The Higher Planes
I have been speaking with Adam and Jon…
of The Higher Planes about their double A-side, Keep Your Lamplight Burning Low/You Know, and what the stories behind the songs are. They discuss how the band found one another and what music they are inspired by; what their plans are going forward and whether they each have favourite albums.
I discover how the band’s music gels and whether they get chance to chill away from music; what they hope to achieve before the end of this year; which rising artists we need to get behind and whether there are treasured musical memories that stick in the mind.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Adam: Hello. This week has been good; although I’ve spent a lot more time tragically hungover than I would have liked. We did meet an interesting new producer, though.
Jon: Pretty uneventful. We had the launch gig for the release last Friday and normal life is always waiting round the corner.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?
Adam: The Higher Planes are a kind of ramshackle Soul band: the kind you might have heard in the golden era. We are shameless revivalists with loads of hair, angelic singing voices; a no-synth policy and an ever-expanding line-up which now includes George ‘The Major Seventh’ Dimension on the trumpet and Richard ‘Suspended’ Forthe on the public saxophone. They might have real names, I don’t know. You could ask them.
I think our aim is to create a warm, dancy and soulful experience for the people in attendance. My concern is a lot of people seem to be on the slow slide to weary cynicism, losing all feeling in their feet. The way I see it, what we do is try to top the good feeling back up; let that joy and abandon grow back like leaves after winter - I mean for us as much as anyone listening.
Jon: We're The Higher Planes; a (mostly) six-piece....Garage-Soul band?! We used to say ‘folky’ but we've been doing our live shows on the principle it's gotta be super -groovy and deeper rhythms are a bit easier to get into.
Tell me about the double A-side release, Keep Your Lamplight Burning Low/You Know. What is the story behind each track?
Adam: Keep Your Lamplight Burning Low is for all the people creaking under the cascade of worrying information that’s taking a grim toll on our heads today; seemingly more invasively than ever (although, let’s face it; it ain’t exactly World War II right now). Or, maybe, it is for some people, in their minds Anyhow; I think it’s saying ‘Take it steady, try not to fret; all is unfolding exactly as it should be in the great cosmic comedy…’
You Know is an odd one. It’s an upbeat Soul banger that’s also a story about being burned alive in a giant psychedelic tribal ceremony - a bit like the remake of The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage. Not the bees! What’s on me?
Jon: I guess the first one is about how to not get crazy and how not to fall asleep in these dark and murky times. A lot of the songs we do have contain a lot of apocalyptic lyrics and such and this one, I think, came about as trying to write a more positive kind of song, which only half-worked before it got derailed by mystical visions – but, basically, it's about keeping your eyes open.
You Know is just a bit of a fever-dream about being the guy in The Wicker Man + symbolism, irrational ideas; things like that.
What was the reason for releasing a double A-side? Will there be more material next year?
Adam: The shady characters at Super King Records who pull the strings said their projections were a few percent better doing it that way. Who am I to argue against the cold, hard data?
And, yes, there will be more soon, friend. We’re heading back into the studio in December to whip up some more metaphysically, nutritious soul stew. Probably another two tracks, given the time we have. Big room, recording live (ish); more feeling; more fuzz more of the time.
Jon: We're just trying to record when we can. There's quite a few of us and we're pretty busy, so two tracks were what we got out of our session, especially because they've got quite a few parts and we couldn't, on that occasion, just play them all live and have it done. It's probably gonna be a while before we've got an album of tracks done to a good enough standard.
Maybe we'll get an E.P. done before too long. Otherwise, I think we just thought they're both pretty cool and double A-side sounds fancy. And there's no one to tell us how releases are meant to go, so we just called it a double A-side.
You have brought a horn section into your music and are working with Jazz drummer Angus Bishop. What was the reason for this employment and how do you think it is has altered your sound?
Adam: Brother Jon has always been trying to move in the souliest (sic) possible direction. The horns were a natural progression to the dream set up of a Wilson Pickett-type act. We’re just missing keys…and Wilson Pickett…
Angus Bishop is a long-time friend and collaborator of JJ Stillwell, player of the bass. They call him ‘The Bishop’ because he only moves diagonally. He was playing with us for a while some years back, but then left for some kind of mystic drum odyssey for some months. When he came back, he said he was up for it so we nabbed him. I should mention it’s not him on the recordings (that’s the inimitable Ginger Drage From A Previous Age) - you’ll have to wait for the new year to hear Angus’ particular brand of stick magic. He’s like the Rembrandt of drums. And he’s added gears and dynamics we didn’t know we were capable of before.
Jon: I think it's always made sense and been a bit of an ambition to put horns onto lots of our songs. Those two tracks were pretty down-the-line-Rock-‘n’-Soul rhythms so it was a no-brainer. First, the Soul influences and I know the sound in my head always has devastating horn blasts all over the bloody place. Some of it is just about having more options – having organs, pianos and theremins and all of that and go with whatever suits the songs.
