Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

Interview: Tim Harrington of Tall Heights On Boston, Busking, and Their Grassroots Approach To Music

Tall Heights has been called “intimate and arresting” by NPR and “simply gorgeous” by WFUV. They’re also one of my sister’s favorite bands. They famously funded their first album with funds raised during 100-days of busking in Boston, and now have kept their low-key approach to music while on tour in support of Neptune, their first full length album released for Sony Music Masterworks.

I spoke with singer/guitarist Tim Harrington (right, in the image below) about their roots in Boston, the current tour, and what “progressive folk” means to him.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-3-23-37-pm

This tour you’re playing the big cities, but you’re also hitting some smaller stops. What’s it like to play some of those smaller places you haven’t visited before?
Yeah, we definitely have always subscribed to a grassroots approach to developing our following. Before we were even working with a label and management and team for booking, we were just little old us out there playing shows. A lot of the first places were starting playing weren’t from the perspective of music business strategy, but instead just booking gigs wherever we felt like we could get people out to a show. And now we of course play the big, must-hit cities of the country like Boston and New York and Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but also we really still valued those smaller connecting cities because they embody a lot of what we initially set out to do.

Do you notice any differences between playing a big city or playing a college town, or a small town that you haven’t played before?
Yeah, I mean to start a lot of time the smaller towns won’t have a lot of different people in the room, but we’re really happy that now whatever city we can go to we can play to a good room of people. Big cities might get more people, but that’s not to say that don’t enjoy developing new markets. It’s a different vibe. It kind of parallels the energy and vibe of a big city street compared to a smaller town street. One isn’t better than the other, it’s just a different vibe.

Are you still busking at all?
Well we did a day of street performing this summer just for fun, we just kind of popped out to do a throwback and just to kind of check back in with our roots and make sure we’re still in touch with that part of ourselves.

Where was that?
It was in Boston. Where we used to do it, where we started. We don’t really get to do that when we’re on tour just because we don’t have time. Right now we’re on our way to get to a radio thing, then we have to get to load-in for the show tonight in Ohio. We aren’t opposed to it but logistically speaking it’s just tough. And then of course, after we play ten shows in ten days, if we have a day or a couple days off we’ll just try to take a day off.

That makes sense. Did living in Boston help shape your sound at all in any other ways? The cultural influence or the community there?
There’s no ethnic influence really from being Bostonian, but certainly growing up as musicians in Boston exposed us to a lot of likeminded people who were making music alongside us. Our friends The Ballroom Thieves and The Darlingside in particular, and also Ryan Montbleau, we were all just hanging out in the Boston area making music and we all really influenced each other. I don’t know if we had started in a different city if we’d had the same relationships and if we would have had the same influences on our sound.

One thing I wanted to talk about was bringing looping and electronic components into the album. I know there’s a movement in some folk to be bringing in electric drums and things like that. Is that something that you see happening more for your sound?
Yeah, we love that stuff. I think that was kind of just a shift that was happening in the national consciousness all at once. Our artistic decisionmaking came from this place of not wanting to go farther down a folky one-way street. We wanted to be an indie band, not a folk duo, and so we knew we already had the folk, orchestral cello, acoustic guitar thing going so we thought about how we could add sounds that would create a nice backdrop for those things to exist upon.

Yeah, I mean I know Bon Iver is an influence for you and his new album is basically an electronic album, rather than folk.
We didn’t know Bon Iver was going in that direction before 22, A Million came out. Well, I guess we did. He was hinting at it in older songs. I think it’s kind of like if you have a nice yellow shirt that you want to want to wear, putting it with a nice pair of black slacks will probably work better than khakis. It makes it pop. I think a lot of people are seeing the electronic tapestry as a nice play to lay the orchestral sound and harmonies.

Yeah, I guess that fits with the idea of “progressive folk,” which is how you’re described in press and reviews lot. What does that term really mean to you? Was that a label you worked to come up with or did it appear organically?
We haven’t really spent any time trying to classify in a sub-genre, we’ve heard those words and also indie and we even heard electro-folk. I understand the necessity for those labels, for press and when we’re asked to describe our sound, and we do fit in certain categories of music but actually categorizing our music is not something we try to think about. We just focus on the creation, on writing songs and performing, and how it gets categorized is mostly out of our hands. And I think the labels that are applied to our music are just a result of our songwriting process, not a result of us trying to fit in any certain genre or sub-genre.

Upcoming Dates
Oct 20 Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21 Schubas Tavern, Chicago, IL
Oct 22 C.S.P.S. Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA
Oct 23 Turf Club, St Paul, MN
Oct 26 Off Broadway, St Louis, MO
Oct 27 Ignition Garage, Goshen, IN
Nov 02 The Slaughtered Lamb, London, United Kingdom
Nov 03 Union Chapel, London, United Kingdom
Nov 04 Rolling Stone Weekender, Wangels, Germany
Nov 05 Rolling Stone Weekender, Wangels, Germany
Nov 08 WUK, Vienna, Austria
Nov 17 The Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA
Dec 03 Empire, Portland, ME
Dec 16 The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Dec 18 The Egg, Albany, NY

Brian Benton
Brian is the founder and editor of Respect Your Youngers. He currently lives in New York City, and previously lived in St. Louis and San Francisco. He enjoys public transportation and coffee, and can be found online at brianfbenton.com

Interview: Tim Harrington of Tall Heights On Boston, Busking, and Their Grassroots Approach To Music

Tall Heights has been called “intimate and arresting” by NPR and “simply gorgeous” by WFUV. They’re also one of my sister’s favorite bands. They famously funded their first album with funds raised during 100-days of busking in Boston, and now have kept their low-key approach to music while on tour in support of Neptune, their first full length album released for Sony Music Masterworks.

