The Hi Strung Downers respect the roots of their music while creating their own unique, fresh sound. Earl Garnet is the band’s lead singer. He talks about the band’s inception and says, “The bass player, Joe Love and I, started this band about three years ago. We’d played in several bands over many years throughout the city on many projects, some together and some apart. We decided that we wanted to start something a little different and a little less based in traditional rockabilly. We wanted it to be a little more rock and roll.”
Rocking Roots (Profiles in Rock n' Roll + Rockabilly Music): Earl Garnet, The Hi Strung Downers
I talk to the Hi Strung Downers' Earl Garnet about redefining their sound, writing honest songs and why touring extensively matters.
The Hi Strung Downers
Every member of the band writes material and they all sing. Garnet says that their approach is to write honest songs to which people can relate. He elaborates, “I can’t write songs about the 1950’s any longer. I just can’t relate to that any more so we’re writing songs about things that have happened to us and the emotions we’ve experienced. Some of the songs are more upbeat but quite a few of them are dark. The last record was a bit of a breakup record and the newest one is a little more upbeat.”
Once the band chooses a song to work on, they sit down and see if that song makes the grade. Garnet explains, “Maybe one out of six songs makes the grade. We machine it until it comes out as a Hi Strong Downers song. It’s a very organic proess and we don’t set up any parameters about exactly what it should say. It just has to grab you emotionally one way or another.”
The main challenge that Garnet identifies for the band is one that many bands face: getting themselves heard. Garnet says, “It’s about getting our product to market, getting people to hear us and to come out to our shows. Things are getting better for us every day and as people get to know us, most of our shows sell out. We’re trying to get people to come check us out, see what we’re about and not have any misconceptions about us being just another rockabilly band.”
Generally Garnet has a positive view of the Canadian music scene and says that Calgary’s National Music Centre (and other live music venues) do a good job of supporting live music and getting people to expand their musical scope. However he also sounds a note of caution and says, “I’m a little concerned because I’ve found that the general public doesn’t want to pay to hear music. It seems that many people don’t want to pay a five or ten dollar cover charge at the door and that concerns me. It concerns me for everybody in the music industry.”
Each member of the band brings their own unique style and contribution to the Hi Strung Downers. Garnet says, “Joe Love, the bass player, is rooted in traditional rockabilly but he’s got an open mind and an open ear. The songs he brings in are always really good and catchy. Greasy Greg came into the band almost two years ago and he’s brought in something a little different and pushed us in the direction we always wanted to take with this band. He has more of a roots/honky tonk sort of background. He used to play in a band called The Ruminants and he’s adapted to our style and added something more that we really needed.”
He continues, “Our drummer Terry is melodic. I’m envious of him because he writes very catchy, melodic songs. He plays a simple snare drum set up with a couple of cymbals and a floor tom. He keeps us on track and Terry’s a thorough professional. We absolutely respect him.”
As for his own approach Garnet says, “As I get older I think I’m going back more into my punk rock roots. I’m bringing a little more aggressive stuff into the band, really telling it like it is..”
Overall the band is looking to create a distinctive sound for themselves. Garnet points out, “No matter what kind of song we put out whether it’s more of a traditional rockabilly song, more of a rock n roll song or a Beatles style song, it has that distinctive Hi Strung Downers sound.”
Touring is high on the band’s priority list. Garnet says, “We try not to play in Calgary too much even though Calgary’s been very good to us and we love the city. It is our opinion that bands need to get on the road, travel and promote themselves. Our biggest goal is to keep playing further from home and to do more shows and bigger shows.”
The world of professional musicians can be a challenging one but Garnet says, “The inspiration that keeps me going is when we’re reaching people, people are seeing what we’re doing and that we’re doing something different. I’m also inspired by seeing us being 100 percent honest with ourselves, our band and our songwriting. When we work on a song, hem and haw about whether it will work or not and then we practice it seven or eight times and we know we’ve got it down and we know it’s good, that keeps me going and keeps me inspired!”
For more information on the Hi Strung Downers, please visit their website here.
This profile is based on an interview with Earl Garnet conducted and recorded on June 21, 2016.