A fantastic genre-bending band from the east coast, The Great Heights Band are back at it again with the release of their new album rad-pop.! I recently sat down with TGHB’s Neal Karkhanis (vocals/guitar) and Owen Brinser (bass) to discuss their unique musical style, future plans, and their new record rad-pop.!
Q: You guys have been working together as The Great Heights Band since the spring of 2014. How exactly did you all meet and decide to start this musical journey?
Karkhanis: I’ve known Paul and Owen for about 15 years each and we have played in different bands together over the years and have remained close friends throughout. I took a big and much needed break from music before starting TGHB, and during that time, I wrote a couple of songs that Paul and I wound up recording for fun. One thing sort of led to another and those couple of songs turned into an EP and eventually a full length. I asked Owen if he wanted to slappa da bass on those jams, and he just fit perfectly with what we were trying to do. When we made our first full length album, Eric actually wound up producing half of it, which is how we met him. The songs we recorded with Eric required two guitars to perform it well, and we asked him if he would consider doing a tour with us… he wound up joining the band officially a few days into that tour. This band has sort of just been one thing leading to another without a real plan or road map. I think it’s been really fun because of that because we just never know what will happen.
Q: It’s difficult to pin-point your unique sound into one single genre because you guys seem to incorporate various pop, rock, and alternative elements into your music. How would you describe The Great Heights Band to a curious listener?
Karkhanis: Totally. That’s the thing we wanted to figure out when we made this new record, and as the songs started coming together, we realized that it doesn’t really fit into any specific genre. While recording, we would tour here and there, and a newspaper described us as a “rad pop” band, and we thought that was the coolest description so far, so we’ve run with it. So yeah, I consider us a rad-pop band and why we think the name “rad-pop.” is perfect for this new album. We’ll see if the genre sticks.
Brinser: I wish there was a simple answer to that! With this album we really wanted to spread our wings and not feel pigeonholed with what genre The Great Heights Band is. We’ve had a lot of people comment on the diversity of the album and the range that you’ll find on the album is one thing we’re all really proud of. You can go from a catchy hook-filled song like ‘Start’ to the trippy rock of ‘What’s Real!’ to a campfire acoustic song like “The Mountain” pretty quickly on the album. That’s why rad-pop. is not just our album, but the genre. We’re bringing it all together to make a sound that you need to hear to really get.
Q: Your sophomore album, rad-pop. is now available for streaming worldwide! How does it feel to finally have new material out for your fans?
Karkhanis: It feels awesome. We worked super hard on this album, and I think it really shows in the songs and the production. It was a total DIY effort from start to finish, so to see it out in the real world is really special.
Brinser: We’re all ecstatic to see the reception we’ve gotten across the globe. We also have a CD exclusive track, as well as a vinyl exclusive track. Those are not and never will be available on streaming, so it’s been fun talking to people at shows who love the album and then getting to surprise them that they haven’t even heard it all yet!
Q: The eleven tracks on this new record are a fair representation of how much The Great Heights Band have grown since your previous album, Songs in Eastern Standard Timing (LP 2015). Can you tell us about the writing and recording process?
Brinser: Songs In Eastern Standard Timing was recorded through various studios and then edited and mastered together and we knew that this time we wanted to do the whole thing at the amazing Buzzlounge Recording Studio just outside of Washington D.C. Being able to take our time with the album and re-arranging parts as we needed to really helped the album become what it is now.
Karkhanis: Yea, SIEST was sort of a hodgepodge of songs that were recorded all over the place and thrown against the wall for our first release. We weren’t the same band that we are today both in terms of members and in terms of how far we have gone with getting better at playing music together. I’m still really proud of that album, but rad-pop. definitely had a lot more thought and purpose behind it. Eric and I demoed a ton of songs and spent what feels like a year just emailing them back and forth and re-writing parts until we felt good about actually tracking them.
Owen and Paul are both really good at just walking in and making things better, which was super helpful when Eric and I were looking at everything under the microscope. Owen and Paul were able to sort of take a step back and help us get the songs to where they needed to be. We had a super ambitious idea of what we wanted to do, and I’m really proud that we were able to stick with it and make a record we are all proud to share.
Q: My favorite song off rad-pop. is ‘Better Things’ because it serves as a reminder that life is short and it’s important to show people how much you care about them while you still can. Which tracks were the most difficult to write, and why?
