If you’re familiar with hardcore punk and you’ve never heard of Higher Power, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years. The quintet from Leeds, UK has grown from a cool local band to one of the current biggest and most creative bands in Europe, in only 2 years. After a demo, a 7″ and a couple promo tapes they put out their first full length a few months ago on FLATSPOT records. “Soul Structure” showcases what hardcore can be when you get rid of musical boundaries. The band has just revealed they’ll be touring Europe with Every Time I Die, Comeback Kid and Knocked Loose at the enf of the year, and they’ll be part of the LIFE AND DEATH tour in the USA with No Warning, Backtrack, Twitching Tongues, Backtrack and Vein. Be sure to catch them on stage if they play nearby . I’ve known Max from Higher Power for a while now, by getting some NEUTRAL WORDS records releases for Straight & Alert mailorder. He has been kind enough to answer the following questions.
Hey Max! Please introduce Higher Power, members, occupations and so on.
Higher Power is Jimmy, Alex, Louis, Ethan and myself. In terms of what people do for a living Jimmy is a skin mechanic, Alex is currently freelance model, Louis works as a professional fork lift driver, Ethan is a master of deception per say and I’ve had a bunch of jobs but currently work in my friends cafe.
Tell us about everyone’s other bands, I know you are all part of other groups.
Alex plays in a band called Blind Authority who are about to do their final LP; he also plays in a band with Louis called Big Cheese (I guarantee it will be your next favourite hardcore band). Me and Ethan play in a Heavy Metal band called Blood Eagle, we recently recruited Louis in on the bass too. Louis is also working on producing and making hip hop too which is crazy considering how much music he already makes aha.
I assume « Higher Power » is taken from SUBZERO’s song. Is there any specific meaning behind that name? Did you know it is a term used by Alcoholic Anonymous groups in their 12 step recovery programs?
Jimmy is the mastermind behind the name but yeah it comes from the SUBZERO track I believe. I think it’s quite a spiritual reference as opposed to anything religious but it sounds cool too. I just told Jimmy that it was an AA term and he laughed, fortunately none of us are alcoholics so it bares no relevance to that either aha.
I’m curious to know what your main influences are, to me HP sounds like a blend between NYHC like Leeway, 90’s stuff like Only Living Witness all packed up with a grunge flavour. Give me names!
That’s pretty much it, listen to the bands of that era of hardcore from New York and parts of Seattle’s grunge scene and you’ve got Higher Power. It’s really cool during the writing process because we all vary in what we listen to day to day but kinda all love the same bands. It means there are very few disagreements when we want to try different things with new songs rather than having a repetitive formula for each.
You just toured with Basement who are also from UK but play a totally different style, more indie punk oriented. How did you happen to be on the road with them? What was the reaction from the crowd at gigs?
The Basement tour was insane! They were such nice guys and the experience was a complete step away from what we’d always known before it. The shows and venues were huge and the crowd was a lot younger so the energy to begin with was certainly not the intense/small room vibe we’d been used to. However we all realized that those shows were probably some kids first or second so it was very humbling to still see kids moving and enjoying themselves even though they may have never heard of us or checked us out before the shows.
What are your best / worst tour stories? On this one or another.
Some things are better left unsaid ahaha. Although recently I got super ill while we were away with TUI and I had 24 hour food poisoning and I couldn’t sleep or eat, that was pretty fucked up to be honest.
Talking about tours, you also hit the road with Terror and Born From Pain in April. Terror have been around for 15 years now. Could you picture Higher Power last as a band for such a long time? If you had the chance, would you play and tour enough to make a living out of it, assuming the passion / fun would probably vanish, and turn into a work routine?
Again this year we’ve all been on and experienced tours we never could have envisioned when we were younger playing in stupid bands aha. I think if we could all be in the band and be able to live comfortably from making and playing music then we would at the drop of a hat y’know. As long as I get to rock with the other 4 idiots in the band I genuinely wouldn’t mind.
You’ve got your very own and particular sound since the demo. For gear nerds reading this, can you reveal your guitar / bass secret set ups?
Listen to the references we listed earlier and you should be able to spot what pedals we use aha. When we recorded the LP we got a lot of help from Misha at Holy Mountain studios on how to understand what each of us puts out sound wise; so it’s balanced rather than it being too high end aggressive sounding or too bass heavy and muddy. It’s certainly helped us in our live performances too because everyone’s instrument cuts through clearer without drowning the frequencies of another out.
According to you, what are the reasons that explains the UK hardcore scene is so flourishing?
People go to shows, keep going to shows, buying merch, starting bands/labels/zines/distros… In my 10 years or so of going to shows 5 of them have been when the UK has been at it’s peak and it’s continually stayed there. Lot’s of great bands have come and gone but for every band that’s stopped there have been another 2 in it’s place. It’s a good feeling to know how it was at shows in 2008 when you’d need an American band to roll through your town to get a good turn out to how it is now in 2017 when UK bands can sell out 200+ cap venues, no feeling is better than watching your friends kill it on stage and the whole room is going off to it.
