An Interview with The High Divers
Written by Mikala Lugen on March 5, 2018
Indie rock band The High Divers made their debut appearance at The Kent Stage on Thursday, March 1. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, these guys are making a memorable imprint across the country on their Sibling Rivalry Tour with frontman Luke Mitchell’s sister’s band, Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones. I got the chance to sit down with Mitchell and his wife, keyboardist and accompanying vocalist of the band, Mary Alice Connor to talk about the tour, their newly released album and upcoming music festivals.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with Black Squirrel Radio. So this is your only stop in Ohio on your Sibling Rivalry Tour with Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones. Have you always played music with your sister growing up?
Mitchell: We’ve never really played music together before until now. It’s our first tour together with our bands. It’s been a lot of fun and really cool. We’ve been enjoying ourselves and travelling around the country. We’ve played like 30 shows together now so its been pretty exhaustive but really amazing.
Connor: It’s been really nice having a girl on the road too haha. It’s been really nice spending time with my sister-in-law.
Mitchell: The tour name is actually really accurate because it was a huge rivalry in our house growing up. Music has always been a really deep and meaningful thing for our family, but the rivalry is definitely there. Hannah is seven years younger than me, so she always felt that she had something to prove. Which is awesome because she’s a woman in music. She’s taken my teasing of her to go out in the world and not take any BS from anybody. She’s very consistently a badass.
Did you always know growing up that you wanted to be a musician?
Mitchell: Definitely. And the guy who really influenced that is my dad. He really got Hannah and I into music and told us that we can do whatever we want to do but just make sure that we’re good at it. He’s a musician as well, he had the first regionally-successful rock band in South Carolina called The Bonzo Brothers and he was the drummer. The love for music has always been there.
Have your parents been able to come out and see some shows of you guys playing together?
Mitchell: Yeah definitely. They’re actually here tonight, they flew in from Hilton Head, South Carolina. My stepdad is a big Uriah Heep fan and when our parents found out that my band and my sister would be opening up for them they were like ‘Oh we gotta make the trip!’ And then we’re all driving to Michigan together for a little family reunion this weekend.
A little less happy next question, so you guys got in a horrible car accident last June, and started back on the road on tour just a month after. How was it getting back on the road after such a tragic event?
Connor: It was pretty crazy, when it first happened it was a huge bummer because we were in the middle of tour so we had to cancel a lot of dates. We had another tour booked a few weeks after so we really tried our best to get ourselves back on the road. The biggest issue was getting another van and it was hard for all of us to want to get back on the road.
Mitchell: Yeah we all got injured and it was just a real mental game of putting yourself back in a van and on the road again. It was pretty scary. Mary Alice had a fractured hip, we all got torn up quite a bit. It was a lot to get over, a lot of doctors’ visits and it’s still ongoing, we’re not done with physical therapy.
Connor: When the majority of what you do is drive from place-to-place it is really traumatic getting back into it.
Mitchell: But yeah we’re back on the road now doing what we love to do and it really gives us a sense of purpose to overcome all the crappy stuff that happened to us last year.
I’m really glad it worked out for you guys and you’re able to still tour. So the band is releasing its second album Chicora tomorrow! Tell me about the recording process and what fans can expect compared to the first album Riverlust.
Mitchell: This record is a lot different, we kind of shed some of our southern roots a little bit. We wanted to veer in some new territory, we were getting tired of people labeling us as a “southern rock band.” Just because we’re from the south doesn’t mean you are southern rock hahaha. We draw parallels between mistakenly Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I mean I love Lynyrd Skynyrd but that’s not what we sound like. We just tried to cultivate a newer sound for ourselves and we experimented a lot more in a lot of different ways. We played a lot of different instruments, and we’re really much tighter as a band now since we’ve been touring together.
Connor: The creative juices were really flowing when making this album. We’ve been playing together for so long so we had a lot of confidence. We had so many songs that we didn’t put on the album.
Mitchell: Yeah I think we ended up recording like 24 songs and just used 11 on the new album. But we’re just really excited to get the album released tomorrow, we worked really hard on it and did it all ourselves. She let me work on it instead of helping to plan our wedding haha. So Mary Alice single-handedly planned our whole wedding. But our current fans and new fans will really love it, we’re so ready for everyone to hear it.
So the band has a lot of nice unreleased music to work with in the future and play around with.
Mitchell: Yeah, we’ve got stuff that maybe didn’t make the cut this time but might appear on a future album yeah.
