The High Strung just released a new double single "Different Animal" /"Telescope". To celebrate we asked them, Josh Malerman (New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box) and Mark Owen to tell us about the track. Here is the story:
Mark on "Different Animal": The song was written many years ago, and with a bit of country-ish bounce and plaintive singing. It was the first song I had written that had dialogue, that exchange or two between the singer and the girl, and I remember feeling good about getting what I considered a kind of literary element into a song.
I would play it on an acoustic guitar on couches in living rooms, and that was where I thought it would always exist, as a song pulled out when you're asked to play one you wrote and then another plays one he wrote and you pass guitars around and so on. Then at some point Josh suggested we try it with the band, and the song took this profound and unforeseen leap. Derek's propulsive drum beat, and Chad's chugging bass line, Stephen's snaky riffs between verses, the harmonies: I remember thinking in the practice space that this is really coming together nicely. Then, and every time we play it, the song seems to kick up another level about half-way through, and it feels even more like a hurtling train.
There is some anger to it. The singer feels he's been wronged, betrayed, but sitting next to this new girl, he feels hopeful: "Here's a chance to leave that sh*t behind," repeated and repeated like he's convincing her and himself, but also you and me and anyone in earshot. Singing the song now- even with the inspiration for it so far removed, the emotions long cooled, the faces and bodies of the principal players in the drama, once stark and crystalline in my mind, now blurred and beclouded-I still get a jolt when we get to that line because of the hope and possibility suggested by it.
Josh on "Telescope": I don't set out to write songs about optimism or "looking up" but a number of them do end up in that wheelhouse. What can I say other than the theme excites me: man vs himself, most of all, and the trials therein. "Telescope" isn't about a man, but a little girl (that's how I've always seen it anyway), a precocious kid who sets out to watch the stars with the not-so-secret hope of discovering a like-minded anything in the sky. Obviously, she's looking to connect. And while she describes one such sight as being "just as small" as her, there's a sense she's glad to have found it; it makes her feel bigger.
Another thing I don't set out to do is to play the piano in this saloon-y way, but after years of doing it, I've kinda told myself, hey, this is what you sound like on a piano. It's a weird thing for a musician to discover, right? This is what you sound like. This is how you express yourself. Mark once joked that we play these bright songs but if we hooked up a patch chord to his brain it would be death-metal inside. There's a gap, or there can be, between how you feel and what comes out of you and I'm not sure I wanna analyze what goes on in that gap, but I do know it's part of the mystery of writing songs. Because the you who you are all day doesn't have to sound like the you who sits down to a piano. Of course not.
"Telescope" definitely started with the Am bounce and I think I got to the "you are not alone" chorus pretty quickly and so the verses were reverse engineered from there. "My hometown thinks I'm a total clown, they can't cope with me and my telescope." The girl feels like she's surrounded by people who don't look up. And by looking up herself, she's discovering more life that does the same, letting her know she is not alone.
For me, a song "makes it" into the band's oeuvre once I can hear "the imaginary band" playing along. With "Telescope" it came quickly. One might think that, after years of playing with your best friends, you'd be able to predict exactly what they're gonna add to a new song. But no. There's another gap, between "the imaginary band" (in your head as you write) and the very real band that plays with the song for the first time. But it's the fact you can hear the ghostly backup as you write, that's where you start getting excited about things. Here it wasn't hard to imagine a simple drums/bass bounce, and there's all sorts of room for piano trills, strings, guitar leads. Harmonies, too. So, yes, "Telescope" felt a bit like a blank canvas, even once it was written in full, as some songs tell you what parts to play and others encourage you to paint whatever comes upon that canvas. If I'm remembering things right, Mark and I worked out some of the lyrics together.
Also: I was playing the song for some friends before we made the album, playing it live, and one of our friend's toddler really responded to "Telescope" and that gave me a weird shot in the arm. Like, if the toddler is responding to this, there may be something inherently musical, or colorful, or just plain fun about it. Still, with all this in mind, I entered the studio thinking "Telescope" was a good song, maybe somewhere in the middle of the album, a little bounce-along moment. But if there's one thing I adore about the studio, it's that it puts all the songs on an equal sonic playing field. Suddenly the centerpiece songs and the "bounce-alongs" are given the same treatment and often those "smaller" songs rise up to meet the bigger ones. I like to think "Telescope" did that.
Not unlike the little girl looking up in the song.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the songs, listen for yourself below:
The High Strung Announce Double Single Release
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