I always try to talk a bit about politics because for me hardcore is politics. Do you feel any changes yet since the Brexit has been voted, either inside the hardcore scene or on a general and bigger scale? I’ve seen Scotland now wants to be out of the UK and go back to European Union, that might be one of the important changes to come with Brexit.
Brexit and British politics are a shambles currently (especially post general election). In terms of within the scene there has been no negative change, but on the outside world it’s given room for fascists and racists to come out of the wood work a little bit more. There have been no negotiations on the Brexit deal and we’re currently in the midst of one the most embarrassing periods in Britain’s political history under a Tory government.
This might sound like a weird question but what’s the current mood / feeling within the hardcore punk community in England about all these terrorist attacks happening in UK since a few months? The very last one in London happened the same night that your Record Release show. Is that an issue / topic bands talk about on stage at shows etc?
It’s very sad to see these things happening so close to home… but at the same time these things and attacks are happening day to day in so many countries and I feel like the world is so desensitized to how atrocious it is until it is so close to home. Again the attacks in Manchester and London have lead to more of the far right coming out and voicing their opinions and acting upon their rhetoric but there has been a stronger sense of coming together and unity in some areas to combat those fascists views.
What are the plans with Higher Power? Since you are now on Flatspot records I assume a US tour should be happening sooner or later? You’ve played a couple US shows already didn’t you?
We played the U.S with Angel Du$t, Red Death and Soft Grip last year which was insane. We got asked to play United Blood Fest after only playing a handful of shows so we booked a tour with the help of Jurtice to aid us playing that. I think we’re aiming to be back out there sometime later this year for a full U.S tour but we’ll see what happens. I just want to eat Taco Bell everyday even though I know it’s gonna fuck me up aha.
Is there something you’ve never achieved with a band you would like to do with Higher Power?
Higher Power has helped me tick off so many things from my bucket list already like record and being on a 7” and 12” vinyl. I’ve toured Europe, the USA and have got to play shows with some of my favorite hardcore bands. I just want to see how far we can all take this and hopefully one day we can get a cameo on the Simpsons.
Max you are running Neutral Words records. Tell us more about it! How it got started, your plans, releases to come and so on.
I started the label with a friend originally but work ethic was very different between the two of us so with me doing it all on my own I just made it easier for myself knowing that it all came down to me and no one else. It is a little stressful at times with being so busy with bands, working and touring but that’s why I buzz off it so much. In terms of releases the label has coming out we have one new release coming from a Scottish band which people will find out about soon enough. Hopefully there will be some represses and reissues of some older releases too! It’s been nearly 5 years so the label has kinda stood the test of time and people are aware of it with out having to post constantly like a maniac.
I’ve also read you did the artwork of the « Space to Breath » 7’’. Do you have some designer skills? Have you done any other artworks for HP or other bands ?
I studied fine art at University and became pretty good at screen printing and I’ve always been creative since being really young. I do the majority of the lay outs (not always the artwork) for all my releases as well as printing, cutting, duplicating and putting together of them all by hand. It’s a fully DIY operation. The Space To Breathe artwork was made by screen printing onto glass and then breaking it over a white background and working on variations of how it was gonna be spread out then photographing it. I still have a bunch of the sheets of unbroken glass sat at home. Our good friend Roger Bradley (Insist) digitized it all and did all the crazy invert on the final version but the raw image was just a vague idea me and Jimmy spoke about.
Give us your Top 5 favorite NYHC records and develop on each of them.
Merauder – Master Killer
It makes me want to spin kick people in the face like that classic photo of Sob and that’s that.
Cro Mags – Age Of Quarrel
Arguably one of the first records that began the crossover period of metal and hardcore. Perfectly raw and a clear influence of Motorhead through out.
Life Of Agony – River Runs Red
Lyrically it’s exceptional and the riffs speak for themselves. Paved the way for many other approaches to what hardcore could be IMO.
Leeway – Open Mouth Kiss
Groovy, fast, hard and again the vocal patterns and melodies were beyond the normal conception of what hardcore had been.
Killing Time – Brightside
3 years after Age Of Quarrel this masterpiece came out showing how perfect the unison of hardcore and metal had become. Still carries that authentic NYHC groove through out so for me it ticks all the boxes.
Give us your Top 5 favorite UKHC records and develop on each of them.
Deal With It – End Time Prophecies
The best crossover band thus far in my time involved in UKHC.
Knuckledust – Time Won’t Heal This
Set the blueprint for UKHC as we know it, stood the test of time and it’s still the OG line up…
Abolition – In The Grasp Of Tyrants
The best band in the UK to tackle that 90’s metalcore sound whilst nailing the politics as well.
Shrapnel – Demo
Flawless in every way. Never not wanted to touch the pit even when i’d ruptured my ligaments in my shoulder.
The Flex – Everything they’ve ever done.
Liam Fox is the godfather of UKHC and this band will always and forever be the most accomplished HARDcore band this continent has ever produced.