“I never go to the hospital, and this is one of those times where I’m like, I think I’m going to have to go to the hospital.” Jimmy Wizard, singer of the Leeds-based hardcore band Higher Power points to his knee and tells the story of just a few nights prior when he managed to dislocate it while stretching just moments before stepping onstage in Brooklyn, New York. The rest of the band was already onstage, tinkering with their instruments and readying themselves for their set, and Wizard was behind the curtain, wondering what the hell he was going to do. Ultimately, he went onstage anyway and blasted through their set in spite of the pain. Ironically enough, the knee — which harbors an old skateboarding injury from three years ago — was popped back into place the next night in Philadelphia when a kid from the audience jumped onto the stage and slammed into him.
“You can’t write it,” he says with a bewildered laugh.
In a nutshell, this seems fitting for Higher Power: Their latest album, 27 Miles Underwater, which came out just a few weeks ago on Roadrunner Records, covers a lot of themes about shedding skin, both literal and figurative, during the group’s rise in the hardcore world. The band has learned to roll with the punches of the professional punk-rock lifestyle, and tours get longer, home and normalcy seem further away, forcing them to reevaluate what — and who — is important to keep around.
While writing the single “Lost In Static,” Wizard recalls feeling like he was on a completely different planet than people he once spoke to every day who now seem to spew toxic and negative thoughts. “Watch our world disconnect, as you blast off in your spaceship,” he yells in the chorus.
“I just felt like, around that time, I was just disconnected from so many people because I was always away so much. You have friends, and you have people around, but they don’t always enhance your life. And once you’re away from those people, and you’re around people who are encouraging you and lifting you up, you’re like, ‘Wait, these people don’t do that.’ In the song it’s like, ‘Every time you come around there’s always blood in your mouth,’ and it’s meant to be a metaphor for how every conversation we have is toxic. It’s about nothing good, or nothing productive.”
When you’re on tour, do you have a ritual for keeping in contact with the people you want to hear from?
I have a WhatsApp group with two of my close friends from London who I’ve known since I was like 14. So we have a group chat. And I have friends I hang out with back home, only like two or three, and I’ll hit them up every now and double check. I try and make a conscious effort to talk to everyone I want to keep in contact with.
This lifestyle definitely weeds out the people you do want to invest your time in. It’s obviously hard. There was a four-month period where I didn’t see some of my best friends because we were away. It’s when you’re in the van and you’re like, “Oh I should text that person” it gives you another perspective. Like, wow I must really care about that person. You know what I mean? Like, not waiting for them to reply to a story on Instagram or something, but sending them a message. I’m definitely making more of an effort for the people I care about.
What can we all be doing to better connect with the people who make us feel good?
It’s super ironic, but I think not being on your phone as much. Obviously there’s times when there’s a lot of band stuff to sort out, and there’s times when I’ll be walking my dog and I can’t connect with him like a person, and I try to make the most of our time together because I can’t explain to him why I’m away. So I’ll be walking and I see Higher Power groups popping up because we have to sort something out, and he’s looking up at me like [what are you doing?].
I’m a big advocate of phones. They changed the whole world — in really good ways and really bad ways. But imagine if you didn’t have them and you just sat in a room with your friends and talked? I think that’s the one thing that’s connecting us to so much but disconnecting us from actual, human interaction a lot of the time. So it’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? I can message my friend from the other side of the world, but when I’m in the same room as him, we’re both always going to be on our phones. There’s times when you definitely notice it. Like, “Fuck, I’ve been on my phone for like 20 minutes!”
You get those screen reports at the end of each week and sometimes they’re just devastating.
Yeah. You just have to put the phone down and go out skateboarding with your friends. Go for a walk.
Do you feel like having a smart phone in your hand while on tour keeps you from connecting with people in the van as much as you would have if you toured 20 years ago?
