While Houston has nothing comparable to Austin’s SXSW Festival, local music fans do benefit greatly each March with plenty of “run-off” shows. These are local gigs by bands in town with sort of an added regional date to their main SXSW showcases.
One of those shows will feature the New York City-based surf-pop quartet High Waisted, led by singer/guitarist Jessica Louise Dye. She’s also got a new lineup in tow that features Jono Bernstein (drums), Megan Talay (guitar/vocals), and Andrea Scanniello (bass). The first show together was just March 2.
This year will mark the second time High Waisted has played SXSW, and Dye says she definitely has some “new rules” in place based on her experience last year.
“Set bedtimes and actually adhere to them. And don’t day drink!” she laughs. “It’s a learned thing when you’re playing four or five shows. You need the endurance. And it’s the one week you get to see all your friends from around the country.”
The music of High Waisted is rooted in the ‘60s surf-rock sound of acts like the Ventures, Dick Dale, and the Safaris. But they add their own twist to the mix, which keeps it from being entirely retro. And songs like “Shithead” and “Party in the Back” have a lyrical edge to them. Still, Dye isn’t worried about getting pegged with playing just music to catch a wave
“Surf music is a very large umbrella. It has a lot to do with tone and gear choice, even song structure,” she offers. “I play a 1963 Fender Jazzmaster, and we work a lot with reverb pedals. And if we pick up some punk or psych rock, it all goes in there. That won’t stop us from growing and changing, but that surf tone will remain.” In any case, the band definitely wants to bring the party. In fact, their website URL ends not with a .com address, but .party.
High Waisted began – as Dye notes – “with heartache, like a lot of bands.” After a relationship went south, she began going to bars to see bands in New York’s fabled Lower East Side, have a couple of beers, and jot down notes and poetry in a book. In the process, she met a lot of musicians and formed High Waisted with three male friends in 2014. The name comes from a nonsense phrase Dye doodled in one of those notebooks.
The band began to play gigs and record – their 2016 debut LP In Ludlow, and a series of experimental (and pharmaceutically-aided) efforts under the moniker The Acid Tapes. Their latest release is a 7” single with the tracks “Free Throw” (a fresh, bouncy pop tune) and “Firebomb” (which shows a punkier side).
High Waisted have also made a number of videos, ranging from one candy-coated confection of Dye solo with purple-and-pink hair innocently romping through the city ("Shithead"
But last year, two of the members moved on, and Dye and Bernstein recruited Talay and Scanniello – thus neatly flipping the gender ratio in the complete opposite direction. And the band’s leader couldn’t be happier with this infusion of Girl Power.
“There’s a whole new energy. I feel like I have sisters. Every night is all giggles and dancing. And our music is light and jingly jangly, so it’s great to share that with women onstage,” Dye says.
“I don’t want to be cheesy, but if anything it feels like a traveling sleepover. It’s fun to have two of your best friends and get ready together for a show and pick outfits and share clothing. But then we get onstage and shred. Sometimes heavier than the other boys on the bill, which I really love. We’re honeymooning right now.”
When asked how living and working and competing for gigs and attention in New York City is different from what the band might experience in other areas of the country, Dye’s answer is one word: “stress.” She’s amazed as visiting bands in other parts of the country where, say, rent is $200 a month, they live in a big house, they only have to work a regular job one day a week, and they can have a dog!
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“Stress really keeps us aware. In New York City, the cost of living is so high and there’s a pressure to be successful,” Dye says. “The city is forcing me to be my best and push myself. And I don’t know that I would be so productive if things were easy. New York City challenges you. The city says ‘you can’t do this.’ And I want to prove the city wrong!”
For the future, High Waisted will start work on their sophomore LP, in addition to a fourth volume of The Acid Tapes, the latter of which Dye says allows the band to do “all the weird stuff,” and when the answer to every question during recording is “yes…do it!” Even in making covers of surf/garage/psych/punk songs their own. And she hopes that inspires others – even those who might not be old enough to get into a High Waisted show.
“What I really want,” Dye sums up, “Is for teenage girls to hear our record and go out and play guitar!”
High Waisted plays March 10, 7 p.m., at the Axelrad Beer Garden, 1517 Alabama. The Cold Fronts and DJ Paul Tiblier also perform. Free. www.axelradbeergarden.com or 713-597-8800. For more on the band, visit www.highwaisted.party.