Happy mediums came up a lot during my conversation with Santa Fe act The High Vibes. A lifelong sourpuss myself, it's refreshing to speak with a band featuringmembers who are both young and optimistic, far from the traps of cynicism that can riddle the landscape of most working bands. The happy medium that seems to most capture The High Vibes' aesthetic lies between branching paths that musicians travel of being artists and being entertainers. But, as is often the case, that duality is an illusion, and the members of The High Vibes are perfectly comfortable making music that satisfies a creative itch while providing a good show for an audience.
"That's the fine line that a lot of people try to ride," singer Jake Reynolds tells SFR. "I think we all still feel extremely creatively fulfilled at the same time."
The band formed less than a year ago, and already has an EP under its belt with April's release of The Way It Is.There's also a healthy touring schedule in the pipeline, including stops in Colorado and Nevada. The music itself is
assuredly poppy, akin to Maroon 5's bouncing, sunny sound with the
occasional nod to Las Vegas alterna-pop act The Killers, unsurprisingly a favorite of Reynolds'.
But there is a distinct and more complex musicality than with the usual pop fare. Partly, this is due to drummer Marcus Newell, but the members all cite 17-year-old Justin Reynolds, Jake's cousin, whose keyboard work often unlocks songs with which the band might otherwise struggle during their collaborative writing sessions. He also has the most firm grasp on music theory, according to his bandmates.
Regardless, the band members are up front that their sights are set on radio play and big shows with big crowds—and they are not ashamed to say so. Transparent pop ambitions such as these are taboo in some circles, especially in the DIY, punk and metal scenes throughout New Mexico. But The High Vibes aren't concerned with laying these cards on the table, and that lack of concern has its own integrity.
"It's about what do we like, but also what will people like?" Jake queries, adding that they'll often play newer, in-progress songs at smaller venues to "beta test" them on audiences, like a stand-up comedian working on material ahead of a gig.
As for the material itself, the band is clearly not trying to bum anyone out. EP opener "Smile" acts as a sort of mission statement with danceable melodic hooks and the DNA of any good pop song. The feeling persists throughout the rest of the songs which also dip their toes into some groove-based funk, retro California reverb and other genres. The strongest points of the EP, however, lie in the straightforward pop bits, and some of the experimentation falls flat, such as in the unconvincing reggae-tinged track "The Way It Is."
But while it can be easy for artists to lean into doom and gloom in current times, the members of The High Vibes are adamant that the opposite is also necessary.
"Things are crappy wherever you go," says bassist Saunj (just Saunj; like Cher),
"but there's always going to be that light, and we want to show people that light and positivity."
Of course, it's easy to eschew mainstream appeal or naively denigrate pop music as some sort of ambiguous evil against … who-knows-what, but Jake Reynolds feels differently.
"It's fulfilling to create something like that, because then you're like, 'Oh, that's how [pop music] works,'" he says, reflecting an approach of songwriting that's as much about structure as it is about melody and lyrics.
Such savvy self-awareness feels unnaturally wise for a group with members so young, especially since The High Vibes' focus remains on putting out new music at a healthy clip—at least a new song a month, they say, often with accompanying videos on the group's website (thehighvibes.com). They record the tunes at home and embrace the idea of DIY, and it's already landed them high-profile gigs, such as the recent Oasis Festival in the Railyard as an opening slot for Los
Angeles indie-punk act Cherry Glazerr—yet another happy medium from which the group can continue to pump out blissful pop jams.
The High Vibes
8:30 pm Saturday June 1. Free.
319 S Guadalupe St.,