Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for youth and music – put them together, and you have my attention! Thank you to Alex Steininger of In Music We Trust PR for bringing Size 85 High Tops to my attention! This youth-inspired and co-fronted band blew me away with the perfectly timed and blended vocals, original lyrics, variety, and precision production! Because their next show is an album release, Portland Notes wanted to just get the word out – Size 85 High Tops ROCK and will release their album Get Loose at a concert at McMenamins White Eagle Friday 2/26. I cannot wait to get them in for an interview, but until then I’d like to share a bit about them from their biography and album release notes. This father/daughter-led band is an inspiration to me, as it shows a multi-generational investment in the creative process.
The following bio segments are taken verbatim from the band’s Facebook and record release press kit: music is available on Bandcamp.
Size 85 High Tops are an art-rock band from Portland, OR led by daughter-father duo Myra and Jesse Keyes; together with multi-instrumentalist Scott Van Schoick, the High Tops play and record in various combinations with contributions from Joel Bocek (Bubble Cats), Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine), Kyleen King (Heartless Bastards), David Gerow (Sneakin’ Out), Victor Nash (Point Juncture, WA), and Jenny Conlee (the Decemberists), among many others. Their music is a fusion of forms: classic rock, power pop, folk, jazz, prog, and country merge with grunge, neo-psychedelia, and an imaginative style of songwriting to yield a vibrant modern Northwest sound.
“I write a lot of the time with her in mind. She gives me unlimited options and I’ll use her to sing a line I might initially hear played on guitar, horn, strings, whatever,” says Jesse Keyes about his ten year old daughter, Myra Keyes. “And she loves being in the band, frankly. We wouldn’t include her if she wasn’t having a ball. She named us, it’s her band, and she’s the muse.”
Jesse Keyes is the songwriter for Portland, Oregon-based Size 85 High Tops, which he fronts with his daughter.
“She’s such a big part of the whole thing organically that it was a no-brainer,” he says of adding Myra to the band. “She’s the reason I’m even back in music again at all. I was more or less content to work my job and hammer away at unpublished novels all those years until she came along and started singing like that.”
The result is Size 85 High Tops’ second album, Get Lose, a fourteen track collection of songs that span the gamut and vibrantly meld classic rock, power-pop, psych-folk, prog, and country into a sound the band has dubbed “Hightopsian.”
Keyes, who was born and bred in rural, small-town Wisconsin, moved to Portland with his prolific, yet short-lived obscure art-rock band Pan, which quickly dissolved. He then soon found himself married and returning to college to focus on his technical writing, leaving music behind.
Soon thereafter he began digging ditches and decommissioning oil tanks to supplement the family income. Then, following a ten year hiatus from music, over a long run of hard labor, Keyes met artist and multi-instrumentalist Scott Van Schoick and the two become fast friends, sharing a love of music history and an affinity for their Midwestern heritage as well as for the possibilities of a new-old kind of music in the Northwest.
“So I started buying vinyl again and discovering, with Myra this time, a lot of music I had missed the first time around. We listened to a lot of Wings, Carpenters, Lovin’ Spoonful, Beach Boys, Beatles, Cat Stevens, Mamas and Papas, Donovan – stuff that kids naturally gravitate toward because it’s playful and innocent and melodic and creative and colorful and often very sophisticated,” Keyes says of his return to music. “One thing led to another and pretty soon I was buying a cheap guitar again and starting over. Because she was so much fun to sing with. She had a knack and a love for music and she was just so inspiring.”
Size 85 High Tops released their debut, a self-titled covers album in 2012 for family and friends. But, before that project was even wrapped up, Keyes was well into writing songs for what would become Get Loose.
“The old songwriting bug had been zapped alive again,” he laughs. The result was Keyes had written two double albums and had music for two more albums as well.
With Van Schoick’s knack for arrangement and production, along with his skills on the drums, piano, and trombone, Keyes, Myra, and Van Schoick entered Victor Nash’s studio in early 2014 to begin recording Get Loose, enlisting the help of local musical heavyweights such as Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine), Kyleen King (Swansea, My Morning Jacket, Heartless Bastards), Joel Bocek (Bubble Cats), Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists), and David Gerow (Sneakin’ Out), among many others, to flesh out Keyes’ songs.
Of the studio experience, Keyes says that the record came out exactly how he heard it in his head. The highlights for him, without hesitation, is every song.
“Every song seems to have its own little transcendent moment – some are a bit more dramatic and others are subtle, but I guess those for me are highlights. There are also very clever piano phrasings – often just two or three notes, but they’re the right notes – all over the album. Little instants that make me remember all the work that went into certain transitions and sections that were tricky to develop. I like what we achieved vocally on ‘Hills.’ The macabre organ coming after the bridge on ‘Grackles.’ Very visual, evocative moments for me. Myra’s ‘alive’ vocal in ‘Laid.’ Kyleen’s incredible tone on ‘Madrona.’ Joel’s melancholic guitar on ‘Store.’ Other things that make me smile and remember laughing in the studio. Victor and Scotty and I shared a lot of laughs. God we laughed.”
Awestruck by all the players and their performances, Keyes says he’s very proud of Get Loose and happy the way everything turned out.
“It speaks to the players and to our engineer that they could read the material so well and bring the final realization so close to our vision. In some ways it shattered my expectations and in many ways it really did just nail it. I recorded a little demo on my eight-track with guitar and vocals that I gave to everyone before rehearsals, and listening back you can hear all the potentialities and ways for the songs to go – an infinite number of directions and possibilities, really. But I always feel like there’s one optimum way, and if you can find the trail and keep your balance, you only follow a song to its logical conclusion. That goes for both writing and recording. It’s very intuitive and you shouldn’t over-think it.”
He continues, “One of our mottos was ‘new songs, old sounds,’ so we used a lot of vintage amps and pedals and old phasers, lots of verb. ‘Space and grit’ was another one. I think it’s a good guitar album because of Joel’s playing and because of the variety of acoustic sounds we were able to dial up. You’d think I was playing a bunch of different high-end guitars but it’s just my cheap old Epiphone jumbo with strings that should’ve been changed years ago. People get so caught up on gear and sound that they lose sight of what matters: good songs and good playing.”
That is exactly what you’ll find on Get Loose, a tight collection of fourteen songs that vary in style and sound, all woven together with common patterns and textures.
“It’s an album born out of life, loss, land, work, and family. Mostly it’s a love letter to my girls,” admits Keyes. “It’s emotional and confessional and there was an explicit attempt to get the best artistically out of my own synesthesia – to build an album of songs in all twelve keys corresponding individually to colors, and then to manipulate that color wheel in a way that might produce a rich and satisfying listening experience: to essentially ‘paint’ an album.”