Layered and sometimes complex, with meandering guitars dancing around bouncing bass, and timely drums. Melodic and memorable, with baritone vocals singing lyrics that range from heartfelt to irreverent. Fayetteville-based band High Lonesome are finding their place among the most unique and talented bands in the Fayetteville music scene.
Photo: High Lonesome Facebook page
Led by former Memphis Pencils frontman Martin Bemberg, the band is barely a year old, but has already put out its second collection of songs with their recently released full-length album, Get Some Young.
The band’s name comes from a short story collection by author Barry Hannah, and the debut full-length record is named for the first short story in that same collection.
The new record, which includes 11 tracks, was released digitally on Bandcamp, and is available to download for $7.
We got in touch with Martin from the band to talk a bit about the new record and some other things they’ve been up to, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
What have you been listening to lately?
Well actually, Arkansas Times asked us to do a ‘guest mix’ a couple weeks ago. Here was the track listing:
1. “Only Son of the Ladiesman” – Father John Misty
2. “The Mindeater” – Bonnie “Prince” Billy
3. “Time Will Break The World” – Silver Jews
4. “Awaiting On You All” – George Harrison
5. “Carmensita” – Devendra Banhart
6. “When You Awake” – The Band
7. “Baby Bitch” – Ween
8. “Thinking Bout You” – Frank Ocean
9. “Happy Days Are Here Again” – Kansas City Bear Fighters
10. “Magic Mirror” – Aphrodite’s Child
11. “I Will Dare” – The Replacements
12. “Let Her Go” – Mac DeMarco
Otherwise, I know Dick’s had his whole library on shuffle for a week or so, and Sean’s really getting into Flamenco. The two of them are always actively changing their listening habits, it seems. I can’t keep up with them because I obsess over a handful of well-crafted tunes, capital ‘S’ Songs. It’s like studying. Most recently I was dragging my trash to the curb and Fiona’s “Not About Love” up and blows my mind. I put it on repeat and took her pain out on a month’s worth of cardboard boxes.
Tell us a bit about how (and when) you guys started playing together.
Not soon enough, that’s for sure. After Memphis Pencils decided to call it a day after five years together, I went two years without a band. I hear no one wanted to play with me because the songs are too difficult and I was like ‘But Zack Wait’s stuff is way harder!’ I set up a show at Nightbird Books, August 2013, as a deadline to form a band, and somehow ended up with the perfect guys for the job.
What are some other bands you guys have played in?
Dick also plays drums in Comfortable Brother and played in a worship band for years as a kid. I played in Memphis Pencils, and this is Sean’s first band.
The new album sounds great. Tell us a bit about the recording process on Get Some Young. Any happy accidents in the recording to listen for?
Not that this was accidental, but right when we were about to give up on tracking “Why So Easy For You,” a group of six or seven cute girls showed up at the studio. It goes without saying we nailed the next take. More like happenstance, I guess. Rock n roll in a nutshell.
I’m sure everybody in the band can pick out their own little happy accidents, I know I can, but there’s nothing that really sticks out unless you know the songs like the back of your hand. The process was pretty simple. We set up some mics and played the songs until we got them perfect, and then we took our sweet time mixing and whatnot.
Photo: High Lonesome Facebook page
Memphis Pencils always seemed wise beyond the bands’ years, and it seems like you have grown up even more as a lyricist. How do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter since you released some of your early stuff?
Ha – I think of Memphis Pencils as kind of precocious myself, and thanks for the kind words. With the Pencils, I was trying to make pop music as structurally weird as possible, like, “Ignore 4/4” and “We dare you to dance.”
Since then I think I’ve learned to condense the quirk a bit and work within the traditional pop-song framework. Lyrically I’ve definitely gone from wholly abstract, hobbyist poetics to words that actually mean something. “It’s Dawn I’m Dancing On The Roof,” for example — there’s no mistaking what that song’s about, whereas some of those Pencils lyrics are beyond my reckoning even.
The goal is to be catchy, keen, and accessible, which means making yourself vulnerable. And I think people especially appreciate vulnerability because, for one, (if it’s effective) they can relax a little bit, knowing no one is perfect and there’s a song to prove it. And vulnerability — it’s really the perfect opposite of pretension. I think Memphis Pencils were a bit pretentious. Well, I was — the other guys were just having fun. I was trying to be a genius, which of course is antithetical to true genius. You see where this is going. Now, instead of trying to be a genius I’m having a blast poking fun at myself and being honest even if — especially if — the truth is unattractive. Like abusing pills and neglecting the person I’m supposed to love the most. And man, High Lonesome is way more conducive to girls dancing, which is why music exists in the first place.
I remember you moved to Austin for a while. What drew you back to Fayetteville?
Memphis Pencils called it quits while down there, all living together, and after six months I decided I wanted to go back to school, which I did, for a minute, but to be honest, I just love this town and the people and the music and Backspace and Nightbird Books and Petra Café and The Nines and The Flyer and being able to give people directions from any A to any B in town. My Aldermen Mark Kinion and Matt Petty, poetry, autumn colors. Dude — Roger Barrett in real life. If you haven’t yet…
What are some of your favorite lines on the new record?
Well, the Kendrick Lamar reference on track 1, which I won’t repeat, seems to be a crowd favorite. We all kind of giggle when we think of the lyrics to “Craigslist Peter” because it’s a song based on a Rants & Raves post called “Question for the Ladies” in which dude queries what to do about the girl at his workplace always “peter-gazing,” which you can parse on your own.
Lines like “Off of work and on my mind/Can’t you come, can’t you stay/You owe me…Glancin’ down at that pride of mine/Leads to take-out in bed I’m hoping,” which Sean wrote get us just tickled. I really love the chorus of “It’s Dawn…” and the “ah ah ah ah ah” on “Figures Fair.”
We’re working on a list of some of Fayetteville’s most beloved bands over the years, and we’re curious to hear some of you guys’ favorites from the past?
The Paper Hearts, The Good Fear, Five Tom Pettys, whatever else you were in.
You are too kind. Who are some bands you think are doing cool things in town right now?
We are all huge fans of Rat Brats. We got to experience that, all of us together. Our jaws dropped. Shinobi Clique are the real deal. Thank God we have hip-hop and that it is so so good. And of course Comfortable Brother because anything Dick touches turns to gold. Cutty Rye is really something else. Anything Adams Collins or Clare Starr do is untouchable. Llinda is probably the most original outfit in town, and of course Dr. Nod is unbeatable because of Kale. The Brothel Sprouts and Basement Brew write the best songs in town, and Patrick George’s guitar work for the latter is just uncanny. I remember when I saw Monster Heart for the first time I felt like I was watching Grizzly Bear on Letterman. Amazing stuff. Not that they sound so much like Grizzly Bear, just that they’re similarly the bees knees. We’re leaving out a ton of great bands. You know who you are.
What do you think the music scene in Fayetteville needs most?
I think every musician should have to run sound for a night. Sound guys are incredibly underappreciated. We should all be sending Christmas cards to Adam Putman and Dave Embree for making us sound better than we are.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re practicing on Sunday, I think.