As someone whose top five bands include both the Beatles and Green Day, I have a special spot in my heart for musicians who also recognize the bizarre, yet obvious, link between ’60s rock/pop and latter-day punk.
American High, a rock band out of Sacramento, California, embraces those influences in their music, perfectly blending the two disparate sounds and celebrating the lineage from one to the other. For anyone who’s a fan of either, their new album, Bones in the Attic, Flowers in the Basement, is a must-hear, but for anyone who’s a fan of both, it’s a revelation.
Because of this unique pedigree, we asked American High to tell us more about their influences. “We’re four guys who love rock and roll and love songs and songwriting,” they say. “We pay respect to brilliant artists that have gone before. But in our own way. Our songs are influenced by whatever bubbles up from the subconscious. We give equal weight to all ideas/hooks/harmonies, regardless of which decade they harken to.”
Check out these five artists that left a lasting impression on American High!
1. Elliott Smith
For us, songwriting is very organic. It’s something you feel first and craft later. So, we don’t have a very methodical approach, like Elliott Smith talks about in this vid. We can’t remember if our philosophy of songwriting was born after seeing this or if this vid made such an impact because it so closely mirrored our own. To us, his is the only name that should be mentioned in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney.
We love Elliott Smith for his fascinating, no-rules approach to songwriting, his self-deprecation (which adds a sense of vulnerability and realism) his genius for producing catchy songs in spite of the generally dark subject matter (similar to the Smiths in that way), his penchant for creating songs with dual or multiple meanings, and many other reasons too long to list.
2. The Beatles
For me, I believe I was 11 or 12 when I first listened to a band that wasn’t the Beatles. They’ve always just been a part of my life. Different records at different times, but for me, the songs just never get old. I know that I’m not unique in this, but as I studied songs and songwriting growing up, I learned more from the Beatles than anyone.
It’s not possible to list everything I love about them here, but I have no doubt that their influence can be heard throughout our record.
We picked this video because it illustrates another important aspect of our musical philosophy. Great rock and roll remains great forever. Sixty years old? Thirty years old? Sixty days old? It doesn’t matter.
What makes great rock and roll great? Lots of things, but to us, one often-forgotten, difficult-to-define aspect is illustrated here. It begins about 02:35 in (watch P. McCartney dismiss the Swedish-speaking host via universal sign language), sandwiched between some great songs. It was rock and roll to rebel against the powers that be then…
3. Green Day
…and it was rock and roll then, too. Here’s Green Day doing basically the same thing 30 years later (screw the host, LET’S ROCK!!!). Time can’t erode the things that make rock and roll so powerful! So, we give equal weight to all ideas, hooks, harmonies, sounds, and schemes regardless of which decade they harken to. Blending various ideas, for us, is one of the ways we hope to make music that feels (and is) unique.
Green Day came to us later in our musical development. We were stuck on ’80s punk (the Descendants, X, the Dickies, the Ramones, the Clash, Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, many more). Nirvana was a favorite of ours for a long time, and Green Day seemed like a music-industry trick to replace them (three members, the guitar player sings, punk). Boy, were we wrong.
We started with Dookie and got hooked on each record in order. We have never gotten over that punchy, pop-punk sound, and Green Day remains, in our opinion, one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
4. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
We believe in swinging for the fences when it comes to making music. If you are going to make songs, we believe you should always try to make great songs. Now, the problem with trying to be great is that you rarely achieve your goal. Swinging for the fences, to us, means not only trying to make the songs as catchy and unique as possible but infusing them with multiple meanings and deeper themes.
Our philosophy can be found in most of the songs on Bones in the Attic, Flowers in the Basement. Freedom, the costs of sending a massive military out into the world to force everyone to obey through violence and fear, the suffering by normal fellow citizens that results and the idea that we are all born with identical rights regardless of religion, race, sexuality, gender place of birth or residence. That these rights belong to each of us and cannot be revoked by mere mortals, no matter how much violence the use or how much of the electorate they have in their corner. That maybe the answer is to scrap the current power structure and start over.
CSNY were masters in this regard. In this song, “Ohio,” they make social commentary on the killings of unarmed Kent State University student protestors by armed military personnel. The group also includes a call to arms. This is rock and roll at its best to us. Groovy and catchy as heck, and an attempt to wake up the populace to crimes committed by their government.
Here’s Nirvana’s first performance on TV. This time British; we’re pretty sure this is live, and we’re pretty sure the powers that be didn’t like the way Cobain introduces the song. But look at the crowd. This is the power of great rock and roll. These kids nearly rip the place down. And Cobain, Novoselic, and Grohl are so into the music that they don’t care that the song isn’t quite right and mistakes are made.
Our goal is making great rock and roll songs, mistakes and all. Whether we achieve that isn’t up to us. It’s about the feel of the songs, the groove. We hope our love of rock and roll shines through musically, socially and philosophically. We want to make songs that are unique, diversified and that pay homage to the geniuses that have gone before. If all art is derivative, we want to derive ours from as many sources as possible spanning as many genres and decades as inspire us, throw all of that into the creative hopper, add that creative force that Elliott Smith talks about, and in the end, hope something memorable is born. We hope you all dig the songs and that this finds you all safe during these troubled times.