Van Life: The High Divers

Now, some would say it’s a tad ironic to be doing a Van Life feature with a band whose very existence was threatened by their own van flipping over and causing somewhat of an unscheduled hiatus in terms of performing and recording. Thankfully, Charleston’s High Divers are beyond that roadblock and are set to release their new album, ‘Chicora’ on March 2nd. AUK caught up with leadman Luke Mitchell and the band to find out what keeps them tarmac sane and musically nourished on those southern highways and byways.

Ok, tour book open and sat nav on, it’s touring time again! How is it for you?

By my calculations, and I’m terrible at math, I think we probably spend 55% of our time on tour driving or sitting in our van, nick-named, Donna Van Diesel. I’d say the rest of that time is split between eating (12%), talking about where we’re going to eat (3%), sleeping (18%), picking things up and putting them somewhere else (5%), and performing a high energy rock show with lots of guitar solos, sweat, and dance moves (7%). This leaves a lot of room for listening and completely consuming albums as the scenery and seasons morph around us.

You are weeks into a savage road slog and you need music to keep you sane. What are you and the band reaching for in that glovebox?
As I write this, we’ve been on the road for a month and a half straight. Each person driving has their own music preferences, and sometimes we all prefer to ride in silence for hours. On times when no-one wants to hear their thoughts or the hum of Donna barreling down a random highway, these are the albums that help us fight sleep, and keep us (somewhat) sane.

Tom Petty – ‘Wildflowers’ 
Luke Mitchell: This album has been a constant companion for me since 2007. Just like a great book, every time I listen to the album it means something new to me. Each time, I’ll catch a hidden instrument in the background that I’d never heard, or really connect with a certain lyric that seems to describe just how I’m feeling that moment. It’s a very sneaky album in that way. It’s seemingly so simple, so barebones, effortless, but therein lies Petty’s genius. It’s so simple that you underestimate the album each time. Then, a lyric flat-out levels you, and you realize how deep Petty can lead you inward. The drum sounds at the beginning of ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels’ always drag me back to being about eight years old and riding around town with my Mom singing as loud as I could with her. Our local radio station used to have a really goofy radio edit of the song for when Petty would sing “Joint”, and it made it sound like he was singing, “Let’s roll another, SNORSCH!”, and I couldn’t fathom why a word could be so bad that they’d almost ruin the song to disguise it. Heavy stuff for an eight-year-old. I think the rest of the band has come to love the album in their own way, through me listening to it so often. When ‘Wildflowers’ comes on, I imagine myself out among the wildflowers or somewhere I feel free. I think of road trips with my family. I think of my step-dad, who always seemed to live by the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers values. When Tom Petty sings, it’s just for you. I hear his pain, his happiness, his hopefulness in every line. Sometimes, it’s the only album that will keep me awake on overnight drives. Thanks for getting us there safe, Tom. We’ll all miss you.

The Kinks – ‘Lola Versus Powerman and The Money-go-round’
Luke Mitchell: I got this album for Christmas when I was sixteen, and It made me want to write songs. It’s a Kinks’ concept album with some really funny tunes that made me feel that maybe anyone could write something resembling a song. It really opened my eyes to various production techniques too, as I had just started to learn how to record my own songs. ‘Strangers’ is one of my favourite songs on the album, and Dave Davies sounds like he’s dying to sing every word of the higher parts at the end. Also, if you listen really close, you can hear the click track they were using, in between the drums parts at the end. Of Course, ‘Lola’ is one of the greatest they ever wrote.

Monsters of Folk – ‘Monsters Of Folk’
Luke Mitchell: This is a great album from start to finish. It’s a supergroup made up of Jim James, Mike Mogis, M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Will Johnson. You can just tell how much fun all of these guys were having while writing this record together. It’s definitely not a new album, but I love it, and I think it sounds just as fresh as anything I’ve heard lately. Each person sings different parts on each song, making your ears perk up to see if you can recognize who’s singing what. Lyrically, there are songs that are pretty wild but still have a great quality to them. They are the modern day Traveling Wilburys, and I hope they make another record soon!
Father John Misty – ‘Fear Fun’
Luke Mitchell: When my then girlfriend, now wife (and bandmate), Mary Alice and I went to South America to travel for a month, this album was somehow the only one that made it onto an iPod shuffle I brought along. I’ll love this album forever just because it takes me back to hiking around Machu Picchu and riding on bumpy boats in between different islands of The Galapagos. We both left our phones at home and hopefully, not for the last time, completely unplugged from everything to do with technology, besides our iPod Shuffle. The production is so unique, and his lyrics are conversational without rambling on. Some people say he sounds like he’s really pretentious, but I think that I can tell when he’s singing as the character “Father John Misty”. I’ve loved his follow up albums as well. Great songwriting.
Tristen- ‘Sneaker Waves’ 
Luke Mitchell: This has been a band favourite ever since it came out last year. ‘Glass Jar’ was one of the first songs we heard a premier of, and we were hooked from then on. Tristen played our hometown of Charleston at Royal American a few months back, and they sounded just like the record, if not better. We can also relate to the husband and wife dynamic between Tristen and her husband, Buddy. The songs are all very dreamy, and Tristen is so good at balancing a very sweet sounding voice while inflicting this sort of growl every now and then. Her voice is so versatile, and she shows that off throughout the record.
Matthew Logan Vasquez – ‘Does What He Wants’
This record is so rock’n’roll. Vasquez is another artist that really made me a believer when he came to our hometown and absolutely crushed it live. I have no idea how he keeps his voice with all that howling and screaming, but I love it. Seeing MLV really revived my hope in straight up rock n roll, at a time when I was doubting the validity of most of today’s “rock stars”. One of my favourites is ‘Red Fish’ off of the album, although it’s definitely one of the stranger tracks on the album. We believe in MLV.
Dr. Dog – ‘Shame, Shame’ 
The harmonies, the drum parts, and the sharing of lead vocals between Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman lead to a reliably fantastic record that makes it’s way onto our tour playlist constantly. ‘Shadow People’ is one of my all-time favourite Dr. Dog songs. Mary Alice introduced me to Dr. Dog a long time ago, so they always remind me of when I first met my future wife. Their harmonies are so much fun to try to dissect, and I think they are just an incredible live band. This record is also their best sounding record, in my opinion.
Blake Mills – Break Mirrors 
Julius Deangelis: The songwriting is very cohesive, and well thought out.  We also love this record because of the production on the drums and guitars. It’s a wild album that is rooted around Blake’s low and gravelly voice. The sounds on the record range from garage rock to Cuban sounding.  I like Blake Mills a lot because he’s very much an unapologetic, and unfiltered songwriter who seems to be able to draw from his emotions in an almost stream of consciousness style.
Temples – ‘Volcano’ 
Kevin Early: They have really great melodies, and seem to be influenced pretty heavily by the Beatles. Their soundscapes are a lot of fun to get caught up in, and the drum and bass parts are usually affected in a way that makes all the parts very unique.
Julius Deangelis:  There are lots of hooks and catchy earworms.
My Morning Jacket – ‘Evil Urges’ 
Mary Alice: He seems not to be bound by conventional songwriting forms, and you can just tell he is going somewhere very deep when he is writing. He can be political, religious, spiritual, and isn’t afraid to write how he really feels. A perfect example of a band that writes music they love, for themselves, first. I always gravitate towards this album because it was the album I was introduced to them through, and to me, it’s the basis of what their sound is when people talk about MM.
‘Chicora’ is out on March 2nd

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