Some of the most iconic musical partnerships have come from family ties – and Highly Suspect are no different. Originating in Massachusetts before picking up sticks and relocating to Brooklyn, NY, the three-piece rock group is comprised of twin brothers Ryan and Rich Meyer along with their best friend and frontman, Johnny Stevens. Bold in both sound and lyrics, Highly Suspect have been channelling a powerful, angsty mood in their music since they first came on the scene in 2009. The band has been on the up ever since, their second album The Boy Who Died Wolf containing the Grammy-nominated track ‘My Name is Human’. We spoke with them to find out what influenced them musically growing up, and how such a prestigious nomination has affected them going forward.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
Ryan: Alternative rock, 90’s rock; Nevada and Southgarden. Our parents got us a drum set when we were like 13.
Rich: Ryan played the trumpet in the 5th or 6th grade and then I picked up saxophone – I played that all through high school. My dad taught me how to play the guitar when I was like 14. So we’ve always played instruments.
How did the band form?
Ryan: Well, we all lived together and worked together previously and then Jonny booked us this solo gig at this tiny, 50 person place. He was going to play the guitar and asked Rich to back him up, so Rich played the acoustic guitar and our cousin played the hand drums and stuff like that. Eventually they switched to electric and our cousin left the band after around year and I was like “hey I want to be your drummer”, and so six years later here we are.
What prompted the move from Cape Cod to Brooklyn?
Rich: We were hanging out with other bands on the Cape that had been doing it for like 15-20 years and they were all at the top of their game. We were at the point that they were at and we realised that would be it for our career as musicians if we don’t leave this place. New York was only around four hours away and it’s like this epicenter for music, so we went there and tried to be a real band and not a cover one. Not to say a cover band isn’t a real band but we wanted to be original.
You’re the first rock band signed to 300 entertainment – how did that come about?
Ryan: Well we also signed to them when they didn’t have an office yet! We just really liked them as people and it was really scary because we had no idea what we were doing – you usually don’t. We didn’t have anyone to guide us, we had just moved to New York with six thousand dollars and we used most of that to build a second storey in our apartment.
Last year you received a “Best Rock Song” Grammy nomination for ‘Lydia’ and a “Best Rock Album” nod for your debut album Mister Asylum. How was that experience?
Ryan: In our eyes we won, I mean we got nominated, we got to play, we got to be there – for us that’s a win. We were way out of our league, like Alabama Shakes and Muse!? But we were there and what made me feel better about it was Alabama Shakes winning it – I believe it was their 3rd time going before they finally won.
‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’ appears alongside songs by David Bowie and Radiohead on the 2017 Grammy nominations list. Are awards something you have in the back of your head when preparing an album release?
I mean, we didn’t design the album to get us a Grammy – for the original one with didn’t even think of the Grammys. For this one it is in the back of your mind and you wonder if it’s going to happen.
Did that added pressure affect the creative process for the second album?
Ryan: For me the bar was set very high for the first album and it felt like a lot of pressure for the next one to make it as good or better.
Rich: I think it affected all of us differently. There was pressure from people asking us what we were going to do for the next album and stuff like that. I think for me it was gratification, because we made something that we like and we got nominated for a Grammy, so just keep doing that and it should be okay.
Talk to us about the new album, where did you record it and what was some of the inspiration behind it?
We came straight off the road and went to LA and we basically went to a really nice studio called Electric Feel on Sunset for like two weeks and just hung out and partied with our friends. It wasn’t a band studio, it was a hip hop studio, so they had to put a bunch of stuff in there to accommodate us. That’s a good point actually – band studios are so expensive and have so many big rooms they don’t really get partied in that much, whereas hip hop studios have more of a relaxed vibe, so that’s how we wrote the album, just surrounded by that.
Was it more chilled in that sense?
Ryan: Yeah, because we were just making noise and people would come in, like friends, and there was just like a community in that studio – people would just walk through, from low profile that you’ve never heard of, to high profile like Justin Bieber. So that was interesting, and we stayed up till the sun would come up and weird shit would happen and all got recorded and you’d go back and look at what you did. 90% might have been shit but 10% might be gold.
Who inspires you musically?
Rich: Hmm, a lot of people. You know we don’t really listen to a lot of rock. I really enjoy Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Phantograms. We do listen to some rock – I really like the Queens of Stone Age, Evil of Death Metal and Arctic Monkeys – but for the most of it we don’t listen to a lot of rock.
Do you guys have any pre-performance rituals?
Rich: No not really. I drink tea usually or take a naps and stretch out. You know, we’re getting a little old now. Things are starting to hurt.
Catch Highly Suspect at their upcoming UK tour:
4th March – Glasgow – St Luke’s
6th March – Birmingham – Academy 2
7th March – Manchester – Sound Control
9th March – London – KOKO