“We don’t come from any musical background. We’re in hardcore.”
Graham Sayle’s humility and sense of humor are endearingly disarming, if a bit misleading. He’s not wrong, exactly; every member of his band, High Vis, got their start in hardcore and punched their share of hours on the clock in punk bands before embracing melody, psychedelia and a little bit of baggy Madchester groove in their current band. But hardcore rarely felt so bright and shimmering as the group’s recent single “Fever Dream,” or as exposed and vulnerable as their latest, “Trauma Bonds.” There’s muscle and sweat in the music they play, but High Vis transcend the circle pit.
Yet when the London group released their debut album No Sense No Feeling, which hit shelves just a couple months before the first Covid lockdown, High Vis didn’t get a chance to enjoy much fanfare, cutting short their rise seemingly even before they ever got off the ground.
“We were just like, that’s our album and this happened,” says Sayle from his home, taking a break from a shift mixing concrete. “Now what?”
High Vis emerged on the other side of that a different band, both in musical direction and emotional outlook. On their upcoming album Blending (due September 30 via Dais), whose title is also a Liverpool slang term for looking good (“Like ah, lad, you’re blending,” Sayle demonstrates), the band make a cooperative effort in stepping out of the gothic gloom of their debut and embrace the light. The raucous urgency of hardcore remains, particularly in Edward “Ski” Harper’s punchy drums, but everything’s brighter and more hopeful, channeling bands like The Stone Roses and “Manchesterish” jangle, as Sayle describes it, in their hazy anthems to mutual understanding, determination and self-improvement.
The album also features guest appearances from some proper punk bruisers, with members of Fucked Up and Chubby and the Gang lending their vocals to the mix, but there’s something at once dense and weightless to the group, the product of Sayle, Macnamara, Harper, guitarist Rob Hammeren and bassist Rob Moss seizing an anything-goes moment in inspiration.
“We had an open door policy. It’s not like ‘This is our band and this is what we sound like’ It was just more whatever, let’s try it,” Sayle says. “We’re not trying to pigeonhole ourselves like ‘we’re a post-punk band’ or whatever. There were no preconceived notions of genre. We just let it all happen naturally.
“It was so much fun to do this stuff, it was so freeing,” he continues. “Everything before was so angry. The first record’s just the most hopeless, angry sort of thing, because that’s how we were all feeling at the time. And I think we just got a little bit more free with music and ourselves. It just made everything a little bit nicer.”
That openness with which High Vis approached the sessions extended to Sayle’s own exploration of more personal and complex topics this time around, whether opening up about shared grief on “Trauma Bonds,” which was written in response to a friend’s death by suicide, or in the title track, pushing back on the idea that we’re not predestined to be anything other than what we choose. Yet solidarity lies at the heart of the record as well, particularly in “0151,” which calls out the longstanding subjugation of England’s working class: “Our suffering sold as pride.”
A major catalyst in pushing Sayle to dig deeper and channel genuine feelings of loss, frustration and joy alike was Harper, who outside of his role as High Vis drummer is working at becoming a counselor. He suggested Sayle to start getting regular therapy, which in part helped him realize some important things about his life and how he processes certain feelings, that his grief is valid and that “fuck it, that’s life, innit” (his phrasing) isn’t a particularly healthy attitude. By extension, that funneled into the songs, themselves, which became a more honest reflection of where he is now.
“Our drummer, who’s training as a counselor, was pushing me to go to therapy and just talk about stuff. Because it’s so easy to be angry,” he says. “So it was kind of productive, because you can go to a show and be pissed off and the people feed off that, and you’re like ‘oh, cool, I’m doing something.’ But you’re never really getting out of that shitty position of feeling pretty low about everything. So that pushed me to be more open and vulnerable. You can mask how you feel in music, but your anger comes from somewhere, like fear or something that happens to you in your life, so exploring that just helped open things up.
“I’m trying to figure out how to be my authentic self,” he continues, adding that the band’s music is, in a sense, an extension of that therapy. “It’s a pretty hard thing to do, but it does feel pretty good when you are opening yourself up. When I was recording the album, I was suffering but also feeling a massive release. Like a song like ‘Trauma Bonds,’ even when we play it I get massively emotional.”
For how far High Vis have come—how much they’ve grown as a band and as people putting in the labor of self-improvement—hardcore remains a central part of who they are, if not necessarily the driving force. Just watch any of their live sets on YouTube and the energy and intensity is still there, as are the liberty spiked craniums in the crowd. That their appeal has extended beyond the familiar domain of circle pits and crowdkilling is something that the band is still getting used to.
High Vis were raised on hardcore—they’re the band they are now in large part because of the community they came up in, and the lessons learned from the underground. But as far as this journey has taken them, they’ve still got a lot of exploring ahead of them, and a lot more lines—of genre, community and creative possibilities—to continue to blend.
“Hardcore punk shaped me,” Sayle says. “It showed me how I’m in control of stuff, and the whole DIY ethos, and how it’s our thing and we can do it. I had no aspirations to ever get out of that, but it’s weird and amazing that we essentially play to civilians, which is cool as fuck. I don’t want to separate myself and say like ‘well this is me over here,’ because you have so many subsections of your life, like these are my friends who I go raving with and here are my friends who are into punk. Whatever it is, I think the whole idea, in my own head, is just to merge everything into one thing. Hopefully not like the death of culture or something, but stop segregating things. I don’t go to work and say ‘oh, I play in a band, you know.’ It’s just something that I have to do.”
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