One of the highlights of our experience at NXNE Port Lands this year was getting the opportunity to sit down and talk Dazzle Camouflage with HIGHS’ Doug Haynes and Joel Harrower. With Dazzle Camouflage – the band’s debut full-length record – on repeat over the past few months, we were pretty excited to check out the alt-pop band in all their glory in the summer sun.
Covering our bases on everything from Tom Cruise to the artwork of Balint Zsako to the magic behind “Gold Teeth”, you can find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about HIGHS below. Oh, and check ’em out on tour in a city near you soon.
CONFRONT Magazine: So, let’s talk about Dazzle Camouflage, an album that I’m a big fan of – it feels quintessentially summery to me. What song on the album are you most proud of, and why?
Doug Haynes: This could take a while because there are varying reasons why I like certain songs. I can point to “So Sad, Never Mad” because that’s one that we really worked on together. Joel wrote a lot of it, and I wrote small bits of it, so it was kind of cool to see how it turned out. Up until that point [songwriting] wasn’t so collaborative, so it was cool that on this album it became more collaborative. Joel and I worked a lot together to write the music. It was a cool experience to hear the songs that we came up with.
I also really like “Gold Teeth”, I think that one’s really exciting because we wrote it in the studio for the most part. I had about 35 seconds of it going in, and with the help of the producer we were working with and the rest of the band, we workshopped it a little bit and kind of created the song in the studio during the recording process. It ended up being really cool, structurally, sonically and even lyrically. That’s a fun one for me, I really enjoy listening to it still.
Joel Harrower: I would totally agree with that.
CONFRONT Magazine: I actually wanted to ask about your songwriting process. On some of the songs, the lead singer of the song changes (“Acting Strange” and Karrie [Douglas] taking the lead, for example). For those songs, is the primary songwriter singing? How do those songs come about? Or is it a more collaborative process?
Joel Harrower: For the most part, they’re not collaborative. Doug writes a lot of the songs in his room –
Doug Haynes: I have my own home studio.
Joel Harrower: Then, he’ll bring it to the band and we’ll figure out how to make it work as a band. On songs like “Acting Strange”, it just so happens that we’re all big fans of Karrie’s voice – and I think everyone in the world is – so we wanted to make sure she sang lead on a song on the album.
Doug Haynes: We also wanted to make sure it was the right song, because she has such a great voice. We wanted to make sure the song was almost tailored to have her voice stand out on it.
Joel Harrower: Doug and I spent a lot of time on that one, workshopping the melody and the words.
Doug Haynes: There are certain songs written about specific things that, as a songwriter, you might almost feel a little weird about someone else singing it. Whereas, on that song, it was written more collectively; we had discussed the theme, we had discussed the imagery we wanted to use, and sat around the floor of the studio talking about it. From there, we were able to construct the song, which I think made it easier for us to decide that it was a good song for Karrie to sing. Her voice fits really nicely with it. We really worked on finding the right song.
CONFRONT Magazine: On the flip side of that, was there any moment, or any song, that was particularly challenging to write or finish?
Joel Harrower: In my experience, Doug’s songs come in short bursts all at once. Written in a few hours, for the most part. The one exception, other than the ones we wrote in the studio, was “So Sad, Never Mad”, that one I contributed to a little more. I’m an insanely slow songwriter.
Doug Haynes: That song actually started out with one guitar riff and one line of a melody years ago, and I really liked it. I kept playing it over and over and over again, trying to figure it out. And then, because of the way I work and the way I write songs, I just couldn’t get back into it. It was frustrating because we liked it, we knew it had potential. So, Joel took it for a quick joyride and spin – took it on the jet-ski for a quick dip in the lake – and he pretty much wrote the rest of it
CONFRONT Magazine: What’s the biggest growth you think you’ve experienced as either songwriters or musicians working on the full length?
Joel Harrower: We worked with a producer for the first time on this record [Luke Smith]. He really pushed us to be the best possible musicians and also focus on what he called “the groove” of each song. This sounds very generic but he really instilled in us the need for each song to have a defined groove.
Doug Haynes: We would go to the studio, and spend the entire day there. 12-13 hour days there. We’d get to the point where we think a song is sounding really good. We recorded it pretty much live on the floor, and we’d think it was sounding awesome, and he’d just press his button and be like “I don’t see Tom Cruise in his convertible with his sunglasses on – no groove!” We’d be like “What are you talking about?!” and he’d tell us he needed to see Tom Cruise. Eventually we’d keep going, find it, and he’d be like “Okay, Tom Cruise is showing up” and we’d look through the window and see him miming Tom Cruise in a convertible. Tom Cruise will never be the same for me after that.
