“I don’t know if this happens to you, but I hear melodies in my dreams,” says Oli Chang with a certain seriousness. It seems fitting that this is the case. As one half of Sydney-bred, Brooklyn-based outfit High Highs, Chang has been in dogged pursuit of the purest aural mosaics for as long as he can remember. They come to him in a myriad of ways – sometimes as gently as a whisper. Finally, after several years spent recording, his and band-mate Jack Milas’s debut album is out of their hands, ready to be picked, pulled apart and played on repeat.
Chang describes Open Season as “a wall of sound” – an oceanic abundance of synths and guitars. It brims with swelling, nuanced dreamscapes – tender, deceivingly simple songs tingling with the brightness of youth. “Making this record has been a huge emotional journey,” offers Milas. “There were some dark times and great times.”
Chang agrees: “It’s been such a long process that seeing it finished hasn’t been an epiphany or anything. This isn’t a eureka moment – but it does feel really good.”
High Highs are earnest and amicable when we chat, dissecting the ideal setting to encounter the ambience of Open Season. “It’s a good record if you’re travelling,” says Milas. “Either on a train or flying above the clouds.” For Chang, the location involves wine, somewhere outdoors and an impeccable sound system.
While rigid tour schedules have made it difficult to get to know new cities, Brooklyn is gradually revealing its secrets to the young expatriates. Their migration – though only temporary – has no fixed end date. As Milas confides, “It’s our home, for now.”
The two live in separate share houses but spend much of their time in the same circles. Spare moments are spent thumbing through second-hand record crates and scouring specialist bars for their joint obsession – the perfect cocktail. Hotel Delmano, a speakeasy-style bar in Williamsburg, is a regular haunt – close enough to Chang’s place to make it a default destination. “It’s the best in summer, at about 3pm, when the seats spill out onto the street and all the windows are open,” Chang tells. “There’s usually some kind of jazz on the record player. It’s just a lovely place to hang for hours with friends.”
As with the masses of hopefuls who depart Australia with their sights resolutely set on the Big Apple, Chang and Milas’s relocation to the US has oscillated between overwhelming and exhilarating. The sheer level of competing ambition in the States can be disheartening and the temptation to assimilate with the trend-of-the-moment can prove strong. It takes maturity to make it, along with a decent dose of self-assurance and at least a little luck. That combination has seen High Highs sign with Elton John’s management company and land an enviable spot on the line-up at legendary Texas music conference and festival South by Southwest. “New York forces [us] to recoil into ourselves, to work out what is most important to express musically,” says Chang. “We have to find what is special to us.”
Financial preparedness has also played a role, ensuring the band weren’t desperate to accept any offer of steady cash flow. “We consider ourselves really lucky to live over there,” admits Milas. “It can be so hard for a lot of Australian bands.”
Chang nods and continues: “There is so much creative output in New York; it’s so saturated… When we moved over, we made sure we were in a position where we didn’t have to jump and take the first opportunity that came along. We were quite careful and considered about the partnerships we built.”