I spoke with singer/guitarist Tim Harrington (right, in the image below) about their roots in Boston, the current tour, and what “progressive folk” means to him.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-3-23-37-pm

This tour you’re playing the big cities, but you’re also hitting some smaller stops. What’s it like to play some of those smaller places you haven’t visited before?
Yeah, we definitely have always subscribed to a grassroots approach to developing our following. Before we were even working with a label and management and team for booking, we were just little old us out there playing shows. A lot of the first places were starting playing weren’t from the perspective of music business strategy, but instead just booking gigs wherever we felt like we could get people out to a show. And now we of course play the big, must-hit cities of the country like Boston and New York and Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but also we really still valued those smaller connecting cities because they embody a lot of what we initially set out to do.

Do you notice any differences between playing a big city or playing a college town, or a small town that you haven’t played before?
Yeah, I mean to start a lot of time the smaller towns won’t have a lot of different people in the room, but we’re really happy that now whatever city we can go to we can play to a good room of people. Big cities might get more people, but that’s not to say that don’t enjoy developing new markets. It’s a different vibe. It kind of parallels the energy and vibe of a big city street compared to a smaller town street. One isn’t better than the other, it’s just a different vibe.

Are you still busking at all?
Well we did a day of street performing this summer just for fun, we just kind of popped out to do a throwback and just to kind of check back in with our roots and make sure we’re still in touch with that part of ourselves.

Where was that?
It was in Boston. Where we used to do it, where we started. We don’t really get to do that when we’re on tour just because we don’t have time. Right now we’re on our way to get to a radio thing, then we have to get to load-in for the show tonight in Ohio. We aren’t opposed to it but logistically speaking it’s just tough. And then of course, after we play ten shows in ten days, if we have a day or a couple days off we’ll just try to take a day off.

That makes sense. Did living in Boston help shape your sound at all in any other ways? The cultural influence or the community there?
There’s no ethnic influence really from being Bostonian, but certainly growing up as musicians in Boston exposed us to a lot of likeminded people who were making music alongside us. Our friends The Ballroom Thieves and The Darlingside in particular, and also Ryan Montbleau, we were all just hanging out in the Boston area making music and we all really influenced each other. I don’t know if we had started in a different city if we’d had the same relationships and if we would have had the same influences on our sound.

One thing I wanted to talk about was bringing looping and electronic components into the album. I know there’s a movement in some folk to be bringing in electric drums and things like that. Is that something that you see happening more for your sound?
Yeah, we love that stuff. I think that was kind of just a shift that was happening in the national consciousness all at once. Our artistic decisionmaking came from this place of not wanting to go farther down a folky one-way street. We wanted to be an indie band, not a folk duo, and so we knew we already had the folk, orchestral cello, acoustic guitar thing going so we thought about how we could add sounds that would create a nice backdrop for those things to exist upon.

Yeah, I mean I know Bon Iver is an influence for you and his new album is basically an electronic album, rather than folk.
We didn’t know Bon Iver was going in that direction before 22, A Million came out. Well, I guess we did. He was hinting at it in older songs. I think it’s kind of like if you have a nice yellow shirt that you want to want to wear, putting it with a nice pair of black slacks will probably work better than khakis. It makes it pop. I think a lot of people are seeing the electronic tapestry as a nice play to lay the orchestral sound and harmonies.

Yeah, I guess that fits with the idea of “progressive folk,” which is how you’re described in press and reviews lot. What does that term really mean to you? Was that a label you worked to come up with or did it appear organically?
We haven’t really spent any time trying to classify in a sub-genre, we’ve heard those words and also indie and we even heard electro-folk. I understand the necessity for those labels, for press and when we’re asked to describe our sound, and we do fit in certain categories of music but actually categorizing our music is not something we try to think about. We just focus on the creation, on writing songs and performing, and how it gets categorized is mostly out of our hands. And I think the labels that are applied to our music are just a result of our songwriting process, not a result of us trying to fit in any certain genre or sub-genre.

Upcoming Dates
Oct 20 Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21 Schubas Tavern, Chicago, IL
Oct 22 C.S.P.S. Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA
Oct 23 Turf Club, St Paul, MN
Oct 26 Off Broadway, St Louis, MO
Oct 27 Ignition Garage, Goshen, IN
Nov 02 The Slaughtered Lamb, London, United Kingdom
Nov 03 Union Chapel, London, United Kingdom
Nov 04 Rolling Stone Weekender, Wangels, Germany
Nov 05 Rolling Stone Weekender, Wangels, Germany
Nov 08 WUK, Vienna, Austria
Nov 17 The Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA
Dec 03 Empire, Portland, ME
Dec 16 The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Dec 18 The Egg, Albany, NY

Scroll to top