The High Strung may trip your hipster alarm, but don’t be too quick with the backlash. ”Being cool,” singer Mark Owen assures us, ”is the least of our concerns.”
So disregard the fact that garage-rock luminary Jim Diamond, who recorded the White Stripes’ first album and the Mooney Suzuki’s ”Electric Sweat,” produced the band’s debut CD, ”These Are Good Times.” The disc just happens to be cool — a lo-fi rave-up composed of hard pop, psychedelic punk, and two-minute flints of rock that recall the Who, the Kinks, and many other tuneful groups of agitated misfits. And forgive the bandmates for having been bred in Detroit (land of indie cred) and having written their record in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (home of the fashion victim). Okay, fine, they are sort of hip. What of it?
These days, the High Strung — cofrontmen Owen and Josh Malerman, 26; drummer Derek Berk, 26; and bassist Chad Stocker, 24 — reside in their tour van, a graffiti-strewn bus. ”We’ve been on the road for 16 months straight,” says Malerman. ”Now we live absolutely nowhere.” Last night’s gig was in Chicago, and they crashed at a friend’s place. ”Usually,” Owen says, ”we’ll pull up into a parking lot of, like, the Holiday Inn and sleep in the bus there, then we’ll have a continental breakfast and steal their USA Today and maybe jump in their pool.”
Malerman and Owen trade vocal duties and share everything else. ”We knew each other in high school, but we became friends in college [at Michigan State],” Owen says. ”We started writing together before we even really knew what we were doing at all.” As Malerman has it, ”We always, always are each other’s editor, like, ‘What about this word here?’ or ‘You’re being lazy on this change here,’ or ‘You can trim the fat here.’ I think it’s a little bit better than being your own worst critic, to have your best friend be your worst critic.”
Though the catchy songs are group efforts, the catchy name is Malerman-derived. ”I think that’s named after me,” he says. ”I’m a pretty tightly wound guy, but I like [the name] because we sing real high, we wear our guitars real high, our guitars are kinda high-end…. So it all works for me.” Cool.