a big sound for three guys, can you take us through how have evolved it?
When you only have 3 guys you don't have a choice. You have to go big. One of the best ways to sound huge is to play less. Here is a quick tip.. Sometimes less is more. I used to try and play notes in every single space available but that's a sure way to lose dynamic. Silence is also a sound and when used correctly it adds more than one might think. When you do hear all three instruments, they sound bigger in contrast. This is something Joel taught us.
Mister Asylum deals with loss, love, anxiety and drug abuse, do you find writing a therapeutic release or are there still some things that are better left unsaid?
Both. Writing is extremely therapeutic. Being able to vent and write about difficult times has kept me alive in the past. But there are still things better left unsaid.
Twins are often super-close, what’s the dynamic like in the band?
They are super close. I'm close with them too, how could I not be? But they are definitely a thing that has its own mass. They often eat the same stuff at the same time, go to the same movies, buy the same running shoes.. Shit like that. I usually go off on my own a lot more and do my thing. But that's to be expected, I grew up an only child. Over all we get along really well. If we didn't this wouldn't have lasted so long. But it's important to note that there are some extreme fundamental differences between us and as frustrating as it can be sometimes, it adds character to the music. If we were all the same it would be pretty fucking boring.
As a band are always introduced as a 'hard-partying' trio, what's been going on on the road?
I don't feel comfortable getting into the specifics but It's everything you imagine and then some. I'm naked a lot. I think I have more fun than anyone in the world. I know some of my choices aren't healthy but God damnit we fought to get here and we're gonna enjoy it while we got it. Live fast, Die King.
Can you take us through the music video for 'Bloodfeather', it's pretty heavy on the Tarantino-gore.
I read a book by Larry McMurtry called "Anything for Billy" which was his adaptation of the story of Billy the Kid. It really spoke to me because it gets into the mind of a character who most people think is really dangerous ( and he is) because of what they have read or heard. The whole Wild West had heard of this crazy killer but what about Him? Does he think he is a crazy killer? He is just a 17 year old kid trying to figure out his own brain. The book examines Billy in a way that your average person wouldn't think to evaluate. It takes you into the mind of a spitfire soul and exposes vulnerability. It explains why Billy the Kid is the way he is, and in this case, it all boils down to Love. A hopeless romantic that would do anything for love, even if it means dying. Towards the end of the book, Billy is a VERY wanted man and just about everyone is out to kill him. The one girl he ever truly loved saw his "wanted" poster and knew that he didn't stand a chance. The reward was too high and everyone for the rest of his life would be out to kill him. So she stepped up to the plate, rode from Mexico and across a few states to where she knew she would find him, and killed him herself before anyone else could do it. She knew it would hurt them both the least if it came from her. I think that's pretty fucking beautiful. Our video is just a spin off of the whole... It's a bit different than the book, but this was the inspiration.
You made your opinion on a particular Republican presidential candidate pretty clear on air recently, what do you see for the future of American politics?
I'm really saddened by all of it. Ive always known that our political system was regarded as kind of a joke from an outsiders perspective but now that we've been able to travel to different parts of the world I can really see just how silly it is. Over here it's all people think about. When I'm in Australia or Scotland it's just a fucking tabloid. The truth is our country is great. We have the power and resources to do so much good, but instead so much time, money and energy is dedicated to this shit show of a rat race between fucktards that want to win a popularity contest. I don't think any of the current political forerunners have our country's best interest in mind. I think they just want to be famous. They just want to win. Our educational system is broken. Fully fucking broken and it makes me really mad. I feel so inferior when I'm in a different country and I meet a 12 year old that can speak 3 different languages and has a steady hand on calculus. The problem is in order for us to advance we have to take like 6 steps back. Fixing what's broken here will take decades. Far more than any one president could do in one or two terms. It would take a multi presidential effort of continuity and sacrifice to even get started. I don't see that ever happening to be honest. Eventually and maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually there will be an uprising of sorts when things get to a certain point. Many people will die and our country will be even more divided than it already is. It could have been avoided but now we live in an era where a reality television mogul bigget turd-face actually has a shot at running the country. This is directly related to our lack of education. To think that so many people in this country are literally dumb enough to vote for this guy is heartbreaking. It's because they don't know any better. It's because they watch cable news and believe it all. Just like when Orson Wells read "war of the worlds" live in 1938 and everyone thought the aliens had invaded simply because they heard it on a radio broadcast. Donald is charismatic. Once in a while he says really funny shit. I can admit that. I can see why people want to get behind him. I really enjoy the "character" Don Trump. It's a very interesting one and it's no surprise that he gets so much airtime. He was really great as a reality TV star. Somehow we let that crossover into our political arena. I think it's actually a dangerous door that got opened and the honor, prestige and sanctitude of being a presidential candidate has now been thrown all but thrown out the window. It will never feel the same. The veil has been dropped and now it's evident that any moron with enough money can be taken seriously. It's probably always been that way but at least before we couldn't tell as easily. There was at least some effort in disguising true motive. But you know what? I'm no John Fucking Lennon so I should probably just shut up and get naked more. I just hope there is some 10 year old out there that's as pissed off by all of this as I am and she picks up a book instead of a guitar.
And where are things heading after the tour, another city, another sound?
Yes. The city is Bogota. The sound.. Well... You'll find out soon enough.
Photography: Yarden Lawson
Styling: Michael Darlington
Grooming: Jess Whitbread