Ready, steady. Pop.
High Strung have paid their dues in full-and it's payoff time!
Published: May 9, 2012
Malerman and Berk were 27, Stocker 25 when they started, not exactly young compared to most rock 'n' roll band's timelines. "We're older, but we were never young. Most bands who start at 21, they're done by 27," Malerman says. "Starting older helped so much. This way there was never a sense of, 'Oh, we're too old for this now.'"
"But now I'm older and not such a nervous wreck," Malerman adds with a scoff disguised as a sigh. Perhaps a song in the band's catalog, "Rimbaud/Rambo" — a funny little juxtaposition of the high-strung drunken poet who quit at 19, and the fictional but unruffled ass-kicker — explains a lot.
Malerman shakes his head, irked. "The High Strung, I hate that name now, I do. So does Derek. I feel like we thought it was funny to be nervous wrecks when we were younger."
It's hard to tell if Malerman's nervous at all these days. This is the songwriter, who, after all, sees most Strung albums as musical novels and wrote the outline for '06's Moxie Bravo on the walls, ceiling and roof of the band's tour van, while in motion. They really only spent time "back home" in 2010 after adding Palmer, catching up with themselves, and beginning to build toward what became o' Imposible.
Josh Malerman has incredible energy — matched only by his speedy wit — as if something's coming straight at him. It's energy for living and creating that could very well stem from the day he was born.
The story goes that Mom was in labor, disoriented, thinking she'd plopped down in the washroom. But she was in an elevator. Dad, having just pressed "lobby," stopped the ride because of her screams. Dad helped deliver Josh.
Malerman's mom was an artist. She painted in the family basement, portraits of skinless men, while Dad ("a little like Larry David") was an accountant ("how unpoetic is that?") though he was also a Nazi hunter and has the trophies to prove it. His parents and two brothers, who Malerman describes as "saintly," fostered the boy's literary gifts; he'd write his first book at 6 — something about a dog being sent via spaceship as an Earth diplomat on a mission to Mars.
Malerman wanted into life. And whatever Malerman has now he earned; this isn't about any "luck you got." He just signed on with a literary agent and he has just wrapped a collection of suspense-macabre stories while still waiting for word from publishing companies on his post-apocalyptic horror character-study BirdBox. It takes years and years to perfect your craft to be a novelist, just as it does to be a great songwriter. But to do both? Is Malerman burning out?
"That moment of feeling burned out hasn't even come yet. So, let's say I'm an author. OK. And, I get a book deal at 36; that's young. Still. This is the beginning of a career, right? You've been doing it for 12 years, are you burnt out? No!"
The Shameless TV series certainly brought a financial boost, and real attention to the band, two big reasons to stay in the game, at the very least. Malerman says they were "incredibly broke" before their theme song slot and that "it'd be dishonest not to say it's changed our lives. Still, finding a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk would also have changed our lives." Though Malerman is the songwriter, the publishing money has been split evenly between the original three bros. "How in hell's heaven, after living on the road for seven years and looking the cavity of creation in the face together, could one possibly deserve more money than the others? I say that's grounds for kidnapping."
(The band had struck a lesser pot of song-placement gold once before when "Standing at the Door of Self Discovery" — from their 2009 album Ode to the Inverse of the Dude — sound-tracked the trailer for Will Ferrell's Everything Must Go.)
The Internet has instilled a capricious form of attention-deficit disorder into the hipster class of music listener; blog buzz doesn't last. MP3-bolstered blurbs sway you into liking some brand-new band of 22-year-olds from Portland because they sound like some other sanctified indie-rock icon. But the High Strung guys have such a rich story, with miles of rambunctious rock shows behind them that Shameless fans must feel (if they're digging back) like they've stumbled upon a trove of lost novels. A band that isn't shouting, "Hey, look at us!" but more nodding, like, "Well, yeah, we've been here. Where've you been?"
The thing about Malerman and company now is that they're able to see themselves, not in terms of early wrinkles and baggy eyes from sleepless tours or those fourth shots of whiskey. The characters, and their voices, are now well-established. That's what being in a band for a long time means, something a hastily pieced together "project," whose members are all in lots of other shared bands, will never have. You can't fake camaraderie, you can't fake the personal and musical cues, and you can't fake playing off each other. It's often that intangible difference between "merely good" and "fucking great."
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