By Darren HarpDaddy Smith
I’ve missed the High Pets the past few years. No really, I’ve kept missing out on seeing The High Pets live onstage. I’ve been a big fan of bassist and photographer Charlie Earnshaw for years and have wanted to get out and see him in action. One of the frustrations of being a musician is that sometimes it’s really tough to get out and see some of my favorite people and bands; because we are gigging either across town or across the state. That’s one reason why I love playing festivals; so that I can be a fan. So that sometimes I can just dance, enjoy the vibe, and put a big, goofy smile on my face.
I had that big goofy smile on my face last month during the Seward Music & Arts Festival when I finally got my opportunity to catch The High Pets live. When I arrived at the festival I was physically worn out after three days of hanging drywall, but a raw and raucous set by Fairbanks psychobilly favorites, The Avery Wolves, re-energized me and then The High Pets followed with a fun, rocking set that left me wanting to see much more. We all get a chance to see more of The High Pets this Saturday, November 9 at their upcoming Album Release Party at Williwaw Social. Local Anchorage funk/hip-hop mainstays, Alaska Thunder Funk kick off the festivities at 8:00 p.m.
A lot has happened since The High Pets dropped their debut album, ‘Born In A Cave’, three years ago. The next summer, shortly before winning a local Battle of the Bands contest to open for English rock band, Bush, drummer Eric Kross joined the band. Kross has been the backbone of a number of homegrown rock bands, including longtime favorite Delmag. Discussing the Battle of the Bands competition Kross admits, “I was hellbent against it, because I don’t like those type of things. They cajoled me into it and we ended up winning and I was like… alright… alright....” Kross continues, “I knew right away, like the first jam session, that this is gonna work. Felt those little hairs on my arms raise up and I was like… ahhhhh.”
Vocalist and guitarist Becky Griffin, along with the help of lead guitarist and husband Gavin Wells have also given birth to a son, named Sam. Griffin’s lyrics and voice lend a powerful female rage to the driving rhythms laid down by Kross and bassist Charles Earnshaw. Griffin credits Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner as huge influences. “Growing up, anytime there was a powerful black artist, especially a female artist, making it into the pop culture; it was a big deal for me.” Griffin recalls, “I remember when my mom told me that Mariah Carey was bi-racial, like I was. It was a real ‘wow’ moment for me. People don’t realize how much their confidence comes from seeing other people ‘just like them’ doing the things they someday aspire to do.”
Becoming parents of two young boys has had great impact on both Griffin and Wells musical direction. Griffin remarks, “Before we had Sam (their first born son), Gavin and I had long talks about how parenthood was going to completely change our lives, but we were determined to continue to have our own identities, beyond being parents and to make space for music in our lives.” Griffin adds, “We are also fortunate that Sam is obsessed with music. Seeing his love for hearing and making music reinforces its’ importance to us as well.”
Not only has Griffin juggled being a mother and a wife, while holding down a full-time career, she has also recently undergone a physical transformation and has taken up the guitar.
“After Eric joined (the band) and we had the experience of opening for Bush; something shifted. I was desperate to drop the excess weight that I was carrying. I realized how much my lack of self-confidence and fear of rejection were holding me back. I also wanted to be healthy and present for my son and to be a positive role model for my him. All these elements came together to give me the push I needed to focus on myself and make some major changes.”
As far as learning the guitar Griffin recalls, “Gavin showed me how easy it was to play Drop D power chords. I started picking up my guitar during practices to see if I could figure out how to play along with the band and sing at the same time. Gavin was very supportive and appreciated my efforts, because by playing rhythm I gave him space to really rock out on his guitar.”
Wells adds, “The other part that I really like is that we are both kind of switching off now playing some leads and some rhythms; intertwining, which is really cool.”
The title track off their new album, ‘Burn Forever’, almost hit the cutting room floor a number of times. Wells recalls, “The idea of a feminine voice coming through this really fucking loud guitar band is kind of a cool thing for me. There were a lot of elements that we put into this track. We were pulling from all these different places and inspired by them.” Wells continues, “I think a lot of them come from some metal influence, definitely some seventies and eighties influence, and a lot of Sabbath in that song. Those eras tend to be associated with the opposite of a feminine voice and I thought it was interesting that we take the sounds and sensibilities of that time and interpose it with this new, fresh modern take on it that may have relevance to it.”
Although Griffin provides the lyrics, it is apparent that each bandmate brings their individual gifts to each song; whether it be one of Earnshaw’s funky bass riffs or an intense change in dynamic as Kross peels back the band to emphasize Griffin’s vocals.
Expect to hear much more of The High Pets as they look forward to producing another album and potential West Coast mini-tours, but while you have them here, please throw on your Xtratuffs and get down to Williwaw this Saturday and help support our local live music scene.
BURN FOREVER — recorded at The Hallowed Halls in Portland, Oregon — recorded, mixed and produced by Justin Phelps