When the Grammy nominations were announced, Brookyln based muscular rock trio Highly Suspect – originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts – felt like wildcard nominations, pitted against established names like Florence And The Machine and Muse. Their debut, ‘Mister Asylum’ – which popped in at Number 58 in the Billboard charts in July – has received a nod for Best Rock Album, while the single ‘Lydia’ is up for Best Rock Song. With comparisons to Royal Blood and Black Keys trailing them, NME phoned frontman Johnny Stevens to find out who the hell they are.
Do you feel like the surprise nomination?
“It’s a Cinderella story. Everything is voted on by industry professionals, so it’s not unusual for the Grammys to stumble upon something before the rest of the world. It feels fucking cool being the underdog – to be in the band nobody’s ever heard of because come February 15 [the day of the Grammy ceremony], they’re going to know exactly who we are.”
How did you all originally meet?
“We’ve know each other 11 years. Rich and Ryan [Meyer], who are the bassist and drummer respectively, are twins. After high school, we met at a party because Rich and I were both on motorcycles and had our guitars and I was like, ‘Who’s this guy trying to rip off my style?’ A month later, we got a house and started jamming, playing covers sets in our basement for Russian and Ukrainian students passing through for the summer, before moving to New York. When you grow up in Cape Cod, you’re living on the beach, playing reggae and smoking a ton of weed – but a metropolis gives you an edge. You can hear the original blues and reggae influence on our music but mixed with a modern urban thing. Even though I had a wild upbringing, the city humbles you.”
“My mother disappeared when I was aged one, so I was raised by my father – an alternative dude with hair down to his ass and multiple tattoos – around motorcycles and music in a different way. It was tough for a lot of years, surrounded by kids who had moms and dads and peanut butter sandwiches – and I’ve got a wrench in my hand.”
What bands and influences were you bonding over?
“It’s wild because we’re up against Muse for a Grammy right now and they were one of the only modern bands that inspired us. They’re a three-piece, they have stuff to say in their lyrics. Queens Of The Stone Age, My Morning Jacket – bands that had a concept. We’re not into knuckle-dragging butt rock.”
How would you describe the album ‘Mister Asylum’?
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“It’s like a recap of the past six years of my life, lyrically. I can’t write corny stories like ‘this girl looked at me and I loved her smile’. I write about actual love loss, broken situations and drug use – I had a period of my life when that was a big thing for me. The title track is about struggling with anxiety and crippling panic attacks. It was therapeutic. I don’t believe in taking medicine for anxiety. Though I have a prescription, I don’t want to be a robot. When I think about the lyrics to that song, it clicks in my head – I’ve been through before and will get through again.”
What was the inspiration for ‘Lydia’?
“She’s my ex-girlfriend and was one of the first people I met when I moved to Brooklyn. We became domesticated and eventually realised we weren’t pursuing our own goals; we were just watching Netflix, getting high and eating chicken pot pies. It’s about the two of us walking away so we could become the people we were meant to be. I played it to her before we released it – she liked the song.”
Are you looking forward to touring the UK for the first time?
“I’ve never been out of this country. I’m so fucking excited. The whole goal for us was to travel. We played the US with Catfish And The Bottlemen – they’re really good dudes. That tour was the complete opposite of supporting Scott Weilland; all these 17 year old girls hollering at them compared to 55-year-old men.”