Since their formation in 2009, Highly Suspect have garnered an impressive reputation. Their first album, Mister Asylum, earned them two nominations at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
Since then, the band has only grown – their second album, The Boy Who Died Wolf, reached number one on Billboard’s Top Alternative Albums chart.
November 2019 saw the release of the band’s third album, MCID. Highly Suspect were due to play their Glasgow show on March 21, however, due to the pandemic, they were forced to cancel.
Brig caught up with lead singer Johnny Stevens to talk about the cancelled shows, their latest album, and Highly Suspect’s future plans.
How are you feeling about the cancellations of your shows due to the pandemic?
It’s bittersweet. We tried our best to go for as long and hard as we could before governments and the reality of social responsibility kicked in.
We are losing a lot of money because of it, but I feel much, much worse for people who had spent their money to come and see us, because I know for a fact that we could have made their lives better. Our shows have become such an epic event.
But the flipside is that now we have time to write and create all new music, which is much harder to do from the road. Not being able to tour sucks, having time to create does not suck.
What would you say to fans who had purchased tickets to the cancelled shows?
Firstly, I would say thank you. It blows my mind that people buy tickets to our shows, because back in the day, people could just stumble into a bar and we’d be the background music to their sports game on the TV.
No one gave a fuck about the kids trying to write songs in the corner of the bar.
Then I would say, hold on to them if you can, because by the time we tour again, our shows will sell the fuck out extremely fast and if you have your ticket, it might still be valid. If you get rid of it, you might find it harder to get another.
Lastly, I would say, if you have to get rid of them, we fully understand. Please take care of yourselves and loved ones in these times.
We’ve been in the game for ten years now. This band is in it for the long haul. See us when the time is right for you.
Talking about MCID, how do you think your style has grown since Mister Asylum?
You’ve never shied away from political themes in your music – how has the political climate affected the creation of the new album?
We’re not Rage Against the Machine. I don’t consider us a die hard political band, but we have opinions, we have a platform, why not express our beliefs?
I have found that the only people who tell us to keep politics out of our music are the people with opposing views, which in turn, tells me the lyrics work.
Again, it’s not our goal to champion a certain politician. I think they all suck, but…weird times. I can’t say I’m too proud of our world ‘leaders’ at the moment.
How and why did you make the decision to blend genres on this album more than you have in the past?
This is so straightforward. We were bored. We like all types of music. You can’t tell me you like pizza but won’t eat candy; it’s not 2005.
Festivals and the internet did the genre blending for us. We didn’t try to blend genres, we’re just becoming genre-less because art is fucking awesome and we’re at a point now where there is zero reason to limit one’s creativity unless you try to capitalise on what you know works.
We could have written 12 more Lydia‘s with our eyes closed and known we’d make money from that. Fuck that.
We’re making the shit that sounds good to us in this part of our lives, regardless of whether or not it charts.
How has rap influenced the style of MCID?
People who know me know I’ve been rapping for longer than this band has been in existence. Even in Mister Asylum, if you took all the instruments and vocals out of Bath Salts or Lydia, and left the bare beats, that it couldn’t be turned into a hip-hop song.
In fact, maybe during my downtime, I should do that to prove the point. I’m not going to go into my four year plan to get Young Thug on a song. If you only knew about the day we met so long ago…wild.
On MCID, we decided ‘fuck it.’ We’re not going to be that band that puts the same album out over and over again. Rap is the shit. We are born from the same era. I’ve found that some people hate that we rap because that’s not like the old Highly Suspect.
It’s actually more the old Highly Suspect than they think. If you were at our old shows ten years ago, before the semi-fame, I was rapping every night. We just happened to put out some rock albums that garnered attention.
MCID was about tearing down that ‘you have to be rock’ bullshit. If we had put out a third pure rock album without stretching our creativity, we would have been stuck in that place forever.
Now we can do what we want and people can choose to listen or not. At least they won’t be surprised if we put out more rap, or more rock, or more electronic.
What has the reaction been like from fans and critics in regards to the change in styles?
Well, like I said before, if you truly know us, nothing has changed. It’s just that we finally recorded things that aren’t rock. Recorded being the key word. But many people were unaware that we were this versatile.
The reaction has been split. That’s exactly what we were expecting. We knew some people would love us more for being true to our selves and we knew that some people would be done with us.
In general, if you look at the numbers, the fan base is growing. The shows are growing, the streams are growing, the socials are growing. I guess that’s an indication of a positive reaction.
Are you planning on experimenting more with rap and hip-hop styles?
Absolutely. And rock, and punk, and ballads, and electronic. If you specifically like one type of music, that’s OK, I guess.
I would be bored as fuck if I only listened to one thing, but if that’s how someone is, I’m not going to judge them. I guarantee you, this band will write things you like and we’ll write things you hate.
I wasn’t a huge fan of anything No Doubt did after Tragic Kingdom, but that wasn’t their fault. It was because Tragic Kingdom came out when I needed it most.
Often, the way we connect with an artist or album has more to do with when we hear it and what’s happening in our lives at the moment.
Yes, I want to push the walls, we all do. My favourite artists have all evolved countless times. Just look at David Bowie. Even Gwen Stefani, for that matter. Look at Bring Me The Horizon, Jay-Z, all of these artists grew. We’re going to grow.
What can fans expect from shows when you can finally go back to touring?
They can expect some bad motherfuckers ripping through their cerebellums with a whole bunch of new music and energy.
What are your plans for after lockdown is over?
I have a shit ton of plans. I’m working on some really big projects right now in the meantime.
The plan is to stay creative and work my ass off while I have this time away from the road, and then once the world is back on track, I’ll pull back the curtain.
Highly Suspect have achieved a remarkable amount in recent years, from gaining award nominations to growing musically. They surely have a lot more to bring to the alternative and rock scene, and Brig will be waiting excitedly to see what they achieve.