Name: Tall Heights
Members: Paul Wright Tim Harrington
Interviewee: Paul Wright
Occupation: Producers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists
Current release: Tall Heights' new full-length Juniors is out via their personal merch store.
If you enjoyed this interview with Tall Heights, visit the project's official website. You can also check out their profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
For me the impulse to write lots and lots of new ideas starts with a single musical bit that sort of charges through the barricade and opens up the doors to my creative brain. From there I’ll start to pay closer attention to the world around me, to my own river of thoughts and emotions, and I’ll spend a little time each day with a cello or guitar in hand generating little kernels of songs.
Reading fiction, having heartfelt conversations, and yes certainly getting in touch with the subconscious all feed this process. For the upcoming record, Juniors, we found ourselves journaling through songs about the tumult around us - family crises, death, new life, fear, joy and despair all at once.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
We tend toward embracing chance over planning.
I think it’s safe to say that Tim will write with more of an idea of final production choices, whereas I may evaluate an idea in its most basic form - chords and melody to decide if it is compelling. In both cases planting lots and lots of seeds yields better fruit.
The earliest demo of "Hear It Again" has a very different energy from the final track, but the core elements - melody, key lyrics, and synth chord shapes are all there.
I would describe that initial demo as total chance.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
We both enjoy getting into the creative process at the start of the day, when that subconscious is a little closer at hand and easier to tap into. I find that no caffeine and holding off on listening to the news help me. It has worked well to wake up, eat a bowl of cereal and get creating - basically think of how a child might start his/her morning. (Laughs)
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I would say first lines and notes are easy in the context of "this is just one of several voice memos I’ll take today and reflect back on". It’s important to let ourselves off the hook rather than demand greatness from our first breath and thought.
I either start with an initial melody line and fit chords around it, or a compelling chord structure to which I'll audition melodies. We use stand-in lyrics, some of which may very well end up in the song, and some certainly will not. I do find that it is important to latch onto even a single phrase with clarity / significance / emotional weight to it in order to drive the creation forward.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Most often they are taking shape alongside the musical construction, albeit with some delays. Occasionally the lyrical canvas is left blank until the music is done, and then we bang our heads against the wall drafting the right lyrics.
"Locked Out" is a good example of a song that took shape musically, and then together with co-writer Jen Decilvio, we discussed a very specific emotional event in my life, and then wrote about it together.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
We love ambiguity in our lyrics, and even what we call Trojan Horse songs, where you think you understand the song on first listen, but upon closer inspection the song is actually about something very different.
"The Deep End" seems to embrace a lifestyle of consumption and frivolity, but is instead a freakout about climate change. The song made Spotify's New Year's Eve party playlist a few years ago. We sort of love the idea that our words were issuing a warning to the dancing masses.
But we strive to balance that love of ambiguity with lyrics that are occasionally piercingly clear in their meaning.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This is exactly what Tim and I do for each other as co-writers. Sometimes we hear each other’s drafts differently from the author, and multiple paths emerge for the song. We try not to fret or argue in these situations, rather we'll explore all paths as equals, and it usually becomes clear which one we'd like to travel down. And then sometimes we double back!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I would say that we’re trying to create something spiritual in an agnostic sense, but the process of creating is rather mundane. It’s emotional yes, and it can be meditative or frenetic, exciting or incredibly frustrating.
John Steinbeck would sign his personal letters with an image of a pig with wings, describing himself as a “lumbering soul but trying to fly”. That resonates with me. I would describe "The Mountain"'s creative process as an honest day's work rather than a spiritual journey.
The spark of inspiration - a photo of our friend's grandfather on the day before we died, had me feeling emotional. But I only experience the song's gravity as I listen to the finished track, and I cherish those moments of affirmation.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
The upcoming record Juniors is the first record for which we’ve been involved in every single nitty-gritty production detail, and that’s something we’re very proud of.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yes, totally, the initial creative lift after finishing a record can be heavy.
Juniors is all about seeing the world through the world eyes of a child, to accept the unknown and to seek beauty therein. We're taking that on as a mantra, trying to keep the lights on in the creative rooms of our brains.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think, perhaps as evinced by these answers, that I am able to communicate something profound in music that I can't seem to access through conversation.
For me and Tim, songwriting has always been a journal of self-exploration between two old friends, shared with our fans in hopes that it might help heal, inspire, and awaken.