High Waisted is the band that everybody wants at their party. Based on their beachy psychedelic sound, one might assume that the indie surf quartet are from California, but they’re actually based in New York. Their 2016 debut album, On Ludlow, is chock full of dancey love letters to the Big Apple’s gritty Lower East Side. Frontwoman Jessica Louise Dye’s powerful singing voice blends with vintage drum sounds to create an irresistible elixir, mixing jangly ’60s surf rock with effortlessly catchy pop melodies and encouraging listeners to involuntarily bust a move on the dance floor. High Waisted have been named NME’s “buzz band to watch,” and have also received praise from Nylon Magazine, Consequence of Sound, Refinery29, Paste Magazine, and Sofar Sounds.
Since the release of their sophomore album Sick of Saying Sorry in 2020, the quartet has finally kicked off their long-anticipated return to the stage this year with a new single, “This Year I Won’t (IDGAF)” and a performance at TV Eye in late May with Damn Jackals and Jelly Kelly.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with High Waisted frontwoman Jessica Louise Dye to nerd out about musician gear, discuss the writing process for their new single, and the philosophy behind her solo avant-pop project Hello Lightfoot.
You just made an appearance at TV Eye to promote your new single. How was that?
It was such a fun night. We played with Damn Jackals and it was my first time playing there. I really love Jonathan Toubin’s vinyl nights, so I’ve gone out dancing at TV Eye a million times but had never performed there before.
Last week was the two-year anniversary of your 2020 record Sick of Saying Sorry, and I understand that you were pretty distraught to have your plans for that record stalled by the pandemic. What are your feelings about the record now?
Yeah, the two-year anniversary kinda snuck up on us. We have a bunch of unreleased songs stockpiled right now, so the new plan is to do an EP release this year and kind of have it double as a belated celebration for the 2020 record that didn’t get the party it deserved, almost like a memorial. After that I’d like to move on to celebrating the new without looking back anymore.
Once it got to be moderately safe to see other people again, I was lucky enough to pod with my new guitarist, Dan Rico. We wrote a bunch of the new songs ten feet apart in a room while we were double-masked and muffling out lyrics. We tried to stay consistent. Obviously, the motivation was hard. But the transition didn’t feel as drastic as it might have for others. We were really eager to get back on stage. In a way we felt left out, because some bands were immediately ready to go once things reopened, so it felt like we were a little late to the game. But I’m so much more relaxed now.
We seem to be caught up in a whirlwind of change every ten years in the music industry. How do you keep yourself grounded navigating it all?
We had some pretty good luck early on as a band because we’ve been together for so long, but even just the way we navigated press and promo in between the first two records was so different. Even just the pandemic had forced so many bands to pivot. Nowadays we might as well throw out everything we previously knew, because now everyone’s told they should be on TikTok and only release singles. You can definitely get swept out to sea trying to keep up with all the promotional trends of the music business and almost lose the excitement of the writing aspect. I think a good way that we’ve found balance is by segmenting what we want to focus on into stages. It’s a waste of time and creative energy to try and wear all those hats at once. I’m obviously no expert, but we’re still creating and I like what we’re putting out.
Yeah. Even major label superstars are being forced to make something go viral on TikTok before their labels will allow them to release an album.
Yeah, I saw the Halsey thing, that was crazy. I love TikTok. I watch it every day, but I was not motivated enough to be creating content on TikTok. That’s just not where my brain was at that time, but I was definitely enjoying it as entertainment. But I have seen smaller bands go viral on the platform and get signed overnight. It’s a fast-tracked path to have success and reach goals without bias, which was previously unheard of in the music industry. So I’m all for it, but any good platform eventually gets overrun with the wrong motives once the money comes into question. We saw it with Livejournal, Tumblr, and Instagram. The good can’t last forever.
I love your latest single, “This Year I Won’t (IDGAF).” Can you tell me about the process behind that song and that incredible sock puppet music video?
They say you have your whole life to write your first record, but I don’t feel like I used that time preciously. The first record I put out was like, “Here’s some chords, here’s some funny lyrics, BOOM, I made a song!” I wasn’t really overthinking or overanalyzing. And with record two, I feel like there was an enormous pressure for it to be great. There were also a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and because of that I think a lot of things got overcooked because they were too precious. So the new model coming out of the pandemic is getting back to the roots of not caring so much.
