Folks love to look at growth like a creeping process, a development that goes unnoticed until Throwback Thursday. But sometimes life forces growth in an instant. In the last two years, the High Divers have released an LP, recovered from a car accident that could have been fatal, linked up with a new producer in Nashville, and showed a resolve to keep pushing forward. How can this affect a band’s sound in a short amount of time? The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“We write from a much deeper level now,” says frontman Luke Mitchell. “I think having an experience like that [accident] kind of puts a lot of things in perspective for you.”
Luke’s wife Mary Alice Mitchell concurs, saying that their songwriting originates from a very personal place. “It’s weird to share and just be straight-up and not imply things in your lyrics, but actually just say it,” she says.
On the EP’s second single, “Still Kickin’,” the band recounts the life-threatening car accident the band and their manager were involved in during a 2017 tour out West. “The verses are kind of what we were being asked right after the wreck, just questions they ask you. Like, ‘Do you know where you are?’ and all that kind of stuff,” says Luke. “So, it’s kind of my recollection of that and then the chorus is the things that I remember from that day.”
“I almost lost my life,” Luke belts at the top of the chorus. There’s a sincerity and catharsis in the titular lyric,”I’m still kickin’,” the whole band sings in unison.
“It took us a long time to feel that way about life in general because it knocked us down pretty good,” Luke comments. “It’s a triumphant song and almost a middle finger to fate.”
The tune is more of a rock song than the High Divers have put out in the past, featuring psychedelic solos, an ecstatic guitar riff, quiet-loud interplay between the chorus and verse, and a hard crash-out to end the track.
Ride With You isn’t too far removed from the blue-eyed soul-rock of last year’s Chicora, but the difference is noticeable.
“This album is us stretching out a little bit and it’s us being uncomfortable, which I think made the songs way better,” Luke says. “We didn’t try to make the same kind of album that we made in the past and I think that shows.”
The band dug deep for thematic material on other tracks on Ride With You, exploring themes such as suicide, an abusive relationship, and PTSD. More importantly, the High Divers use the trying times for life affirmation, instead of sorrow. “It’s just really honest subjects put into a nice composition,” says Mary Alice. “It’s not meant to dwell on negative things. It’s more about learning from things that have happened in your life.”
The EP’s title track has a lighter touch than “Still Kickin’,” but the newfound energy the High Divers are exploring is very present.
“We were like a swimming pool/ Blue and full of chemicals/ Wasting away,” Luke sings in the first verse.
Bassist Kevin Early and drummer Julius DeAngelis show malleability as the band continues to grow into their new sound.
There’s a flavor of Tom Petty’s small-town storytelling, as the song discusses the process of someone leaving their hometown. It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, and all emotion.
The music sounds leaner, relying more on surface songwriting, instead of Chicora‘s textured compositions.
“I think the vision is a little bit clearer,” Luke explains. “I think that these songs are maybe even a little bit more cohesive, although we’ve always prided ourselves on being able to play a lot of different music styles.”
The band points to producer Sadler Vaden for the new introspection and candid sound. “I kept bringing Sadler songs that I thought were really good,” Luke describes. “He was excited about it, but it just wasn’t hitting the mark that he was looking for. So, we started playing him some songs that were way more direct, reflective of things we’ve been going through recently and he kind of had this ‘a-ha’ moment.”
The time recording with Vaden in Nashville helped the band become more confident as musicians and songwriters, according to Luke and Mary Alice.
“The writing process was definitely a look inward, and I think we got to this depth that we haven’t been to before with our writing style,” Luke adds. “And [Sadler] really kept pushing us to go further and further down that path.”
The final product is a snapshot of a band with a new sense of urgency. The songs and their creators seem more aware of reality. And the High Divers don’t plan on wasting any more time. Every day is a gift, after all.