Cover Story: 'High' Times

Seductive up-and-coming Cincinnati foursome The High and Low want to take their time, do it right

Matt Borgerding

When they're all awake, Cincinnati's The High and Low dream up haunting, primal, lo-fi soundscapes.

The High and Low need some attention. Their fashionably wallflower-ish demeanor and their circle of recognizable musical friends are no doubt intriguing. But if you want to get the whole picture, you'll need to sit down with lead singer Holly Kadish and talk music. Otherwise, you might not discover that her vocal resemblance to Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval is purely coincidental. And you'll probably need her to put a finger on the My Bloody Valentine and Brian Jonestown Massacre influences hauntingly audible in the band's languid, lo-fi sound.

You'll need all her people there, too — her sister Tori (bass), the verbally ticklish Michael Weinel (guitar) and Sabrina Nowling, a drummer who lets her dimples do the talking. With the whole crew present, you're less likely to typecast the band as three shoegazin' girls and a talented guitar man. Although you really couldn't be blamed for jumping to conclusions, given the heavy shroud: Their accessible body of work consists of three tracks on their information-deprived MySpace site. Even those songs, they insist, "don't define anything."

But they're working on it. And if all goes well, August will tell.

That's when they hope to have their first official release available (though they say it could be out as late as December).

The H&L M.O. is a gritty, mood-shifting romp with start-and-stop rhythmic sequences that reflect the overriding sexuality of the band. Not that these are your average chicks; it's just hard to quell so much estrogen, especially with a singer whose ethereal, resonating pipes are a veritable invite to a two-person basement party. Weinel's riffs recall some of the greats — it comes as no shock that a collective influence is Neil Young — interspersed so they weave comfortable guidance throughout the songs rather than overpowering Tori's sticky, sexy basslines.

You may not (yet), but somebody knows about this band. In fact, a lot of important somebodies: The High and Low, together for just a year, have graced the stage with some of the finest Indie Rock bands around and are organizing a "highly selective" gig schedule that includes this weekend's Desdemona Festival.

"Puck (Dunaway, a booker/manager at Desdemona organizer Nick Spencer's bar, alchemize) actually approached us about doing the festival and we didn't know anything about it at first," says Tori "But when we found out what a great thing they're doing (mixing local with national acts), we thought, 'Definitely, this is a cool opportunity.' "

The festival places the band in front of some of the most diverse musicians and audiences Cincinnati has yet to see, including Mates of State, The Stills and Ghostface Killah. Getting their sound out there is naturally top priority for The High and Low, and they want to make sure that their exposure coincides with their artistic values.

That said, the Desdemona invitation didn't come without reservations. Anyone who believes in and wholeheartedly supports original music bristles a little when the "Procter & God" amphitheater is a main stage, an anomaly no doubt taken into consideration by the festival's progressive organizers.

"They're playing Sawyer Point?" asks the bartender at Northside's Comet, before we begin our interview. "But isn't the riverfront too bright for Indie rockers?"

Nah, says Tori. "Cincinnati is the best city for a musician. It's not too expensive — you don't have to starve trying to play music. And there are so many great bands here. Yeah, of course, location matters, but it's not the biggest concern."

"I'm sure everything will turn out great, but I mean, this is a first for (the fest organizers) just like it's a first for us," Weinel adds. "We'll probably get sunburned while playing out-of-tune guitars, but, you know ..."

An "it'll be alright" smile finishes the sentiment.

Musicians are no strangers to the age-old "integrity vs. commerce" conundrum, but The High and Low view Desdemona as an opportunity to narrow the chasm of artistic appreciation in their native city.

The High and Low live in Rock music, much as teenagers breathe Hot Topic and soccer moms become the van. All but Nowling reside in a Northside building where their practice space and a recording studio are mere steps away. This isn't the first time they've turned their abode upside-down for their art, either — a few years back, they rolled up their sleeves and built a sound stage in The Electric Company, an unofficial Vine Street flophouse-cum-nightly-music-Mecca for local and touring musicians.

"Remember when we got the White Stripes to play there (in 2000, pre-explosion)?" asks Tori.

Everyone nods in succession and takes a nostalgic moment. It was also there that the band made lasting friendships with fellow groups like The Greenhornes and Thee Shams. Hanging out with such talents on their way up has clearly influenced The High and Low's perspective — so, what's the magic ingredient for success?

Unanimously, they agree that getting along well with your band members is key, but the concepts of having everything you need to create, being patient and being able to be selective are ones that the band holds dear as well.

"Having our own studio is big, when it comes to filtering things out," Holly says. "We want to take our time and do it all. We know we're really lucky."

THE HIGH AND LOW ( plays the Desdemona Festival Friday at 5 p.m. on Stage 3.

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