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THE HIGH PLAINS DRIFTERS – “SONGS OF LOVE AND LOSS”

The indie-rock band talk the layered inspirations and production process of their 80s-style EP.

THE HIGH PLAINS DRIFTERS
THE HIGH PLAINS DRIFTERS

Emerging out of the depths of lockdown, indie-rock band The High Plains Drifters unveil their ode to 80s rock with EP “Songs of Love and Loss”. Filled with sounds of electronic synths and gruff vocals hacked from a variety of genres, the band look to eras gone, 2020’s current affairs, and past relationships to pen matter-of-fact lyrics for their chaotic and isolation-inspired project. Featuring tracks “The One That Got Away” and “Ruby Run Away With Me”, the EP surges with electric energy and headbang-worthy sounds that, much like the sensual space scene visuals adorning the cover, will transport you into the band’s eccentric universe.

“I call the sound ‘The Eagles meet New Order’, because that’s how I approached the writing of most of the EP’s songs,” explains lead singer Larry Studnicky when speaking about the band’s unique sound. “On most songs, I’ve tried to mesh two genres. As a lyricist, I’ve long been inspired by the ‘storyteller’ approach to songwriting that was so dominant in the 70s which was the first decade where I became obsessed by music. So, every song on the EP is a mini-narrative – a 3-minute-ish story with a beginning, middle, and end. But on the EP and our second album, Greg Cohen (our producer) and I and the other guys in the band decided that, musically, we’d explore sounds from the decade that most of us consider the best since rock made its appearance: the 80s, with an emphasis on the new wave.”

With their explosive EP newly released, Studnicky and the band sat down with us to talk about their favourite tracks from the project, the inspirations at the heart of the project, and what the future holds as they look towards the release of their next album.

Check out our interview with The High Plains Drifters below…

Hi guys, how are you doing? How has the last year been for you?
Hey Wonderland! Thanks for chatting with us. Everyone in The High Plains Drifters had, on balance, a great last year, all things considered. Nobody got sick nor did any of our family members. Most of us were able to continue working steadily. None of us lost a business to shutdowns or rioting. And it was exactly a year ago this month, in June 2020, that we decided that the best way to combat the pandemic blues was to start writing and recording our second album, which is what led to the interim release of this 6-song EP. Getting to work on music together was the tonic that kept us on track and happy.

Congratulations on the release of your debut EP “Songs of Love and Loss”! How are you feeling about its release?
We are thrilled to get it out. We’re dying to see how people react to these like-themed tunes about love and loss. But we didn’t start with a plan to put out an EP. Since releasing our 2nd album’s debut single in late winter (“Since You’ve Been Gone), we’ve received just enough positive press and AAA airplay that it seemed like we shouldn’t wait to finish album 2 before giving people some new HPD songs. So, luckily, when fate came a-knocking, were ready to bundle most of the album’s up-tempo tracks onto this record.

You have heartbreak-inspired titles such as “The One That Got Away”, “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “He Reminds Me Of You” lacing the EP, was love a big inspiration behind the project?
Heck, aren’t love – and its loss or absence – the biggest inspiration for most great musical compositions? I didn’t start out writing the second album’s tunes with the conscious intent to focus on the finding and losing of love. It just worked out that way, and not because of anything that was happening in my life or the lives of my bandmates. We’re almost all in stable, long-term relationships. So, I was mining the decades where I was single, and messing up at love, to find the inspiration for a lot of these songs.
But not all. Current events triggered the writing of two songs on the EP.
The idea for “Ruby, Run Away With Me” hit me in summer 2020 with the passing of Kenny Rogers. I’ve always loved his recording (with The First Edition) of Mel Tillis’s great song “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. So, I wondered to myself what might that Ruby gal be doing now, several decades later? The HPD ode to Ruby is my answer to that question.

The song “Nuclear Winter” similarly sprang from events of last summer; specifically, the unrest and rioting that hit many of America’s cities. Long ago, I had the germ of an idea, as well as the basic melody, for a song along the lines of “Armageddon comes to New York City”. Seeing so many Manhattan storefronts and restaurants boarded up last Summer really pissed me off. It shouldn’t have had to happen. That anger impelled me to find the lyrics I needed to finish “Nuclear Winter”. It has nothing to do with love whatsoever – except that I think it gives voice to the feelings of a lot of people who, like me and my bandmates, love NYC and pray that it will soon see better days.

