Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Connecticut's own Gary Higgins: "Red Hash" and beyond

When Gary Higgins went in to record his debut album "Red Hash" back in 1972, circumstances were much different for the young folk singer. There was an impending jail sentence looming, so he went in and recorded and album of urgent songs, that would some 40 years later become heralded as the birth of psych-folk. Though, the album originally disappeared quickly on first release, its legend grew, garnering a bunch of fans such as Ethan Miller (Howlin Rain) and Ben Chasny (Six Organs Of Admittance), with original copies of the album going for very high prices on the collectors market. Drag City re-issued "Red Hash" back in 2005 to great acclaim. It even lead to a very well received new album from Higgins in 2009 called "Seconds", as well as a re-issue of some pre-"Red Hash" recordings in "A Dream A While Back" in 2011.

With an impending live date at The Flywheel in Easthampton on June 19 coming up, we sent Connecticut native Higgins some questions and here are his answers. If you haven't already checked him out, then you should, because he is definitely one of the most original musicians to emerge from Connecticut. Enjoy.

What were the circumstances surrounding the recording of "Red Hash" back in 1972? Do you think the circumstances contributed to the vibe of the record?

This was both a very bad time for me as legal issues with being busted for drugs loomed large, but also was quite an uplifting time because of the recording process and getting the "Red Hash" album out there. The legal issues and pending incarceration gave the recordings urgency but the urgent feelings surely helped in getting the material finalized. It would have been easy to procrastinate as I do a bit these days. The vibe of the record I think had more to do with the times in general as most of the music itself was written in the previous few years.

Are you surprised, albeit in a pleasant way, that "Red Hash" has survived the test of time and has been re-discovered by a whole new generation of music lovers? Or did you know going in that you had a timeless batch of songs?

I continue to be surprised by its longevity. The reissue cd (Drag City) still sells well and the original vinyl in mint condition (1973), sells for close to $400! The reissued vinyl has been sold out for a while and is now increasing in value. I am very pleased and grateful that a new generation of listeners has emerged. That whole scenario has allowed me to tour and play in new places for many new people. It has been just great!

What do you think is "Red Hash's" relevance, then and now?

Not so sure I know that..I guess, or I think it was a pretty honest effort to document where the times were for me way back in 72. I think people were open to different styles, to be different was sought after. At least there was an underground movement that thought so. These days lots more people are fed up with the mainstream as well, and since there are so many more music consumers period, being somewhat "different" has great strength with many faces and flavors. There are so many sub music types now I get dizzy. That this music stood the test of time pretty much says it all in terms of relevance. Being called the grandfather of psych folk makes me smile wide as there was just no such thing back in the day.

How are the "A Dream A While Back" songs different from the ones on "Red Hash"? What was it like recording at The Old Chestnut Inn in Kent, CT?

"A Dream A While Back" is a small collection of songs that were recorded prior to "Red Hash". They were recorded in Kent where I was living at the time. They were done as work tapes really, to be later developed. As it turns out, they never were developed more but did see the light of day nearly 40 years later. I lost them for many years and found the tapes while looking for the bonus tracks to be included on the "Red Hash" reissue. The Old Chestnut Inn was just a great spot, it was owned by the family of my girlfriend at the time. I lived there for a year or so and recall many great times, recording music there was a big one.

What made you decide to go back into the studio and cut your second record, "Seconds" in 2009? Did you feel the time was right? Is the new record a continuation of the older material?

I had always wanted to do a "new" album. I had plenty of material unpublished from previous years and several newly written songs since the "Red Hash" reissue. I wanted to get something current out there. Music that was about here and now for me. I wanted, and still want to keep this whole process of playing and recording alive. Yes, the time was right, maybe past right. The new record was not directly meant to be a continuation in style though some of the material was chosen because of that. I wanted it to be different actually and not compete with "Red Hash".

How do you think the times have changed since the original release of "Red Hash"? How do you think they've stayed the same?

Everything seems so different now. There was so much innocence and honesty then that seems mostly lost these days. Freshness is a hard thing to find. The recording process is way more accessible now. Just open your laptop and there you go. I think people are still looking for the same basic things though. How they go about that and the expectations of how quickly (yesterday) they achieve it, has.

What are your plans for the future? Is there going to be another record sometimes soon?

I just hope to stay healthy enough to continue playing and recording. I feel pretty lucky to be where I am. I am working on several music projects. The latest is a mostly live acoustic project using older analog tape decks and equipment. Finishing up a Random Concept CD with the original members. I have a small home studio where I am doing a few private projects. I also do live sound for a Connecticut club called Bridge Street Live in Collinsville when I am not playing out.

What, if any, influence does living in Connecticut have on your music? Specifically rural Connecticut.

I am blessed with living in Northwest Connecticut, very quiet and laid back. Living here most of my life surely made its mark on my music. The mellow approach an rural backdrop go hand in hand. Never have to go far here to find open spaces and total piece and quiet. It kind of starts there, matures there and ends there. Not so sure I could do otherwise really.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gary Higgins
Benjamin Miller
Man Forever

The Flywheel
43 Main Street
Easthampton, MA

8pm - $8

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