Founded by twin brothers Rich [bass] and Ryan [drums] Meyer, along with best friend Johnny Stevens [guitar, lead vocals] in 2009, the rock trio are quickly making their mark on the rock scene.
After their humble beginnings as a bar cover band in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and having released two EPs, the band moved to Brooklyn in 2012 to work on The Worst Humans EP alongside producer Joel Hamilton [Elvis Costello, The Black Keys]. The three-piece continued to go from strength to strength, breaking it big on the US tour circuit with the likes of Deftones, Pennsylvanian rockers Halestorm and Stone Temple Pilots‘ Scott Weiland.
Their hard-hitting debut record Mister Asylum followed pretty soon after, and it was singles like the lyrically poignant ‘Lydia’ that really elevated the group to new heights. It’s been more than a year since then, and last month they released the highly anticipated follow-up, The Boy Who Died Wolf.
We sat down with drummer Ryan Meyer to talk about Stevens no longer being a lone wolf, a music scene rife with cover acts back home in Cape Cod, and the tragic passing of a friend that shook up the entire band.
When did you start working on The Boy Who Died Wolf?
We started it immediately after Mister Asylum (2015) was finished. Because we went straight into tour, we never put our instruments down, never stopped creating. Jams during soundcheck or playing riffs while you’re bored is how a lot of our music starts. An idea, that’s all you need. A beat you like or a riff, or something meaningful or shocking in your life. Anything can spark inspiration.
Of course the bulk of the album came from being locked in a studio for two weeks. Where we actually had the time and resources to sit down and mold everything together.
Where did the name come from?
The name comes from two things. The first is obviously a play on the term everyone knows but the second is more personal, its Johnny’s transition. J is a guy who has always been a lone wolf so to speak. An only child who grew up doing everything himself. As a boy he describes himself as a lone wolf, and as he got older he grew out of that and became more of a pack wolf. A lot of that came from living with Richie and I. We have always been pack or family oriented and now we’ve got the MCID (My Crew Is Dope) family.
It’s so obvious that MCID nation is woke. It’s our time people.
— HIGHLY SUSPECT (@Highly_Suspect) November 18, 2016
The boy he grew up as, the lone wolf, has died. He’s a man with a career, serious girlfriend and family. The transition and events that helped curate that change are all expressed through the very personal lyrics.
The album is based on real life experiences you’ve had since the first album. Is it hard to share candid and emotional details in music, or do you find it cathartic?
Nothing worth doing is easy, but I know writing and playing music about things like love, family, the death of a friend or even just stress is therapeutic and a good exercise for anyone. This album has all of that and it’s hard to play live.
‘For Billy’ is about a close friend of all of us. Billy killed himself while we were recording the album in Bogota, Columbia and it fucked us all up. Being so far from home and on a timeline we couldn’t stop, we lost a day of work but we had a deadline to keep. Luckily the music was already flushed out and, after a night of no sleep, Johnny came in the next day with the lyrics completely changed. The song was now an upbeat tribute to our friend. It makes it easier to play, it’s now a celebration of his life. Which I know he would have wanted.
Do the lyrics or themes come first, or the music?
It’s almost never the same. Usually Johnny or Rich will bring a song, mostly fleshed out, to the table and we all work on it. But like I said before, inspiration comes from anything. When it happens you just run with it.
Johnny has described the album as “upbeat” and “less dark”. How so?
That’s because we are more upbeat and less dark as humans. This music is a direct reflection of that. Life’s better for all of us, success has helped. We’re happier with a little money in our pockets and more travel under our belts.
How would you say the band’s sound has evolved or changed for this album?
We’re a rock band that barely listens to rock music. We all listen to everything; electro pop to jazz, metal to reggae. We’ve grown as people and developed as people… it happens naturally. In turn the music is more mature, more widely influenced from influence. It’s still “rock” music but if you listen you can hear all kinds of genres.
We worked on using space as an instrument. It’s a dynamic often overlooked but usually something that makes a song powerful or mean something. Say you want to tell your friend something important. After you tell them, do you just move on to the next thing or do you wait for them to think about it? Space is important.
Do you have a favourite song off the album, or is that like asking you to choose a favourite child?
Nailed it. Each day is different and I love this whole album. Every song is my favourite and every day is different.
How would you describe the music scene in Cape Cod?
In simple words, the Cape music scene is made of cover bands. Only because that’s what pays. People want to party with their friends and hear something familiar. Pop music, classic 90’s rock, reggae, hip hop… bands here learn to cover a lot of ground in the 3 hours they play every night. The beauty of that is musicians get paid to play and play a lot. So Cape Cod is filled with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met. It’s also comfortable and sort of traps musicians in the comfort bubble. It can be a good thing or bad, depending how you look at it.
If you ever get the chance to visit make sure you go out. You might get your mind blown.
Your music videos, especially the Tarantino-esque ‘Bloodfeather’ from this album, are very cinematic. How do those come about?
We love art and we love stories. Plain and simple. Stories can make you feel something and a music video is a chance to make that story.
The ‘Bloodfeather’ music video is based on the highly romantic western story Anything for Billy in which the infamous outlaw, Billy The Kid, bites off more than he can chew. The love of his life can’t stand to see him meet his end at the hands of murderers, so she kills him herself. It’s a beautiful story and one that parallels with the theme of the song. It makes the whole thing a cohesive piece rather than just a performance.
Score your own copy of Highly Suspect’s sophomore record The Boy Who Died Wolf here, out now via Warner Music Australia.