With the release of their forthcoming album 'Bully' due July 10 fast approaching and a national tour this July, I had the opportunity to chat to guitarist Ash Pegram about the album, the writing process and touring.
Yourself and Karina know each-other from your previous band Young and Restless how did the rest of High Tension meet/start?
It’s Funny, because we had all known each other from other bands from when Young and Restless were around, we played with Nation Blue/Matt and played with a few bands that Damien was involved in. Damien used to run Building Records and toured a lot of bands it was kind of like being in the band (YNR) it was like being on call all the time in case someone needed to come to Canberra, cause you know “we need you on this bill”, like that so Karina and I when Young and Restless broke up we were still obviously friends and Matt just lived just down the road from Karina so from hanging in Collingwood and stuff they became to be close friends and Karina called me up one day and said “hey do you think if we got these two guys together we should do a band together?”, that’s kinda how it came together
You have the new album out on July 10 “Bully” and you’ve got some guest vocalists on the album such as Matt Young and Adalita how did that come about?
With Matt Young we played with King Parrot a bunch of times, they’re really awesome guys and I think Karina really kind of admires his style and I wouldn’t say takes a lot of cues from him but definitely respects him as vocalist and I think one song in particular it’s a pretty… I wouldn’t say brutal but one of the hardest songs on the album. So she asked him and he said yeah. But with Adalita she doesn’t do any vocals she just does, which is kind of cool actually, but she just shreds a bit which I think she was really happy about to do, we asked her and sent her the song. The song she’s on we sent her I guess it’s our poppiest song really it’s the last song on the album and it’s such a 90s song it’s so poppy for us, so we literally just sent her the song and said “hey can you do something over this?” and she was like yeah sure! She came into the studio and one hour later shredded this sick solo over it.
So it was nice and easy, it wasn’t difficult at all having different people in the creative process?
No, no it wasn’t at all, I guess the point is they bring something you’d never think of like with Matt he takes the song to a new level, cause you know on Death Beat Matt did the backup vocals and some parts on songs and but this album was a bit different with Adalita doing the solo we asked her cause she has that sound and she understands good melodies and you know I always really liked her guitar style it made sense I guess. When I listen back I’m like wow id never thought to hit those notes or play that kind of stuff
Is there anyone you would like to guest for on their album?
That I would? Ummm I reckon id love to do to be on a really hardcore bands album or death grind band just because it would be so ridiculous I could tune down to A and just lock in and shred it would be so funny.
What’s your guitar rig in general? What’s your standard tuning and go to rig while on tour?
Yeah well I’ve got two tunings. I was in E for all of death beat, and then for when we were writing bully I had another guitar in C and it kinda brought I guess another style to it so there’s about 5 songs on bully that are in C and are a lot heavier sounding, but I use a jag. I use fenders all the time and I’ve got a fender jag and a Fender Jazzmaster and for my amp I use a Guyatone bassman which is awesome its really booming and just super simple. It’s obviously a bass amp so you know its just volume and treble and bass and that’s it and I kind of let my pedals do the work, and then I’ve got a few pedals. I have mainly fuzz ones and its kind of taken me a while to get a good rig of fuzz pedals that I like. The hardest part is having different levels of distortion. You know? you want something that’s really heavy but then you want something to lift it to the next level and it took a while to find a combination, so afterwards sound guys will come up to me and be like “that’s too much” and ill be like “….there’s no such thing” you know! And they’re like “you’ve gotta turn it down and I was like “nup it’s not happening, you gotta work around it!” I cant… they don’t understand you cant play unless its loud on stage and it sounds really lame and sound guys will always fight you on it but I cant.. bring the energy if it’s turned down and they’re telling me to listen to the fold back. It’s completely different to when it’s booming out of your amp. Its funny that’s something from Adalita actually when I saw magic dirt for the first time at the end of the set she pressed down on a wah pedal and like my head exploded with white noise and as a kid I thought that’s the fucking coolest thing ever! So I still do it. It’s a trick I’ve stolen from Adalita, and the amount of times people come up after the show and go “what was that noise?!?” or, “it made me throw up” or whatever, “what were you doing???” You gotta leave the people leading, like, first compliments, “my head exploded!” or, “my girlfriend was blocking her ears!” that’s what you want. You don’t want to piss people off and for people to leave but you want people to think that was something. There’s fuckin’ 100 bands in Melbourne that play loud rock so you gotta think what else can you do? You really gotta bring your a-game
What can we expect from the new album? Is it similar to your debut death beat in that it won’t neatly fit into a single style metal genre? You mentioned before it’s more of a poppy venture with Adalita is this a trend for the album?
No I don’t think so it’s kind of like two halves. The first half is definitely the heaviest half and then as the album goes on, I wouldn’t say it gets lighter but the tones of guitars change and the lyrics change so when we were writing it, it just naturally went through some peaks and troughs of; we’d do some really heavy songs then dial the guitar tones back to a bit janglier and more Hot Snakes sounding than all that distortion. I think that recording with Jimmy Balderston in Adelaide was great. He knew we were coming and prepared his studio so when I walked in there was like 20 guitars lined up; we literally had a conveyor belt of guitars. There was one sound in particular using Fender Teles on an Orange amp and its super jangly but super driven like a Hot Snakes kind of like overdriven sound, there’s a lot more of that on the second half of the album but then you’ve got the song with Matt Young which is just like, fuck, like really heavy and the shortest song on the album. We wrote it in the studio actually, it’s in C and we just busted out this really fast grind core beat almost, and wrote the song in ten minutes and it’s there on the album. It’s one of my favourites on the album. You know those one minute burners where it’s just like pedal to the metal and it’s done in a minute and you’re like yeah that’s it.