Oh, for sure. When I first started touring, no one had phones. I’m not super old or anything, but at the time maybe like one or two people had a Blackberry. We would be so stupid in the van. The first half an hour in the van was like a wrestling match. Now we get in the van and everyone just sits with their headphones in. You can just listen to music and switch off. And it’s kind of sick at the same time. I can just put a podcast on after a show and actually relax. I don’t have to talk to someone. But it’s definitely different. We used to be little kids in the van together, wrestling and talking about sex, bullying each other. [laughs] We still do that, but it’s not as often. Not every day.
Sometimes on the night drive it gets deep. Ethan loves getting deep on the night drives – he loves it. We’ll be up all night and he’ll start talking about everything.
What types of things do you get deep about?
We often talk about how no one in Higher Power really had a dad as a role model growing up. Some of us talk to our dads a lot more now. But I think that’s one of the very first things we could all connect over. So we get really deep about family, and not having male role models growing up, how similar all our moms are, and what it let us get away with as kids. Stuff like that.
Do you feel like your upbringing lent itself to how creative you are now?
it’s weird. Growing up, I didn’t feel like I was a creative person at all. In school, I wasn’t allowed to do art – I got kicked out of art class and they just banned me. I wasn’t allowed to do a lot of lessons. It took me a long time to find my creativity. I only started drawing and painting and stuff when I was like 19. I didn’t grow up doing art — I grew up doing music, but I never really felt encouraged to, or that it was an option. I just always thought I was going to have to be a builder or something. Just get a really shit labor job.
Now, the older I get the more I feel like I’m really channeling that creative energy because I have the freedom to try anything I want. I feel like when you’re a kid and you’re in school, you’re kind of just molded. Like, “You can’t do art because it makes you too hyper-active.” Or, “You can’t do drama because it makes you too hyper-active.” “You need to do more maths because you’re not listening in maths class.” It wasn’t nurtured in my life – any sort of creativity. I’m 28 now, and I feel like my 20s has been the time when I’m like, “Maybe I am a creative person.”
It seems like the hyper-active kids should be doing those things in school instead of math.
I know. The school system is very backwards sometimes. I come from a small town, and stuff like that is really not nurtured. I didn’t know any artists growing up, or anyone’s parents who were artists. And my granddad was actually an insanely talented artists, but I didn’t even know that. He wouldn’t talk about it. He did these crazy, Picasso-style paintings – super detailed, but super folk-arty. He’s just a bloke – just an English guy – all I knew he did was drink beer and watch football. He’d never talk about his creativity. It’s only now that he’s shown me all of that, and I’m like, wow – there’s someone else in the family that does that. Where I’m from, that’s just not a lifestyle. I feel lucky. I feel like the internet played a big part in me discovering that I didn’t have to be like that. I could just Google “punk zine” and go into cities and see graffiti and realize, “This is what art is.” Art isn’t just what you do in school.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Growing up as a kid, I was definitely on a path to be – well, I could be in jail. Everything could be so different. Thank god for MySpace and discovering punk bands. And MSN – I could go to the punk show in London because I was only like an hour away. I could make friends and keep in contact with people.
It seems like that was the height of the internet, when it was still a useful tool, and it didn’t consume us quite yet.
Yeah, when we were just connecting with people. Where I grew up, I really didn’t have anyone. My brother plays in the band, but even me and him weren’t really on the same page about things until a lot later in life. I wanted him to skate with me, but he just wanted to play football, and had his football friends. They were a bit more – what I’d call “normal.” Me and him have always been friends and brothers, but we only really started having the same interests and circles in life until he was about 16 or 17 and got into hardcore.
I just feel lucky that I get the opportunities I do. It’s not like I came from the ghetto or anything – I’m not trying to act like that. It’s just coming from a small-minded place where art and creativity isn’t nurtured. I’m just glad I found it eventually.
Words by Cat Jones
Photo by Nat Wood
27 Miles Underwater is out now on Roadrunner Records.