From philosophical journeys to suspiciously buoyant ballads, Boston duo Tall Heights is nailing the emotional pressure points of our cheerfully unhappy existence with their new album Pretty Colors For Your Actions. Set to release on October 5th, the record’s singles “The Deep End” and “Midnight Oil” have already been making waves across playlists for their exquisite balance between bloom and gloom. Their sound is like a chromatic abstract painting – the bright colors deceive you at first, but as you get deeper, there is a sense of doom that feels primal:
Comprised of Tim Harrington and Paul Wright, Tall Heights formed in Boston back in 2009 where they started off as street performers. Now signed to Sony Masterworks, Tall Heights has become one of the most iconic bands in Boston and vanguards of electrofolk music…honestly, good music. We had the chance to interview Tim in regards to their upcoming third album, concert pet peeves, and why he doesn’t need H2O to perform.
Why did you choose ‘Tall Heights’ as your band’s moniker?
Tim: It’s a name that came from the combination of two of our names. As a project, we are always exploring the combination of our two voices. We feel like that’s our sound, our fingerprints, and no matter what we do, no matter what changes throughout the album cycles – from one album to the next, we might change instrumentation or production or anything else – what is important to us is the combination of these two sounds in these two voices. So we feel that as long as we continue to stay committed to mine and Paul’s unity as artists and composers, we will be Tall Heights and everything else matters a lot less than that.
Why did you choose Pretty Colors For Your Actions as your album title?
Tim: Well, first of all, it’s a lyric from the second song “Midnight Oil” but we loved it because we feel that in this day and age, music has become sort of the twinkling lights and the beautifully painted murals in the background of our lives. I think with the rapidly moving news cycle in our newsfeeds, with everything going crazy and the world going to hell this and that, the average person is a little bit overwhelmed with how fast everything is moving and how crazy things change. And so they don’t really have a ton of extra energy left in the tank to be looking for beautiful music. They end up turning to curated playlists and stuffs like that. So a lot of times, it just seems like cues in colors going on in the background of their lives.
But in our opinion you can be much more than that and pretty colors can be used for much more than that. And you can put pretty colors on a flag and wave it in front of people as they go off to war, you know, and that’s inspiring to people. People will fight for it. We think that music can be something that’s in the background and we think our music is the pretty colors for your actions. We think our music can be a good accompaniment to your daily routine, but also we feel that our music has meant for more and is meant for greater action than that.
What about the album cover? Why did you choose that specific artwork?
Tim: Well, we feel that there’s something really visual about that album title Pretty Colors For Your Actions, you know…colors are visual and you can see. We thought that there’s something really interesting about having us blindfolded on the front. As artists, we need to stay hopeful and motivated to create, which requires a certain amount of blindness where you just need to go into your hole and create. Also, to be a human that wakes up every morning and goes to work or does whatever they do, you kind of need to close your eyes to a lot of things that’s happening.
So on the album cover, we wanted to make it feel like we are purposefully and unpurposefully blinding the things that are going on around the world. And yeah, the fact that the album name is Pretty Colors For Your Actions makes you think, ‘their eyes are closed, what does that mean?’ And then there’s this other eye that’s fragmented on the back in color. We just thought that the whole thing created a depth to the title as well.
From your new album, which track was the hardest one to finish?
Tim: Hmm, that’s a really great question because the whole process of finishing an album is one that takes time and care…I think I want to say “House On Fire” took the longest to call it finished because we wanted to strike this really delicate line between being bright, open and exciting, but also to have a certain inherent darkness to it since that’s what the song is. It’s an anthem for the blue collar or working class person who goes to work and doesn’t really enjoy what they do and they feel trapped in their life.
We wanted it to be like an anthem for the weekends. Like, ‘Hey, I’m on Friday, I’m going home. I’ve been working hard, but now I get to go home.’ But the darkness on the other side is that you work five days a week, so that you can have your two cheat days of freedom, which just feels really unbalanced and sad…and that’s how we all spend our lives. So we wanted to make sure that it felt like a celebration, but also a little bit like a limitation.
Which track is the most vulnerable one and why?