What are your thoughts on the variety of metal genres and the which genre is heaviest? Debate that’s gone on for the past 30 years
I definitely think the biggest thing that strikes me with these new metal bands is how processed and compressed it is, to the point that it’s not even heavy it just sounds like a robot farting. It’s not even a real guitar you can just tell that… that’s a fuckin digital guitar, that’s a triggered beat and I love bands like Boris and Torche because everything is analogue and you can just tell. One of my favourite albums is Pink by Boris because you can hear the tape distorting, you can tell they’ve just fuckin turned it up in the studio and its actual distortion and that’s what it should do. I don’t mean to bag them but when I listen to bands like Parkway Drive where it’s all just Brrrrpppppp man its like techno. I’m all for electronics or something being used for taking music to the next level where its doing what humans can’t do what they do or whatever, bands like Suicide and stuff they were awesome at that stuff but when you use it to like, not cover up, but… I don’t know it’s unnecessary I reckon, you could find something that sounds way more brutal than you know a digital effects pedal or something. Find the time and go out and find the three pedals that will do the job and it would be so much better. For Young and Restless I had one pedal for the whole time the band was together, because that’s all we needed it was fucking punk rock you had one pedal you turned it up and did the rest.
I guess I feel a bit cheated that when I see a band live and there’s backing tracks, its so mechanical and calculated and I’m just like ‘Man, I could just watch the DVD!’ I want the mistakes and breaks and the pauses and all that stuff.
What’s the normal song writing process for High Tension? Is it different at all to Young and the Restless and Nation Blue?
I guess Nation Blue was, I can only really go by what they say but Tom from Nation Blue, he brings the roots and the structure already kind of not written but they all come formulated from his head, whereas in Young and Restless all of it was rifted so I would come in with a riff and everything was built around that. With Young and Restless it was like there was no pressure so everyone just contributed. When I listen to that stuff now I am like how did I even think of that stuff? Because it was so democratic no one shut down an idea so it ended up being these weird mixes of everything. What changed so much is that Karina has such a clear vision of what she wants so I think the whole band is pretty relentless with cutting stuff down, so if something doesn’t work early on we won’t jam on it, we’ll just know it’s not worth exploring. Jams can get pretty… I wouldn’t say heated, someone will try something and they just go “nope”, you really have to work hard to find the one gem that gets through, so I think its still riff driven. Quite often I’ll jam a riff, Daniel will play a drum beat and it’s always that Karina will always do instrumental versions. Karina will always take it home and listen to it in the car and come back with vocals. There’s one song, the first song on the album called Bully, Karina was listening to a lot of rap, it was so funny she walked in and she’s like “Right I’ve got the song, Damien you play this beat, Ash I want you to do this really sleazy riff” and she directed us all and it’s an awesome song and it all just came out of her head, she knew what she wanted she just said you play this and you play this. We all looked at each other and said ‘Wow! That works!’
Is there anything that you regret didn’t make the album, anything that you thought does have potential but you couldn’t quite get there?
Nah, there was one song on Death Beat that didn’t make it, it was pretty poppy and it actually all got recorded on the album but then you know Karina just couldn’t get vocals on it she just tried and tried and there was nothing you know nothing she could think of that could make it fit, and I quite liked it and didn’t think we should let it go but this album there was really only was one song we didn’t record in the studio. Anything else we wrote made it on in various forms. There was a couple where we had demos and songs half finished and we finished in the studio and there was one song we just wrote on the spot in the studio. There was only really one song we half jammed and thought nah you know we’ll leave that one alone, we won’t waste time on that one.
So you’ve toured with Karnivool, High on Fire, Shihad, you’ve just finished supporting the King Parrot national tour, you’re about to set off on your own headline tour with different supports in each state like I Exist and Lizzard Wizzard, are there any Australian Bands which you haven’t had a chance to tour with that you would like to?
No! To be honest between Young and the Restless and this band we’ve been pretty lucky, I’ve kind of ticked all the boxes. In Young and Restless there was only two bands I ever wanted to support really badly the first of which was Magic Dirt which we did a bunch of times and for this band I was just like I just want to support the Bronx, and it happened too! So I was like right I don’t really know where to go to from here haha. I’m really keen to check out, because some of these supports I haven’t seen in person before, Mere Women are great and Pissed On for the Brisbane leg I’m keen to see. I’ve never seen I Exist before so I’m keen to see those guys. It’s pretty cool I guess being able to flirt with the different genres where you can have the bands like Mere Women and MSV BCP as well and you know everyone in the audience is going to appreciate the diversity, and that was what was really awesome about the King Parrot tour and audiences too. They really respected the diversity of the line up. The opening bands we had in different cities were so different from one city to the next. You’d have a hardcore band, then you’d have a black metal band, then you had a stoner rock band then in Sydney was a band man they had a stripper on stage it was out of control! But everyone does it right, there wasn’t any hostility at all.
Any International Bands you’d like to tour with?
I really wanted to support Torche when they came out, Torch and Boris would be awesome. I love those bands and love the way they record and the sound so that would be my two if anybody is listening or reads this.
So what are High Tension plans for the last half of 2015?
Tour the album and then we’re doing Big Sound in Brisbane and then we’ll see if anything in summer opens up whether its festivals or what have you and that’ll be it really. It’s hard because you don’t know what you are doing three months out and then you get a call saying “can you be on the show next month?” you know?, so we’ll see.
Written by Dave Undy
You can catch High Tension during their tour next month at the below dates