When I called Tall Heights cellist Paul Wright last week he was making dinner, experimenting with a variety of ingredients (ground turkey, butternut squash, mushrooms, kale, and a saffron-based sauce if I remember correctly) and sort of making it up as he went along – something he said he does quite often.
The band Tall Heights has found success in much the same way, crafting a stunningly unique sound from a blend of classic musical components. In 2010, Wright joined up with childhood friend and guitarist Tim Harrington, and the two began busking in downtown Boston, playing a brand of soothing, atmospheric folk characterized by their impeccably harmonious voices and the subtle pluck and drone of their acoustic guitar-cello combo. Drawing inspiration from folk songwriters such as Gregory Alan Isakov, the duo quickly stood out from the crowd by “presenting their instruments with ethereal effect.” Wright explained that their brand of performance is “a step away from the folk tradition” in that they “seek to use their instruments to enhance presentation of the songs rather than writing songs to present in the format of the cello and guitar. The instrumentation is still important, but the goal is to create powerful songs.” Their success on the streets was, as Wright put it, “the impetus for taking ourselves seriously.” This encouraged them to record an EP, Rafters, and shortly thereafter they took to playing more substantial venues than the cobblestone lanes of Beantown.
This week they’ll be stopping by Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis to play one of four scheduled dates with Darlingside, a four-piece folk band that came together at Williams College. Tall Heights are just coming off a week of shows with good friend Ryan Montbleau, a singer/songwriter also based in Boston. It should be noted that without Montbleau, the pair might not be where they are today. Wright and Harrington were originally fans of Montbleau but that relationship shifted to a more collaborative role after Montbleau met them while serving as a guest judge at a folk music contest in Cambridge, Mass. Montbleau invited Tall Heights to join him on his next album and they played some live shows together, discovering immediate chemistry. In fact, the trio released two new tracks just a few weeks ago. “Every artist needs someone like [Montbleau] to stick their neck out for them. We can’t say enough about him and how helpful he’s been – to have someone in our line of work who’s been at it a bit longer. It’s good to have role models like that,” Wright said.
After four years together as Tall Heights, the duo really seems to be hitting their stride. They released their full length debut Man of Stone in 2013 and they’re planning to go back to the studio this winter for their second LP. Wright sounded like he was ready to start recording again, and added that he and Harrington have been doing a lot of writing this year, “spending more waking hours with pen and paper in hand,” to work away the time while they’re on the road. “The idea of hitting the road is romanticized and before we were traveling 160 days a year we were real excited about hopping in the car and traveling,” Wright said. “That youthful enthusiasm has shifted a bit, but you certainly get used to the road. And, we still enjoy it, but to write you really have to put everything down; you have to be totally mentally present. It took us some time to figure out how to do that and rededicate ourselves to the writing process. Once we did that we realized writing was as easy as it was at the beginning.”
Their next full length will be more lighthearted than their debut, which Wright felt was somewhat darker than their EPs. “We went to a darker place, not in a bad way at all, but in an introspective way,” Wright said. “There were themes of departure, isolation, and return, but the central theme is about the artist’s place in society. The title track was inspired by the idea of cavemen depicting everyday life on the walls of caves, and maybe that’s an appropriate way to think about artists in modern society.” Speaking about their new material, Wright said he wouldn’t necessarily call it light-hearted, but they’re writing more about relationships and love – a showing of maturation from the young artists.
Get your tickets now! Don’t miss Tall Heights’ debut show at Rams Head On Stage this Wednesday, October 29th. Doors at 7:00 p.m., show starts at 8:00 p.m. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of these two in Annapolis in the coming years.
Check out two videos from Tall Heights below. The first is a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” The second video features Ryan Montbleau in a transfixing cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
– Matt Ellis