With Angus, he and JJ studied music together and play together in other projects, so they know each other and each other's playing really well and there's something about Jazz players that make for great Rock ‘n’ Roll players – especially when we want a psychy feeling which we haven't yet done that much of. It's all a bit more technicolour.
How did The Higher Planes get together? When did the band form?
Adam: Jon and I; we are brothers. So, we’ve spent most of a lifetime terrorising the neighbours with our raucous musical endeavours. I think we were playing as a three-piece a couple of years ago with a drummer (and having to switch between guitar and bass constantly) until we met JJ (the boyfriend of a friend of my ex-girlfriend). He took care of low notes. We roped our spectacular women in with promises of fame and glory - and the fact they didn’t really have to carry anything cumbersome or heavy…apart from us at the end of a particularly powerful show.
Jon: Me and Adam have been playing for ages and were just doing acoustic gigs around the place when we got together with Sarah, Deci and JJ to make a bigger sound. For a long time, we played with Ginger Drage, a drummer based around Brentford, and now with Angus. We've played gigs around London for the past few years with a few jaunts around the country.
Which artists did you all grow up around? Do you have any personal musical idols?
Adam: We were both mad on The Beatles and The Stones and learned to harmonise sat at Maggie the Piano blasting out Not Fade Away and Hey Bulldog. Musical idols would be many of the people on the Woodstock roster and also classic English Folk acts like Pentangle. I could go on. And I will. We’ve played with some pretty excellent bands lately. More on that later…
Jon: When I got to sixteen, I started getting into the Blues at the same time as San Francisco bands and just followed all the rabbit holes that opened up after. That's what remained, but we listened to most stuff really.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
Adam: In the next three months? Not getting hit by a car or a fast bicycle; fulfilling everyone’s Christmas wishes; maybe even making a video for one or both of these songs.
Jon: We're trying to find a bit more studio time, so maybe one or two new songs down. After that, I think we've gotta think about 2019: getting a good E.P., properly done, and going round the country a bit.
Have you each got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
Adam: Touring with Hurray for the Riff Raff last year. Eye-opening.
Jon: Well. Seeing as it's pretty fresh in the memory; I'd say our recent launch gig at Paper Dress Vintage. The first we've had with horns and some of the moments that we got to put in there were very cool. Playing the Joiner's Arms in Camberwell is always good times. And some of the recent practices where the whole arrangement comes together for the first time.
Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?
Adam: Oooh. Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones
Pure magic. And, also, I would quite like to swan off to Nice to live in a mansion, eat bread; drink wine and create music for the rest of my life.
Jon: Couldn't really say it's my favourite ever, because I don't think there is one, but Country Joe and the Fish – I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die is cool because it's not that complicated; just a band being really organic sounding.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Adam: Alabama Shakes. Or Queens of the Stone Age… ah shucks, go on…The Stones! On the rider; 1 x giant pile of old-fashioned, 100%-proof medical chang. Nah; scratch that. 1 x largest possible bag of Twiglets. And two beers, cold.
Can we see you on the road this year at all?
Adam: This year, as in 2018? No. You’ll find us in the usual haunts, probably a few shows around South London. We’ll figure something out further afield in the summertime. I want to go back to the North.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Adam: Hahah! We are not qualified to give any. Apart from stay away from leechy ‘promoters’ who do nothing for anyone but themselves. Find the good venues and talk to them directly. If no one feeds the leeches, they might do us all a favour and go extinct.
IN THIS PHOTO: Wax Machine/PHOTO CREDIT: Abigail Polaine
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Adam: Check out Jouis and Wax Machine. They’re two acts from Brighton I think and they’re both very good in very different ways. I don’t know if they’re fully fledged idols yet, but I respect what they’re doing. Also; ESE & the Vooduu People are pretty gnarly. And there’s a Scottish blues band called The Rising Souls that we’re big fans of. They’re like a Glasgow Audioslave! Come to London, lads! We’ll put on a show.
IN THIS PHOTO: ESE & the Vooduu People
Do you all get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Adam: I relax in between rehearsals and gigs by being a full-time school teacher. Therapeutic as hell it is, trying to teach loads of children how to make graphs and read good, all the while knowing that, by the time they hit eighteen, they’re going straight into the Matrix to power robot Tory octopuses.
Jon: We have bags of time away from music as I think all of us have day jobs. We unwind by playing music. Maybe one day it'll be the other way around - and we can unwind with part-time office or factory jobs.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Adam: Please Crawl Out Your Window (the Jimi Hendrix version). Thank you.
Jon: Nearer My God to Thee – Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers (the live eight-plus minute version - Great Shrine Concert, 1955)
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