What was the production process like? Did the pandemic affect recording sessions in any way?
Well, the pandemic was part of what got me off my butt to start meeting our producer, Greg Cohen, almost weekly for writing and demo sessions at his studio in Manhattan, which last summer was deserted. It felt like being on the set of a low-budget zombie apocalypse movie.

Leaving aside that, and mask-wearing in the studio we use for tracking, the pandemic was a non-event. By the time we were tracking, all the crappy, unhealthy restaurants from which we had ordered food when we did our debut album were back in operation. And they were more than ready to over-charge us and deliver orders that often bore no resemblance to what we requested. It was just like old times.

As to the production process, it was super-smooth. Greg and I would first work out each song’s basic structure and sound at his studio. Then we’d loop in the guys: Kyle Cassel on drums (he is, conveniently, also our engineer), John Macom and Mike DoCampo on guitars, Dave Richards on bass, Charles Czarnecki on keyboards (and accordion!), and with Greg also playing some keys and the great synths you hear on a few of the songs.

On the EP’s last song, titled “He Reminds Me Of You”, you’ll also hear our two female backup singers: Christina Benedetto and Sabrina Ann Curry. They both have amazing voices. In fact, on that tune, Chris is out front as lead vocalist, with me and John Macom singing some co-lead parts. John and I are the voice of an ex-boyfriend calling out in answer to the complaints Christina’s registering against her current beau.

My bandmates are all seasoned pros who can play anything and who show up with fabulous musical ideas to contribute. My favourite part of the production process is always watching them play something cool and unexpected. Not everything works, of course. But, more often than not, their instincts for “where a song should go” are spot-on.

The High Plains Drifters -

Photography by Sam Lahoz

The High Plains Drifters -
Photography by Sam Lahoz

How would you describe the sound of the EP?
I call the sound ‘The Eagles meet New Order’, because that’s how I approached the writing of most of the EP’s songs. On most songs, I’ve tried to mesh two genres.
As a lyricist, I’ve long been inspired by the “storyteller” approach to songwriting that was so dominant in the 70s which was the first decade where I became obsessed by music. So, every song on the EP is a mini-narrative – a 3-minute-ish story with a beginning, middle, and end. But on the EP and our second album, Greg and I and the other guys in the band decided that, musically, we’d explore sounds from the decade that most of us consider the best since rock made its appearance: the 80s, with an emphasis on the new wave.

How do you want people to feel when they listen to the project?
I hope that our listeners will both dig the music and hear lyrics that make them say, “Yeah, I know that feeling, I’ve been there.” We heard, from a lot of deejays who played “Since You’ve Been Gone”, that it took them back to how they felt about the loss of someone who was thought to be “the one and only”.

And it’d be cool if people feel like they’d like to see us in concert. With COVID over and a second album almost under our belt, we’re finally in a place where we could actually play a concert of decent length without doing too many covers.

Do you have a favourite track from the EP?
I think I speak for everyone in The High Plains Drifters when I say that the tune that put the biggest smiles on our faces, as we finished mixing it, was “Ruby, Run Away With Me.” I don’t know if it’s “single-worthy”, in terms of where radio is these days. But we love it. I especially dig the 12-string Rickenbacker parts played by Mike DoCampo.

The EP cover art depicts an ethereal and suggestive cartoon-drawn scene! What was the inspiration for the cover?
We’ve kept all the artwork connected with album 2, including the look of the music videos we’ve released and will soon release, focused on the theme of the isolation that comes from losing one’s lover. In almost all cases, that isolation has become represented by a spaceman. You don’t get much more isolated than when you’re lost in space (at least, in this waning era before space has been colonised).

Now that you have released your debut EP what is next for you?
There’s no rest for the wicked, right? It’ll be a busy summer for us. We still have about three songs to finish in order to be done with album 2. We need to figure out what to call that record (and I am stumped on that). We need to figure out what tune will hopefully be strong enough to be the single that follows “The One That Got Away”, which is the single being pushed from the EP.

And then, come October, we’ll get back to promoting the single we released for the 2020 Christmas and holiday season, called “Santa! Bring My Girlfriend Back!”. Your readers can find its two music videos on YouTube under our band’s name. Come fall (or even now!), I’d encourage them to give it a listen. Spotify’s Listrionics Podcast last year picked this tune as “one of the five best Xmas and holiday songs that were released” in 2020.

THE HIGH PLAINS DRIFTERS – “SONGS OF LOVE AND LOSS”

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