It’s been half a decade since Tall Heights kicked off their career in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, busking for more than 100 days to help fund their very first EP. Paul Wright would play cello, Tim Harrington would strum the acoustic guitar, and both bandmates would sing, their voices cutting through the noise of shoppers and tourists.
Since those days, the duo’s harmony-heavy indie folk has taken Tall Heights from the marketplaces of Massachusetts to stages across the country. They’ve toured America, released critically-acclaimed album, Man of Stone, and earned a spot on the same folk family tree as Simon & Garfunkel and Bon Iver. On 2015’s Holding On, Holding Out, though, the duo widen their reach significantly, beefing up their sound with electronics, synthesizers, drums loops, Casio keyboards, and plenty of shimmer and shine. It’s a record of exploration and expansion, with Tall Heights building something towering on top of their folksy foundation.
“This record feels like a new birth for us,” says Harrington, a Boston native who grew up singing in the same local choirs as Wright. “We’re sounding different. It’s not because we were bored; it’s because we were street performers who learned how to create beautiful moments as a duo, but then we became a nationally-touring act. We saw the country, we broadened our horizons. Suddenly, we weren’t the artists we were before. But a lot of what we learned on the street still rings true to our approach today, so this record is a growth, rather than a left-hand turn.”
Recorded at Color Study studio in Goshen, Vermont, Holding On, Holding Out was partially inspired by the music that poured out of Tall Heights’ car speakers during the long drives from show to show. The guys found themselves listening to a wide array of sounds as they hurtled across the country, but they zeroed in on Icelandic music, taking influence from the sonic sweep of Sigur R&ocute;s and the electronic percussion of Ásgeir. The music of Iceland’s underground was deep, dark and cinematic, able not only to deliver a melody, but to cast a mood, too. Harrington and Wright were also influenced by their hometown Boston music scene, specifically their friends and peers in Darlingside and the Ballroom Thieves. Months later, while recording their own EP, Tall Heights used all of it as inspiration, and allowed their intimate indie-folk to grow into something bigger and bolder. It was a natural growth — the sound of two musicians amplifying their music to its fullest potential, exploring some new territory along the way.
“We’re singing together more than ever before,” Wright adds. “Throughout all of Holding On, Holding Out, there are only a few places where only one person is singing without the other. There’s a lot of perfect unison, too: just two people singing the same note at the same time, fusing their voices into a sound that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. I think that’s the biggest difference between this project and the last project. We’re not just harmonizing; we’re singing together all the time.”
Holding On, Holding Out also draws a line between humans’ relationships with each other and their environment. It’s a call to be more present and conscious, especially with things we all hold dear — family, love, our planet — are at stake. At its core, though, Holding On, Holding Out is a blast of exploration and electricity from a group that previously did some of its best work unplugged. It’s progressive and propulsive, shining a light not only on where Tall Heights have been before, but where they’re going.
“Intimate and arresting” – NPR
“Tall Heights employ a collection of acoustic guitar, cello, and electronic drums, reminiscent of contemporary indie folk giants like Justin Vernon and Fleet Foxes.” – XPN
“In addition to finger-picked guitar, swelling cello and tight, prismatic vocal harmonies, ‘Spirit Cold’ boasts a bold, airy drum part that propels the song through the peaks and troughs of the arrangement.” – Wall Street Journal
“It’s a contemporary sound that is not without its ageless qualities.” – Chicago Sun Times
“Certifiably unclassifiable” – Boston Herald
“There have been many bands in recent years that have employed beautiful close harmonies, but when you add the strings and the great songwriting, Tall Heights is a notch above the pack.” – WBEZ
“Call it simply gorgeous.” – WFUV