Brinser: I know that the bridge in ‘What’s Real!’ was something that was re-written multiple times by Neal and Eric. They keep working on it and bouncing ideas off Paul and once something was solid I came in and made some changes as well. While the process was time consuming and difficult, it was the only way it could become the delightfully chaotic part that it is!
Karkhanis: That’s cool that you love ‘Better Things!’ We probably re-wrote that song like 20 times. I think that overall we developed a nice flow with writing, demoing, re-writing, recording, re-writing again and re-arranging the songs without really stressing about it or getting under each other’s skin. It definitely took a crazy amount of time, but I’ve been in bands that have imploded over the course of making an album, and thankfully we haven’t had that issue with TGHB. I think part of that is that we have been great friends for a long time, and another part of it is we respect each other’s opinions.
Eric and I spent a ton of time on lyrics, making sure they weren’t just the words we wanted to use to express whatever the song was about, but also that they sung well and still fit into the catchy stuff TGHB is known to put out. It’s hard to write great lyrics and still have a fun song. So the long answer to your short question is that each song had its own challenges, but specifically, lyrics and vocal patterns/melodies were the most challenging in my opinion.
Q: Since you guys are currently playing a string of shows along the west coast with Eye the Realist, you must be spending plenty of time together on the road. What songs are on your road trip playlist?
Brinser: Personally I’ve been really enjoying everything that Pale Waves has put out, as well as The Henchmen’s new album Broken Records & Lost Causes.
Karkhanis: I feel like I have a bit of ADHD when it comes to consuming music – my taste and interest changes almost day to day. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Patent Pending and Seaway – getting into their catalogues, but I am completely in love with Kendrick Lamar’s latest record and I am a 90’s kid, so I will always throw on some 90’s alt rock. I’m also a huge Ben Folds and Death Cab For Cutie fan so those are consistently on there. When I am in chill mode, I listen to a lot of Chopin … ‘Nocturnes, Op. 9: No. 2’ is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written so I never get sick of it. And I really love jazz and have been getting into all the stuff Dave Brubeck and some of the other classic jazz artists wrote. See what I mean – ADHD. If you’re interested, I actually make a weekly Spotify playlist – give it a follow!
Q: You guys have performed alongside talented band like Bayside and Hellogoodbye throughout the last four years. If you could collaborate with any musical artist—living or dead, who would you pick?
Brinser: I thinking that bringing Tchaikovsky up to speed with the modern world and seeing how he’d have done rad-pop..
Karkhanis: Most definitely John Lennon, which is a cliché and obvious answer, but dang that would be cool.
Q: Here’s where the interview gets tricky… You have exactly one sentence to tell readers why they should listen to rad-pop. Go!
Brinser: Dogs love it.
Karkhanis: My mom loves it.
Q: With rad-pop. now released and an accompanying tour, 2018 is going super well for The Great Heights Band! What else would you guys like to accomplish this year?
Brinser: Four Chord Festival in Pittsburgh is going to be a definite highlight for me! Playing with Less Than Jake and Bayside is certainly something to be pumped for. In general I’m just excited to play more shows and share the new album with more people!
Karkhanis: What Owen said. Also Anti-Flag is playing Four Chord as well as our really good friends in Eternal Boy and like 15 other bands. Rishi from Eternal Boy actually organizes and runs the entire festival, so for it to be totally DIY and be filled with a bunch of friends is super cool. I’d like to keep meeting rad people in music that do what they want to do without waiting for someone else to do it for them. I’ve enjoyed meeting and becoming friends with people like Rishi, and can’t wait to meet more. It’s also great to have the chance to travel around and play music for people, explore cities all over, and experience what they have to offer. It’s always a unique and wonderful feeling to come back to a city a few times and see more and more people into the music. It’s also amazing to me that at the end of the day, most people and scenes are generally the same… people just want to belong and have a good time. It’s fun to be a part of it. Beyond that, even though rad-pop. just came out a couple of months ago, I think we are all starting to think about getting back into the studio and working on some songs for a future release!
The Great Heights Band’s new album rad-pop. is now available for streaming worldwide, so give it a listen and go see them perform at Four Chord Music Festival 5 in Virginia next month! Feel free to leave your thoughts on rad-pop. in the comments section below, and follow my blog for more music posts!
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