Joel Harrower: We try to write every song so that he [Tom Cruise] could be listening to it in a convertible.
Doug Haynes: I actually think he really affected the way we work and write songs. He has this thing called the “busker version”. So every single song we recorded on this album, we had to play it acoustically for him. He didn’t want to hear it ‘live’, he wanted it acoustically first. We were initially like “Well, we’re not an acoustic band”, and he said that if we couldn’t play the songs acoustically, they wouldn’t resonate with people. If the melody or instrumentation isn’t good enough, you can add all this other stuff to it, but it still won’t be a good song. So we’d be working on it, and he’d ask to hear the busker version. We’d do a busker version, and he’d just be like “No…”. So all the songs on this album, we learned to play them acoustically, and we learned how to give them life. You know, instead of trying to add stuff to it later, we’d try to have the bare bones of it be enough to hold it up.
CONFRONT Magazine: That’s an interesting method. So the album has a distinct aesthetic that starts with the album cover and continues on with the first music video. How do you come up with the vision and what’s the tie-in with Dazzle Camouflage?
Joel Harrower: I should probably come up with a deeper answer but we knew that the album sounded colourful, so we wanted the colours to be vibrant. We basically spent ages going through visual artists, and it was just one of those moments where we saw this one painting by Balint Zsako, and it just ‘got’ the feeling of the album. It was a piece that was pre-existing, we just reached out to him blindly and he was into the record.
Even before all that, we knew we wanted the album to have a cohesive aesthetic, even for the songs themselves. Once we found what we were looking for in our heads that we couldn’t describe, we just ran with it.
CONFRONT Magazine: Speaking of inspiration, can you give our readers some music recommendations? What are you listening to right now?
Doug Haynes: I’m listening nonstop, but with breaks, to Andy Shauf’s The Party. I have to take breaks because the songwriting is just – I don’t know – it haunts me. I’ll be driving for like an hour listening to it, and once it ends, instead of listening to it again or listening to something else, I just have to turn it off and take a break and reset.
Joel Harrower: There is an album by Chance The Rapper that just came out –
CONFRONT Magazine: Coloring Book!
Joel Harrower: Yeah, that one! I love it. I’m a big Chance fan. I gave my time to the Radiohead record. Oh, and there’s this Arts & Crafts artist, Jean-Michel Blais, and he’s this solo piano guy and I’m listening to that a lot right now.
Doug Haynes: I just like anybody in the OVO Camp right now. I really like the vision. He’s not part of the OVO camp, but he played yesterday, Daniel Caesar.
CONFRONT Magazine: I saw his set – it was phenomenal.
Doug Haynes: He’s too good. He’s really really good. He’s cool cause he’s got this R&B vibe with this Patrick Watson vibe to it. He’s got this whole own thing going on that’s really sweet.
CONFRONT Magazine: So you guys are heading out for a few more festival dates then some Western Canadian dates. What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you on the road?
Joel Harrower: In the past year, we’ve done some borderline unsafe drives where we just decided that we can’t afford hotel rooms or really to be on the road, so we just drive.
Doug Haynes: We essentially drove straight from like an hour and 15 mins outside Victoria to Toronto. We had this thing called the graveyard shift, which usually comes to me, but I kind of like it. Sometimes, I request the graveyard shift which will be good until the day it’s not good [laughs]. The last couple of cross-Canadian tours we’ve done have been in the winter, so the graveyard shift, in the winter, through the mountains, when you can’t see is really scary. Most Canadian bands that have toured Canada have these experiences so it’s not that unique, but the first time we saw a moose. I was like “Whoa there’s a moose” and then we proceeded to see 9 more. We were scared we going to hit them and it would be the end of our band. It was terrifying.
Oh, another time we played a show in Saskatoon at Amigos and we didn’t have anywhere to stay. For the entire tour we had decided that if we got money to stay a hotel, we would take that money and apply it to something else for the band and just sleep at friends’ houses or find places to stay. Basically just sleep on floors most of the time. So, we’re in Saskatoon and it’s our last date and we didn’t have a place to stay and we didn’t know anyone in Saskatoon. So from the stage, we asked for a place to stay – we’re hungry, have no place to stay, it’s snowing outside – and these women invited us over. They told us to come over once we were done with our load out. So we go over, it’s like 2:30am and they’re all doing yoga in the middle of their living room, eating Doritos. We all walked in and were like “What is happening right now?” and it ended up being such a good time. I love Doritos, so I knew from the onset that it would be a good night.