INTERVIEW: TALKING OCCONEECHEE HAUNTS + STTW WITH SMLH

On November 30, 2015, we'll be releasing a double album from North Carolina wunderkind SMLH, AKA Samuel McFall Leidig Higgins. The exclusive tape and digital release - titled Occoneechee Haunts and Staring Thru The Wall - is an assured step from this new artist, synthesizing memories, mystery and growth into pop hooks and dark drones. We talked with Samuel for a bit in advance, and dude is so well spoken, we figured you should just read his words. Learn more about the SMLH project and inspiration ahead of next week's release.

SMLH by MICAH E. WOOD

SMLH by MICAH E. WOOD

What/where is Occoneechee? How/why is that significant to you?

The town that I grew up in, Hillsborough, NC, was originally an Occoneechee settlement. Although most Occoneechee fled to Virginia and South Carolina after the British colonized the Piedmont, a small population of the Occoneechee continue to live in and around Hillsborough. The title "Occoneechee Haunts" refers to the many landmarks in Hillsborough that refer to the legacy of the Occoneechee; for instance, there is a glorified hill just south of downtown called Occoneechee Mountain and a defunct NASCAR track near my mom's house called Occoneechee Speedway. The title is significant to me because these places—despite being culturally appropriative with regards to their name—were very impactful throughout my childhood, and I wrote all of these songs when I was 17 and started to realize that I'm not really a "kid" anymore. 

You used a Tascam 388 to record, yeah? Why use that recording console? How did you get it? What about tape do you like? You know we use the same one? The Witch Coast album was done on it.

When I first started recording stuff in middle school up until when I was 16, all I had to record with was a dinged up four track cassette recorder that I bought used at a local guitar shop. I never bothered with making these recordings sound very good and I enjoy creatively challenging myself by using shitty equipment. When I was 17, my parents gave me a Tascam 388 for my birthday. It is a good machine and it allows me to make higher fidelity recordings, but it is still a temperamental and obsolete nonetheless, so I still find myself facing the same creative constraints I've always faced in spite of access to nicer equipment. I don't really tout myself as a "gear head"—I see my interest in equipment as being more of a fascination with how exploiting the nuances of different pieces of equipment can produce unique sounds, it's more about equipment being a function of expression as opposed to consumerism. I think that caring about your equipment is important and that artists should make a conscious effort to make "good" sounds (usually via using "good" equipment) what kind of equipment people use to make their music is irrelevant and that we should pay attention to the tunes themselves. That being said, the Tascam 388's cult following kinda weirds me out, but it is a nice object and so many great records have been made with them; all of the White Fence and Sic Alps records, everything John Dwyer touches, lots of noise bands from Canada use them, Witch Coast, etc.

Can you give me an idea of the instrumentation? And you played it all? What's the live performance like? Are you planning on playing shows around the release?

I play all of the instruments on the recordings. Sometimes I perform the songs alone, and sometimes I perform them with a 5 piece band that consists of three of my friends who play in a Raleigh band called Less Western and my friend Stacy on drums. The former involves controlling a drum machine I bought at goodwill and features lots of improvised drones and noisy bits that are interspersed with pop songs, and the latter more closely mirrors the recordings. As for upcoming shows, we have a one-off show with Swings in Raleigh on 11/29 as SMLH Band.

What is the ideal setting for someone listening to the albums?

This is a hard one. I think that a park bench would be pleasant. It's a matter of personal preference really.

How does Occoneeche Haunts and Staring Thru The Wall differ? How are they related? How do they differ from your previous releases? Do you have any new recordings coming up?

Occoneechee Haunts is a pop music album. The songs on that album are pop songs. Staring Thru The Wall is a lot darker, more angular, and more in-line with the material that I am currently working on. I hope to finish recording a full length over winter break.

What are some of your design inspirations for the cassette artwork?

The cover photo was taken by my friend Walt. The backdrop is an antique store in this Hillsborough shopping complex called Daniel Boone Village. Daniel Boone was built in the 70s and was meant to revitalize the town after the textile mill shut down. The shopping center—which at one point had a theme park, an ice rink, and an amphitheater connected to it—ultimately failed and is now this bizarre semi-abandoned expanse of tacky faux-southern crap that I've grown up with. I think it's beautiful nonetheless.

Any thoughts on joining Babe City Records?

There are a lot of good bands in DC right now. It is exciting. I am excited.