On an extremely rainy day in New York City, I found myself walking into a greasy hole-in-the-wall diner tucked away on the corner of Havemeyer and Broadway off the Marcy Ave subway stop in Williamsburg, called the Reben Luncheonette.
“It reminds me of that place we went to in Minneapolis,” Jess Louise Dye, front-woman of High Waisted, remembers as I sat with her and her band mates as they devoured golden-brown home fries, scrambled eggs and coffee steaming out of teal, ceramic mugs.
“This place is much cleaner!” Jono Bernstein, drummer of High Waisted, says with a laugh.
“What was that place called? The Weinery?” Jess asks her friends. “It’s like a really dive-y, greasy spoon, like this, but way skeezy. If you go to jail and you get out in the morning and you have your wristband they’ll give you a free breakfast. It’s that kind of place.”
Through all of the “happy chewing,” as Jess called it, I was able to chat with High Waisted about how they formed their band and about their debut album, On Ludlow – which comes out March 4.
The four surf rockers of High Waisted all met on the infamous Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side of NYC.
“Jeremy [Hansen], our bass player, used to run a B.Y.O.V., a bring your own vinyl night at Los Feliz, and I would go in and bring some records and we just bonded over music,” Jess explains. “He introduced me to Stephan [Nielsen, our guitarist] who, at the time, worked at Café Vita across the street, also on Ludlow.”
Jess now works at Pianos on Ludlow Street, the place where she met her drummer, Jono, while they were both dancing the night away.
“Everything was just born in a three-block radius from music and shared interests in surf rock, psych rock, country,” Jess says.
It was only fitting that they named their debut album On Ludlow.
“I think we were kidding around about the name at first and then we were like no really, this is stupid, why wouldn’t we use this?” Jono says.
“We’re often a little drunkipoo on Ludlow so being High Waisted on Ludlow makes sense,” Jess says along with many head nods from the rest of the band.
This band of friends took their antics up to the upper Hudson River Valley to Woodstock to record where some of the greatest have before them. Inside St. John’s Church, originally built in 1896, sits Dreamland Studios, the same studio that the B-52s recorded “Loveshack” in, and the studio where On Ludlow was born.
“It almost was a failure to launch though,” Jono says. “There was a blizzard on the night we got up there and we were supposed to start recording the next day and the plow truck flipped when it was coming up to [the studio]. We didn’t know that happened, and they told us and they were like, ‘yeah we’re digging you guys out!’ and they literally dug out the driveway of the church so we were able to get inside.”
The church is attached to an old house, where the band stayed for the duration of their recording process so they never had to leave the grounds.
“It was awesome that it snowed because then we couldn’t leave,” Jeremy remembers. “We were just completely snowed into this old church and working on music.”
They never left the mindset of recording for the entirety of the 5 days they where there.
“I’d usually wake up a few hours early and I would have coffee and watch some news and play bass and warm up my fingers,” Jeremy says.
Grammy award winning engineer and producer, Bryan Pugh would get there around noon and the band would spend a whole day tracking live together in one big room, a process that was essential in capturing the energy of each song.
“We’d get done around 10/11 at night, Bryan Pugh would leave and I would stay up in the studio because they had all this old equipment, all these old keyboards and Leslies and we would just play with stuff to find sounds for the next day’s session until like 2 in the morning,” Jeremy says.
The prolonged process of recording at a studio in New York City was something that the band tried before and it didn’t benefit them in the way that working at Dreamland Studios did this time around.
“If you were in New York, you would have to get on the train or get in a car, get to the studio; you’re going to probably have at least one guitar or something with you, everything else should be set up there depending on how your rental works, “ Jono explains. “For some bands, that also may mean, we record one track today and then nothing for a week and then two tracks next week and then nothing. We’ve tried all that, it’s not for us.”
Being able to fully isolate themselves in the recording process, the band was able to do things with this record that they may not have otherwise been able to do and they were able to record it on exactly how they wanted to.
“There was nothing standing in the way from doing anything and everything with Bryan and at Dreamland,” Jono says. “I feel like we were prepared not just musically but mentally and it was nice to have everything around us just work so well.”
As touring season approaches, the band has made plans to take the show on the road, starting with many performances at SXSW in March – including a DIY party they’re working on with Dojozine – and an eventual spring/summer tour to support their new album.
As the rain let up, it was time for the band to start their day and practice for their record release show at Mercury Lounge March 3
“How was breakfast everybody?” Jess asks the guys as we say goodbye and they throw up their hoods and huddle under Jess’s umbrella.
I didn’t even eat anything and that was probably one of the most fun breakfasts I’ve had.
Article: Merissa Blitz