By Brian Tucker
The Highlands write indie rock songs about life experiences and youthful perseverance, themes not used carelessly on the band’s new EP Be the Change. Its three songs it reflects doggedness, longing, and forward thinking.
More substance-based than built on lofty ideals, songs travel in atypical directions lyrically (and musically) to represent what lead singer and guitar player Michael Eakins describes as a band representing “serenity, peace, and unity cultivating a consciousness expanding movement at a grassroots level. Focusing on peace and unity for all the land. And a higher consciousness for the people.”
The band – Eakins (guitar,keys,lead vocals), Aaron Annis (bass), Hunter Edwards (drums), Ben Snyder (lead guitar) are having an EP release show this weekend at Orton’s that will raise money for Surfers Healing, an entity helping children with special needs, notably those affected by autism. Be the Change echoes the philosophy of a band wanting to do more with making music.
“If you really want to see a change for the greater in the world, it starts with yourself,” Eakins said. The song “City Lights” closes with part of a speech by Mahatma Gandhi, the reason the EP was given its title. “We wanted the impact of his voice, and his famous speech, included on the CD other than just the title.” It also speaks to Eakins’ belief in personal resolve, “That I won’t conform to the world around me. I’ll follow my heart.”
The relatively new band met as students at Cape Fear Community College (drummer Hunter Edwards is a senior in high school). A hybrid of indie rock music with intimate but aggressive pop sensibilities, the songs are individuals, notably “Hey, Where’d Ya Go” which begins as something bouncy only to build to a caustic, soaring finale.
Though songs are driven by strong, weaving melodies and emotionally rich music, it’s occasionally peppered with additional instrumentation like piano (“City Lights”) or harmonica (“My Sound”). Pressed about what the material represents now, Eakins looks forward while recognizing the importance of this time in his, and the band’s, lives. He cites his father as inspiration for chasing a dream to make music, to act now on what’s driving him.
“I’m only twenty years young and I’ll never get a chance to re-live these years in life again,” Eakins said, then punctuating it with lyric s “This is the time to decide what is driving you” from “City Lights.”
“I learned that nothing comes easy in life, that you must work diligently and practice in order to achieve greatness and success.”
Drive and attitude comes through earnestly in “My Sound,” a jangly and defiant rock song built on thumping, sometimes blistering guitar playing. Eakins sings strong and with blatant honesty, “Till they the day they I’m gone and they put me in the ground, till they clock stops ticking my time runs out they’re gonna know my sound.”
More with Michael Eakins
How did the four of you come to have similar interests making music?
Eakins: I took one year in college at Cape Fear Community College then decided I wanted to dedicate myself full time to music and working so I can support my dream. Aaron and I have known each other since middle school but didn’t really hangout until we ran track together at Hoggard high school but we were both in separate music projects.
Hunter was the drummer in my friend Will Daube’s band. But Will left for UNC-Asheville which left Hunter without anyone to play with so he and I decided to play music together. Ben and I met at The Calico Room when his band opened for my old band and then one day we ran into each at Cape Fear and exchanged numbers to set up a jam session.
He and I clicked instantly so I took him to Hunter’s house for the first jam and then we created The Highlands. After our first show, Aaron joined the band to make it a four piece and we played one more show together. After the show we did a lot of practicing and decided to invest money saved from the shows to record our EP.
How much have you played around town?
Eakins: It all started as Hunter and I began playing acoustically in mid-summer 2013 and some shows at The Oceanic alongside Selah Dubb. We then started working with Ben and decided to book a show as a band and began writing in September. Our first show was at The Calico Room Nov. 23rd and again Dec. 13th with Aaron on bass.
What are your songs influenced by more – life experiences? Living on the coast? Youthfulness?
Eakins: My songs are influenced by all three of those things, you pretty much nailed it. I love writing about life, being found and free, love, peace, unity, spirituality, the ocean, nature, and where I want to be in the future.
What is the EP titled? When you look back at it years from now, what do you think you’ll see?
Eakins: I feel like dreams are the only thing in life worth chasing. I think when I look back years from now I’ll see where it all started and the people who supported me, regardless of the circumstances through the struggles, all the way to the end of this long life journey. And I’ll always remember the people who doubted me, saying that I’d never stand a chance, but I just used those words as motivation to be the best I can be. I think I’ll also see a kid with hope in his eyes and love in his heart, with big dreams, a song to sing and a message to be heard.
Is this a physical or digital only release?
Eakins: The show is a physical release where you can purchase a hard copy of the EP for $4 along with T-shirts pressed by Wahoo Screen Graphix and the design/logo and cd done by Pilot Design. Trent Brinkley made it all possible thought, if it weren’t for him and Hourglass Studios the cd wouldn’t even be released.
EP review – The Highlands’s Be the Change
This local band released their three-song EP “Be the Change” in February and recently performed at South End Surf Shop on Wrightsville Beach (see below) that features a new song.
On “Be the Change” the band shows themselves capable of writing fresh and different sounding material, a hybrid of indie rock that’s both intimate and aggressive yet retains pop sensibilities while merging them with other styles. On the EP themes vary from youthful perseverance, longing to forward thinking, all underlining songs that are more substance-based than catchy melodies alone.
The three songs are separate sounding enough, individual enough that they could have come from three different bands (save except for singer Michael Eakins’ warm vocals), notably, “Hey, Where’d Ya Go,” which begins as something bouncy only to build to a caustic soaring finale. Even as the songs are driven by strong, weaving melodies and emotionally rich music, they are occasionally peppered with additional instrumentation, piano on “City Lights” about making the most of youth or harmonica playing on “My Sound.”
A person’s diligence and drive comes through sturdily on “My Sound,” a jangly and defiant rock song built on thumping, sometimes blistering, guitar work. Eakins sings with fervent honesty – “Till they the day they I’m gone and they put me in the ground, till they clock stops ticking my time runs out they’re gonna know my sound.”
The video below is an acoustic performance by the band as part of the Carolina Pine Music Series. In it, The Highlands take a softer, earthier approach to their songs. To hear the original versions, check them out at Bandcamp.