The song itself was a list of New Year’s resolutions that I found from a few years back while cleaning every nook and cranny in the house. I thought “Man, that would make a really funny song!” The lyrics are basically that list, verbatim. And we did it in a day! Once you take the pressure off, the product ends up being great on its own. So staying true to the chorus of the song, we truly did not give a fuck and just pushed forward. The sock puppets were made from crafting materials lying around in my house. I think because I had just come out of a very busy month touring, DJing, and putting out my solo record. So making the puppets was like my own form of tangible therapy. I just got to zone out for two days and get creative with trash. And it made my bandmates laugh, which is always nice.
You play a vintage Fender Jazzmaster. What are your favorite things about that particular guitar model?
Yes! It’s a 1963 original, so it’s pretty old and very coveted. Fender basically had a factory change in 1965, so the way they manufactured the interiors of their guitars had completely changed. Anything that came before 1965 is just worth more because the electronics are different. My 1963 Jazzmaster is probably worth more than anything else I’ve ever owned combined. At this point my collection’s up to about twelve guitars. I have another orange guitar with a reverse headstock, like the upside-down kind Jimi Hendrix played. It’s a pawn shop supersonic with a ‘60s curve. I also have two Danelectros that I’m obsessed with. One of them’s a twelve-string with purple sparkles that I got on an eBay bid.
What I love about your records is that you’re journaling about New York life with a California surf rock sound. What attracts you to that sort of duality?
Yeah, it’s very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I grew up in Phoenix and was raised by my grandparents, so I grew up listening to surf rock. A lot of Dick Dale, Beach Boys, Beatles, the Ventures. The Ventures have one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time. Even some weird stuff, like Captain Beefheart, because it was so loud and inappropriate. I’ve always loved surf music. I love California, I love the beach, I love surfing, and I love dancing to that music. I remember going to a soul ‘60s dance night in my late teens, and all of the ‘90s alternative rock that I was trying so hard to like just flew out the window. I realized that I was focusing on the wrong era. I wanted to make music I could dance to, and making surf music comes naturally because I know it so well.
I hear you’ve been getting back into a lot of early-aughts pop and playing it during your DJ sets. Who are some acts from that era you’ve been listening to a lot recently?
I’m vibing on Britney so hard right now. A lot of Mariah, Xtina, Jessica, Mandy. All the aughts bubblegum pop divas. And I’m finding new and interesting things about those songs every time I play them, because I’m listening with musician ears now.
I understand that you really started throwing yourself into music to stave off post-heartbreak depression. When did it click for you that music had bigger plans for you?
Oh my god, that feels so long ago! But yes, this whole project was sort of a middle finger to a breakup. I put in everything I had and sort of ran with it. It’s escapism. That’s what all art is, or at least good art. You’re either running from something or to something, but either way you’re still running. Nowadays I can just write for the joy of writing. I don’t need to be manically happy or depressed in order to write.
I moved to Washington, DC because I have a very unnatural obsession with Ian Mackaye and Fugazi, and the ‘80s hardcore scene. I specifically chose a college in DC for that. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I realized that I could be the creator as well as the consumer. I was really surrounding myself with so many friends who make music, and I wanted to be able to have an activity where we’d be able to create something together. That’s just magic. That’s what witchcraft is, to know what’s going on in somebody else’s brain and be able to make this tangible thing together.
What is your relationship to music history and the rock and roll pantheon of New York?
I’m definitely super appreciative of landmark places tied to music. That’s a huge reason why I was drawn to New York, because it has continued to prove itself to be the mecca for new creation, whether it’s art, film, theater, or fashion design. It’s all happening in New York. Even if there’s not a swelling bubble for the industry here, it’s still happening in another industry, so to just be around the energy of that creation is really powerful. I live behind the Chelsea Hotel, I walk by it all the time. I’ve been to all the landmarks. When we wrote On Ludlow, I was always hanging out on the Lower East Side because I loved the Beastie Boys and the Ramones. I loved CBGB and the Bowery. I always like to say that New York is my fifth bandmate, because the city’s been so integral to my writing.
You have a really cool solo pop project called Hello Lightfoot. What can you tell me about that?
I just put out a Hello Lightfoot solo EP a month ago. It’s completely different from High Waisted. I sort of see it as my avant-garde pop project. It’s dark but dancey. I was super inspired by Metric, Björk, and Kate Bush. It’s somewhat accessible, but I also wanted to make a musician’s record. So there’s a lot of found sounds and weird manipulations in the mix.
What else have you got coming up that you’re excited about?
I’m doing some fun DJ sets at Primavera Sound this month. In the fall High Waisted is likely going to do a re-release of the 2020 record and then get ready to release some new singles we’ve been sitting on for a while. Lots of exciting things to come, so stay tuned!
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