Highlands Are Happy to See the Return of '90s Shoegaze

Highlands Are Happy to See the Return of '90s Shoegaze
Brendan Burdzinski

Highlands specialize in using mammoth guitar swells, mesmerizing rhythms and rippling vocal delay to tear a hole in the universe big enough for you to walk through. It's probably why the title of their shoegazing, sophomore album Dark Matter Traveler (released in June) seems so fitting. In the tradition of '90s shoegaze predecessors like Slowdive and Ride, Highlands places an emphasis on creating gigantic songs that wind, bend and blend into each other seamlessly. And as always, the journey to the end of the album is a scenic one.

Over the summer, guitarist/vocalist Scott Holmes, along with guitarist Stephen Edmunds, drummer Chris Figlewicz and bassist Beau Balek worked on perfecting the task of bringing the headphone experience of Dark Matter Traveler to life on stage. Before you catch them tomorrow as part of the lineup for Long Beach Psych Night at Alex's Bar, we spoke to Holmes about fighting through the growing pains of their second album, the return of some of the biggest bands in the shoegaze scene, and the story behind the compelling artwork they chose for their album cover.

OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): One of the first things I noticed about Dark Matter Traveler versus your previous release Singularity is the way the new album sort of creeps in and envelopes you with a slow build versus a more explosive opening track. What made you want to go that route?

Scott Holmes: Track ordering was a big thing for us this time. We had a lot more to choose from so we could paint a more full picture of what we wanted to do. We didn't have as many songs last time to accomplish that.

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You guys also had a bit of a line up change since the last album as well, right?

Since releasing Singularity, Travis [Cheney] and Beau [Balek] left the band within a week of each other. The rest of us still wanted to continue on. And it turns out Beau is actually a bass player and that's the instrument he really wanted to play in the band. So we asked him if he wanted to come back, because previously, he played synth in the band and other noise effects. And he was all over it. He wanted more responsibility in the band as well. So it was a lucky situation for us for sure.

Was anything about the recording process different for you this time around?

We had a lot better idea of the songs and where we wanted them to go. With Singularity, we had ideas and we would hash them out while we were in the studio. This time there were some songs that sprouted in the studio, but even they had a pretty good foundation.

What's it like to see more of the shoegaze bands like Ride and Slowdive coming back around for anniversary and reunion shows as people start rehashing and rediscovering '90s bands and their seminal albums?

I think it's for the better. If they're coming back and rehashing this music scene then it's retracing steps over a road that might be a little dusty. It's not the kind of music you necessarily wanna throw on at a party. But if you wanna hang out, put a record on and listen to the whole thing, that's the kind of music we make. It just naturally happened like that. It's not about getting some banger to put on the album, it's about making the whole thing work as a piece. There's not hit singles on [Slowdive's] Souvlaki. I love that.

Lyrically, what kinds of themes were you kicking around in the writing of this album?

I wanted the lyrics to represent the band well, so the words have meaning, but it doesn't have to be so freaking deep if it doesn't need to be. On the other hand, some stuff can be. At the end of the day, it's gonna be interpreted by so many people in so many different ways. So I like to keep things really androgynous so people can relate it to their lives and use it for...whatever they need it for. It was cool, we did a show with Sleepy Sun and this guy came up to us after and said 'hey, I went through this break up during Singularity and that record helped me.' Never has anyone ever told me that before. It felt really good and that is what this record is; it's whatever you need it for.

Can you talk about the artwork for the album? It really seems to match the aesthetic of the music in a weird way, all the gold leaf mosaic stuff.

The artwork was done by our friend Brendan Burdzinski's dad, Yan Burdzinski. He was an artist in San Clemente and he did these insane pieces. He has like 200 of these types of pieces in his basement and they're all like 3 feet tall. He's passed away since the record came out. We actually shot our first music video in his basement and when we saw those, we said we had to use one for something. And it does work with the record. We started associating it with the record and it worked aesthetically for us. It's definable, it's got edges but still has this incredible depth to it.

Highlands perform tomorrow at Alex's Bar with No Silver Bird, Wax Children and Lords of Beacon House. 8 p.m. $5. 21+. For full details, click here.

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