Tim: We would probably answer this question a little differently depending on who you’re asking. For me, “Oslo” is probably the most vulnerable track because it’s about weakness in a relationship. It’s about loyalty in a romantic relationship and when that gets called into question, I think those feelings are hard ones to deal with.
I have only 10% battery left on my phone and can only play 5 songs. What 5 songs from the new album should I spend my last battery life?
Tim: Well I say, why don’t you just start at the top and then when you charge your phone, you’ll want to finish it off. The album has a really nice life span that when you listen from the first track to the next, the sequence kind of brings you on a journey. If it were up to me, I just want you to listen from the top and imagine that this is one piece of art that you’re supposed to experience in a sequence. And of course you can listen to songs out of sequence, that’s not a problem. But if you want to experience Pretty Colors For Your Actions, the way we want people to experience it, I just want you to start with track one to five, until your phone dies. And when you get back to it, start with track six and finish it off.
You guys recently shared your personal pet peeves on Instagram. What are some concert pet peeves that make you die a little inside?
Tim: Well, I guess I can’t stand…I can’t stand it when people aren’t focused on the music. I don’t mind some chatter and I don’t mind people being into it by clapping or assuming your were shouting out, but when people come just to catch up with their friends. That’s a, that’s a tough one.
Well, what about people with giant iPads?
Tim: Yeah, I’m not gonna weigh in on that. Uh, that’s up to the discretion of the individuals in the crowd. I could see that being something that pisses people off in the crowd, but for me onstage I want people to kind of enjoy and capture the show in a way that feels good to them and if that means taking a few photos on the iPad, so be it. If that blocks the view of the person behind, then maybe that person behind should say something. But from my perspective onstage, I just want everybody to sort of have a unique experience. I want them to feel something rare and beautiful and I want them to connect with us in an emotional way because that’s why we go on tour. That’s why we play shows. That’s what it’s all about for me. You spend all this time in a studio writing and recording and then you finally get to go out there and meet the people whose lives have changed.
You are given the choice between performing naked for 10 minutes or without any liquid for 1 hour. Which one would you choose?
Tim: Okay. So no water, beer or anything like that?
Tim: Yeah, I’d do that. Just because…it’s not that I’m embarrassed about or ashamed of nudity, but I just don’t want to distract [people] from the concert I can play a show a little thirsty, that’s fine. But to me, the important thing is that we are going out there and playing a good show for the people because as I said, that’s why we love what we do. We started as street performers back in Boston and for us, we realized that we were on the right track – that we were on a good trajectory – as soon as people would stop and sit down and listen to the music.
I remember one night we were out there playing songs and one by one people actually started sitting down and listening to our original songs. We weren’t doing any covers and we weren’t doing anything flashy, just being honest singer/songwriter sharing songs in a way that we thought were meaningful. And soon enough, we had a concert of 400 people sitting there listening. And that’s how it started. The moment that I knew that we were supposed to do more with our career of interest as street performers. That was the moment I knew we needed to take it on the road. And so in those days we’d played four or five hours at a time and we have just one water bottle, you know, so I think I could go pretty long without needing water.
Whereas if I were naked for 10 minutes, I think people would probably spend that time not listening to the music and thinking about other things in a number of ways. And so that’s not exactly what I have in mind for our shows.
The world ends tomorrow and you decide to throw a party. Who’s gonna DJ, play the show, and sing the closing song before you all die in flames?
Tim: Okay. Well, for DJ…probably my friend’s father who has a killer vinyl collection. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t want to say his name just because he’s not like a public guy. But I’d have him DJ with his vinyl collection at his disposal. Whenever we’re in Columbus, we stay with him and we call him the professor because he has such a killer taste in music and such an amazing catalog of music that he always plays a B side of a record that I know, but I’ve never heard that song before. He always finds those hidden gems and I’d love to go out hearing another surprisingly beautiful song.
As far as what artist I’d want to play, I guess I’d have to go with Paul McCartney. And as I’m about to die, have him play “Yesterday” just to sort of lament on the ending of it all.
Catch Tall Heights on tour this fall, we promise you they will be fully clothed.
Pretty Colors For Your Actions will be out on October 5th via Sony and can be pre-ordered here.