Highly Suspect: Out Of The Asylum
There are fans the world over pointing at the two Grammy nominations that American rock trio Highly Suspect have been nominated for and squealing “I told you so”. “You know that they have other albums?”, they’re ready to note as soon as you bring up 2015’s Mister Asylum, the catalyst for the band’s success that debuted at #22 on the Billboard Top 200.
Whatever there is to say about them, the original crew that believed in Highly Suspect certainly have an eye for potential. That was proven when an elusive force pulled the plug on their struggle to gain recognition at some point last year. They’ve been rushed through their introduction to success thick and fast, going from “ones to watch” to “Grammy-nominated”, an accolade that artists with ten times their social media followers strive for and fall short of.
Highly Suspect will be fulfilling their desire to tour absolutely everywhere by capitalising on the music scene’s newfound awareness of their existence with a visit to Australia this month. BLUNT caught up with trio frontman Johnny Stevens to discuss the bluesy hard rockers’ unbelievable triumphs ahead of them gracing our shores.
You guys were nominated for two Grammys and you also played the Grammys pre-show. Has having that success come so quickly changed the way you act around each other and other musicians?
No, I mean the only thing it’s changed is it feels like a joke. Did you watch Steve Harvey do the Miss Universe ceremony? Are you familiar with it? Steve Harvey is an American comedian who hosted Miss Universe this year and when he announced the winner of Miss Universe he fucked up and crowned the wrong winner and it was this big meme that went around, at least in the United States, about how Steve Harvey fucked up. And so when we were told about these nominations, it kind of felt like it was a joke, in that sense, do you know what I mean?
You didn’t feel like you’d earned it? There was no, ‘Oh, finally!’ moment given you’ve been around since 2009?
It’s interesting what it did for our mentality because at first I definitely didn’t feel that way and then with fans in our network and the people that we are in constant communication with, our team, our camp as you would say, I realised hey, we’ve been playing for eight years and yeah, we absolutely did earn it. But it was such a sudden thing I guess, and to think about where I was when I found out, what the gravity of what those nominations mean… I guess I understand why, it’s just hard when you’re inside of a project to see what it means from the outside.
Where were you when you found out?
We had just finished playing a show with Foals in Chicago. I was in a hotel room, it was early morning, and people know not to call me before noon because I won’t answer and my phone just started going off, it just started going off like crazy, and I threw my phone across the room and I didn’t answer it, and I fell back asleep, and then I found out… and I had to actually check the site, I had to go online and make sure it was real because I didn’t believe anybody.
“Lydia” was nominated for Best Rock Song, is that the song you want to be attracting the most attention to right now?
If I was to answer that honestly I would say no. It’s really great, but you know, I’m not sure how familiar you are with the process but when you write an album you write the songs well before they’re ever released, even when you record them there’s a six month buffer between the release of those songs and when you recorded them. So we have new songs that we’re dying to release but due to the politics and due to the nature of the beast… So I’m grateful that the song was recognised, but to me it is no longer my favourite.
“But at the same time that’s my high; I don’t like rollercoasters but I do get off on putting my heart out there.”
What’s different about the new stuff that makes you say that?
The inspiration would be the sole difference. We write everything from the heart and we write very true. My life has changed very much in the past three years, so I would say the difference between what you’ll hear next and what you hear now is, we never aim; we never say, “Let’s write an album that has this consistency”, instead we say, “Oh, what happened yesterday?”. The variable would be inspiration.
You’ve spoken about how everything you write is true. Are you ever scared to release something because of how personal it is?
I’m terrified. I’m terrified to put that album out, and I’m terrified to put out the next one, because at the end of the day when you stay honest, the people who the songs are written about, they’re gonna learn that you’ve released them, and in my life, in many ways, that’s fucking terrifying. But at the same time that’s my high; I don’t like rollercoasters but I do get off on putting my heart out there.
In terms of fears, you’re coming to Australia this year – are you worried the audience won’t give you the same reception as you get in the States where they know you better?
No, I’m not scared about that – I’m never scared to play live. I think, whether it’s in a room full of 2,000 or 10,000 people, one person is gonna like it. So I’m not scared, I’m just excited, I think it’ll be really fun and we’ll see who comes out.
Is there anywhere you don’t want to go?
I wanna see every part of this planet. I wanna go to North Korea; I don’t care if I’m allowed, someone will accept us and let us come in and play our songs. I don’t care about the threat level.
You guys have reached a lot of artists’ goals with the Grammys, is this enough for you?
No! It’s not enough. It’s not that it’s not enough but the Grammys is not a marker of validation for me, it’s a wonderful accolade and we could not be more honoured to be a part of this year’s celebrations but that doesn’t define for me what an artist is, I don’t know what will. I don’t know if there’s an answer to that, but I’m constantly trying to figure out what will be enough, if it is ever enough for an artist. If an artist ever feels like they’ve explored enough, or put out enough, or won enough, if they feel that way then they should retire.
You said back in December that rock’n’roll needs some new leaders. Why do you think that?
[Laughs] Because it does! I was feeling a certain way when I said that but it really does! Who is your leader?
Does it have to be a living person?
Yes! You’ve just answered my question and I’ve answered yours.
Highly Suspect Tour Dates
Tue March 15th – The Brightside, Brisbane
Wed March 16th – The Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne
Thu March 17th – Factory Floor, Sydney