New heights

Acoustic duo Tall Heights explores electro terrain on new EP

Tall Heights: (from left) Tim Harrington and Paul Wright.

Tall Heights: (from left) Tim Harrington and Paul Wright.

Photo by Shervin Lainez

Tall Heights open for the Shook Twins Sunday, Nov. 15,
7:30 p.m., at The Rendezvous. Tickets: $18/advance; $22/door,
The Rendezvous
3269 Esplanade

“We wanted to hold ourselves to the same standard of ‘good’ as we hold anybody’s music,” said Tim Harrington, guitarist and vocalist for folk duo Tall Heights. Harrington and cellist/vocalist Paul Wright recently dropped their third release, Holding On, Holding Out, a six-song EP with a decidedly more expansive sonic imprint than their previous two albums.

“We were chasing the stuff that felt right for these songs,” Harrington said during a recent telephone interview.

The Tall Heights narrative is anchored in their early days, when they busked for 100 days in Boston’s Faneuil Hall to raise money for their first recording and in the process fine-tuned the nuances of their sparse instrumentation, finding their voices literally and figuratively. Their sound owed a debt to the harmonic interplay of legends like Simon and Garfunkel and the crisp, epic arena-folk of bands like Mumford and Sons.

For Holding On, Holding Out, Harrington and Wright wanted to buck the trends of their formative years.

“What we wanted to do wasn’t a razor-specific focus like it had been in the past,” Harrington explained. “In the past, we knew the kind of music we were trying to make and how important the instrumentation was. We were trying to keep it very organic and homemade and orchestral, arrangement-wise. Sonically, we had specific things we were aiming for, and in each case I think we did a pretty good job of making that happen. For this one, I think there was just this mutual excitement of not doing that.”

The duo decided to work with producers Oliver Hill and Ethan West, who encouraged an openness in experimenting with new sounds to fill the sonic chasms hiding within their songs. That experimentation manifested itself by way of electronic textures—Casio keyboards, synths, drum loops and drum machines—bringing a wash of swirling ambient sound to Tall Heights’ focused arrangements.

The process happened somewhat naturally, with both Harrington and Wright foregoing any deliberate direction and instead pushing on with whatever was working at the time. Eventually, a pattern emerged.

“In the studio it was just the two of us trying to augment the songs with anything and everything we wanted to,” said Harrington. “The challenge wasn’t so much trying to make something fit; the challenge was finding the thing that fit, which sometimes took one or two or three attempts.”

The EP’s first single, “Spirit Cold,” showcases the new approach, melding a driving electronically treated percussion that takes the stress away from the cello-guitar rhythmic interplay in the song and refocuses it on the vibe each moving part creates. Vocally, Harrington and Wright soar, plaiting harmonies—and sometimes just doubling notes—that complement their folky tendencies. “Spirit Cold” has been incorporated into a slew of Spotify-curated playlists, and likely will be a heavily requested tune throughout the life of the band.

Other songs, like “Two Blue Eyes,” more blatantly feature the electronic element of the band’s new sound. The melodic power of the song heightened in a kind of glitch-folk hybrid, featuring heavy-lidded, dreamy orchestration creeping in the background and illuminating what might ordinarily have been just another folk tune.

Though the sound is new, approaching the work with such careful consideration is in line with the duo’s modus operandi. Harrington and Wright have both spoken in depth about the importance of intention in their work.

“It does come down to having intent with your every fiber,” Harrington said. “What are you trying to make somebody feel?

“Every time I get onstage I try to remember that a flubbed guitar chord or a missed vocal note matters zero compared to the value and strength of your intention.”