This latest interview with songwriter, singer and guitarist Nick Leet of the Minneapolis band High on Stress is the fourth installment in our 11 questions column. High on Stress have recently released their incredible record ‘Hold Me In.’ As frequent readers of this ‘blog on our radio show know well, this record is a highlight of musicianship and uncompromising lyrical word play that draws accurate picture of real life.
Taking time to reflect on the creation of art and music is critically important in these challenging times.
As always we wish to thank the busy musicians and artists for taking the time to answer these questions for our readers/listeners on YTAA! We greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn about the process of creating music from those involved in songcraft.
Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started recording your latest record, “Hold Me In”?
Nick Leet (NL): High on Stress started in 2003 and ended in 2014. We released our final album (at the time), “Leaving MPLS” the same night as our final show at the Parkway Theatre in MPLS which happened to an unbelievably memorable show. I hold that one close to me. I drove home that night exhausted and proud but also excited to do something else. I played in a couple of bands for 4 years (Pasadena ’68 & Dakota Shakedown) but somehow we were lead back to High on Stress in 2018.
We re-released our debut album “Moonlight Girls” on vinyl and started to write and record the new record. I could feel there was something special happening with these songs. The band needed a break when we called it a day but we came back stronger and better than ever with this album. Super proud of it.
Dr. J: The band has evolved over the years. How has the changes in the relationships between the band members affected the music? How have those relationships shaped your music?
NL: “Moonlight Girls” (2005) was recorded with a different line-up. Ben “Country” Baker was on guitar and Jon Tranberry was on bass. Jon left the band the year after it’s release and Ben Baker moved to China during the making of “Cop Light Parade”. Jim Soule joined on bass and brought some high powered backing vocals. Chad Wheeling joined the band and brought his rock guitar background with him. Ben’s style was very country based where Chad is allergic to acoustic guitars. The style has evolved to more of a power pop rock n’ roll band but we’ve never lost the Americana side of it. Mark Devaraj has always been trusty behind the drum kit. He also specializes in great ideas and suggestions.
Dr. J: “Hold Me In” is a very different record than “Leaving MPLS”, how do these records compare? What influenced your work on each of them? I’m glad you noticed that.
NL: I’m a big fan of “Leaving MPLS” but it really is the sound of a band facing it’s ending. It was a difficult and stressful record to make. I think the difference really is found in the years between. We all went off to play with some different people. When we got back together it was fresh and exciting and we all had new perspectives. I truly felt like “Hold Me In” was going to be our best record from the moment we started. You could feel that positive energy throughout the process.
Dr. J: ‘Wish This Moment Gone’ seems to address loss or concerns with loss – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address a sense of loss or did the song evolve in that direction over time?
NL: “Wish This Moment Gone” addresses my feelings on the current state of the country and humanity. We have eroded into deeper resentment, division and outward racism. It’s my hope for better things in November.
Dr. J: How did the song ‘Wish This Moment Gone’ come together musically for you? A friend commented that Trump was asking America to hold his beer. That comment inspired the song and it wrote itself very quickly. We were very fortunate to have our friend, Laurie Lindeen, from Zuzu’s Petals join us on backing vocals.
Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music? I’ve thought about this a bit over the years.
NL: Honestly it’s not something you plan. It’s something that keeps me grounded and helps rid myself of negative energy. It’s not a hobby and never will be. I don’t feel whole if I stay away from it for too long. I’m very thankful that I have it.
Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from
“Cop Light Parade” to “Leaving MPLS” to “Hold Me In”)?
NL: Power Pop Americana Rock n’ Roll. I’ve always kept one foot in the Replacements and Big Star and one foot in Wilco.
I love music. Whether it’s Babes in Toyland, Nirvana and Archers of Loaf or something like Son Volt or Billy Pilgrim. There is beauty in all kinds of music as long as it’s honest. It HAS to be honest.
Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Hold Me In?
NL: Oh man. It’s tough to think about. I love “Hold Me In” so much that I just want to hang with it for as long as possible. I truly feel like it’s the record I’ve wanted to make since I picked up a guitar. There will be more High on Stress music in the future. We’ve been writing and recording a few things with Andrew Hyra. There could possibly be an EP or full length collaboration record with him down the line. Who knows, only the time machine will tell.
Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances? Do you enjoy Live Streaming?
NL: Favorite song to perform…hmmm. I think that’s a two part answer. “Gold Star” and “Eyeliner Blues” from “Moonlight Girls” are up there. I think right now it would probably be “Relax” from “Hold Me In”. I like the instant communication of live streaming. It doesn’t replace being in a sweaty room with drums behind you but it serves a purpose and really allows for more direct communication.
Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?
NL: I hope they connect with it. I’m a lyric guy. The music I love the most sticks with me and I find new meaning to the lyrics all the time. That is always my hope. I want to do the same for other people. I also hope it inspires them to rise up and think about others.
Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?
NL: It’s tough. There’s nothing I want more than to get in a loud room with the guys. I don’t think I’m adapting. I think I’m managing but it isn’t easy. I miss it.
Thanks again to Nick for answering these questions! If you would like to participate in a future ’11 Questions with…’ column, please feel free to email us at email@example.com. All pictures and images of High on Stress courtesy of the band and photographer Paul Lundgren and Steven Cohen.