Connor: And a handful of songs we didn’t even record in the studio. We have a lot of material to save for later.
With incorporating new sounds in this album, who were some of your influences?
Mitchell: I’ve always really loved The Cars, they use a lot of synths. We had some buddies that have synths and they brought them over to the house and let us tinker around with them. There’s definitely a lot more keyboards in this album.
Connor: We have more keyboards for sure, some Fleetwood Mac vibes.
Mitchell: Yeah we were really trying to explore some new sonic territory. We usually like to stay pretty strict down and close to how we sound live. A couple of the tracks we took some liberties to do them up and have some fun with production.
What would be your top song pick off the album that really shows the evolution of sound of the band?
Connor: “Never Let You Down” is one of the band’s favorites to play right now. It was really a chill song that just happened randomly in the studio kinda on accident haha.
Who do you guys find yourselves listening to while travelling from shows?
Mitchell: We’ve been listening to a lot of stuff. We always listen to Tom Petty, he’s always a constant favorite. We love The Kinks, and as far as newer bands go, we love Matthew Logan Vasquez from Delta Spirit. Deer Tick is great, and Tristen is a lady we’ve grown really fond of. Her last record is “Sneaker Waves,” she’s so fantastic and has an amazing voice.
Connor: I heard of her because she came through Charleston when we were on tour and everybody just raved about her. The next time she came through, we were home and saw her. It was the day she released her new album, so it was really cool. We’ve been listening to her for awhile.
Mitchell: We love Wilco, and our hometown bands we really love are The Artisanals, Susto, and Hunter Park. We have a lot of cool variety of music we love.
What are some upcoming shows or music festivals the band is most looking forward to this summer?
Connor: Definitely our upcoming CD release show. It’s in Charleston, South Carolina at Music Farm on Friday, March 23. That’s such a fun room to play. We usually play at Royal American but we needed a spot that was a little bigger for this show. We’re super excited, Hannah is going to play with us for that show and our friend’s band Two Slices, kinda like an electronic-pop band.
Mitchell: We’re playing at Mile of Music this year again, which is in Appleton, Wisconsin. That’s a really cool music festival that we love to play at. We’re also playing at the Hopscotch Festival this Fall, in Raleigh, North Carolina which is really cool. Hopscotch is a great festival, it highlights a lot of talented diverse music of genres. Mile of Music is really more rock n’ roll oriented.
At 7:30 p.m., The High Divers took the stage with full energy and started their set with a new track “Not Sharing,” showcasing Mitchell’s powerful vocals. They started into “Rising Water,” a popular song from their first album Riverlust where Connor accompanied Mitchell with vocals before they slipped into a new favorite “Let Your Love Be Known,” a track that was released to fans two weeks before the release of the new album. Their bluesy tune “Give It Up” kept up the band’s stage energy on full blast as Mitchell soulfully rocked his guitar grooves. They ended their set full-force with “Sign,” rocking out the stage with epic renditions from all band members and Mitchell’s hat flying off his head from his lively dance moves.
Hannah Wicklund had the venue in her hands as she took our breath away with her psychedelic rock jams. Accompanied by Mitchell on drums and the High Divers’ bassist Kevin Early, Wicklund showed her triple-threat persona as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter with her hard and heavy guitar riffs and edgy, charismatic voice. Her influences of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were evident as she played tracks from her newly released self-titled album, resonating classic old-school rock n’ roll to the stage. Her energy bounced off her brothers’ drumming, showing off the sibling rivalry and ended her set with “Mama Said,” wowing the crowd with her talent of using a talk box to literally speak psychedelic guitar to the crowd.
A crowd made up of 600 old-school rockers cheered as Uriah Heep strode onstage and brought classic rock to the town of Kent. The 1969-founded, London hard-rock band played classics throughout the night off their dozens of albums, including hits of “Gypsy,” “Lady in Black,” “Stealin’,”“The Magician’s Birthday” and “One Minute” as lead guitarist Mick Box kept his unique stage performance of little hand gestures to the crowd. Currently on tour across the country and going international in the Fall, the five English rockers still had full-energy onstage and brought back the classic heavy metal, progressive-rock jams that rocked the world alongside Led Zeppelin, The Who and Black Sabbath. They ended their set with their most popular “Easy Livin’,” off their 1972 album Demons and Wizards, fully bringing the crowd to a prevailing cheer and getting ready for the sold-out show at The Kent Stage two days later.