Interview: Highly Suspect’s Johnny Stevens Lays it All Out

Highly Suspect - Promo

With the release of their first album, Mister Asylum, released in July, Brooklyn based band Highly Suspect has been blazing through the media and upheaving their fan base like wild fire. Their debut album placed number two on the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart.

Rolling Stone Magazine claimed them as the top “New Artist You Need to Know”, and they were recently selected as iTunes’ 2015 New Artist Spotlight. Nonetheless as they are currently touring all over North America, their social media platforms are continuously buzzing with fans complementing them on their performances and are begging them to play a show in their city.

Originally from Cape Cod, Highly Suspect started as a cover band in 2009 playing at bars all over their hometown, but they have been playing individually since they were little kids.

Twin brothers, Ryan and Rich Meyers, got together with their best friend, Johnny Stevens, and formed the trio rock band after high school. Ryan plays the drums and vocals; Rich plays the bass guitar and vocals; Johnny Stevens is the lead singer and guitarist.

“We played a lot of ska, covered a lot of Bob Marley, Sublime, we did other stuff too like Bob Seger and Michael Jackson,” said Johnny Stevens. “You know just like bar songs to pay the bills and get some free beer.”

What evoked his interest in such a wide range of music genres is when Stevens was 12, he came home from school one day and was trying to make fun of the Backstreet Boys and called them lame.

“My dad looked at me and he was like ‘What’s so funny about them? They’re out there doing it and what the hell are you doing?’, and I was like ‘Whoa.’’ said Stevens. “It all kind of just hit me. From that point forward I started to listen a little bit harder to every artist.

There is a huge a range there. Everyone from Santana to Madonna to Pink Floyd to Rage Against the Machine to Fiona Apple to Cake, No Doubt, Nirvana and hip-hop too. There is really no one genre really that I look up too. I really try to listen to everything and take what I can from it”

The sound of their music can really take one down memory lane; with multiple influences from blues, rock ’n roll, grunge, hip-hop and metal. Undoubtedly their fan base incorporates a huge range of diversity.

“It’s pretty crazy we’re getting a lot of crossover from different age groups, demographics, genders, religions, races and fans from different genres,” said Stevens. “I like to think that we are not any specific genre. I guess the blanket would be rock ’n roll, but there’s somethings of blues, little bit of metal shreds, classic rock, reggae, we hear hip-hop in some of the rhythms and articulations of the lyrics. There’s a little bit of everything in there.

I feel like people naturally just want to figure it out, they want to compare, they want to pin you down, but I mean I try to avoid being pinned down. If somebody feels good saying that we’re this side or the other, I don’t care. Whatever they think we are to them, then I guess that’s what we are.”

Stevens writes all the lyrics to their songs and Rich wrote some to the song “Lost”, but there is no “set formula” to how they make their music. It’s a collective collaboration of coming up with open-ended lyrics, poetry, beats and just loose jamming that starts to come together. He said that the song “Bath Salts” musically just started as a drum beat that Ryan had and it didn’t have a melody to it at all.

When Highly Suspect started playing, they had played more than 800 shows and after realizing their true music passion, they moved to Brooklyn. Needless to say, the band is working their butts off to get where they want to be.

“Have you ever landscaped or built houses?” asked Stevens. “That’s we did for years. We worked with our hands like front labor. For us, it’s like no matter what you do in life, if you want to succeed, it’s harder for our generation to get mortgages and live a comfortable life, you have to bust your ass…So it’s sort of like we might as well bust our ass doing what we love”.

He says that to them there’s no better thrill and motivator than receiving the message on Facebook from someone who had a bad day and after hearing one of their songs are like, “Wow you really brightened up my week.”

As Stevens is still in control of most of their social media, he says it’s one the motivators for him as well because if they stopped and gave up now, he feels as though they would be “almost cheating people.”

“But the other thing is that it’s just the fun, like I feel alive,” he says. “Right now I’m in a van with six people. Just a tiny van, packed to the brim with a bunch of stuff in it and we’re driving to Philadelphia and that’s what makes me feel alive. We just genuinely love doing it”.

When asked about the story behind the band’s name, Stevens said that the idea first came about because they smoked a lot of weed when they were younger.

“Yeah we should be cool like ‘HIGHLY’, because you know we had that reggae thing going on, and the word ‘suspect’ just came because we typed ‘highly’ into a band name generator where we saw a bunch of stuff and we saw ‘suspect’,” he said. “And now, a lot of the times I don’t even like the name, but whatever…spoke too late.”

The band imprints the acronym M.C.I.D. everywhere, that stands for ‘My crew is dope’; Stevens said that even people around the world are getting it tattooed on them already and are sending them pictures, but what does M.C.I.D. really mean to them?

“When we moved to New York from Cape Cod, we had this big going away pool party,” he said. “I had my buddy come over with a tattoo gun, and I just love my friends. I spent my whole life weeding out negative people and I only hand out with positive that like to help each other, so that’s my crew you know. I have that tattooed right on my knuckles. That’s kind of like my way to show them that I love them and miss them when we moved away.

It’s kind of become like a developed separate brand of ours. We put it on everything. If hip-hop can have secret coded off brands, then so can we”.

Being able to blow up like they did with the release of their first album, is rare for most artists these days and Stevens agrees. He says that for them it was a combination of luck, timing, and work.

“I definitely feel blessed when I look at what’s going on with us right now, and then I see a shit ton of other artists I really respect that don’t get the same opportunities and chances that we have,” he said. “Yeah there’s definitely a lot of luck propped up with a lot of hard work”.

For now, he says that they are enjoying their popularity as much as they can because at some point “it’s going to level out and they will have to work harder to get past whatever plateau they stop at”.

“It would be one thing if this happened when we were 19, but we’re not; we’ve been doing this for close to a decade and this is what we have worked towards and wanted to become successful,” says Stevens. “We’re not fame hungry, we just want to be able to continue doing this and not have to do anything else. I hope we can sustain a living and keep a roof over our heads and try to live comfortably and travel the world.

I’m not even sure if all of it has really sunken in yet. This feels really good because people genuinely like our music. I will continue to be me and do my part to stay normal, and hopefully so will the people that interact with us.”

Their album, Mister Asylum, is really a reflection of who they are as a band, and most importantly as human beings as they convey a raw and honest fusion of tunes.

“From this particular album, the message I want people to take from out music is that we all go through hard and good times and that’s the flow of life,” says Stevens. “None of it is permanent, and I think in this album there’s a lot of pain and dark stuff, but there’s also a lot of lighter hints that lets you that ‘hey it’s okay at the end of the day. Nothing really matters. You can’t over think things. No matter who you are, you’re going to have a good day, and you’re going to have a bad day”.

Their North American tour is about to come to an end, but more dates may be added soon. Stevens said that they have all “fallen in love with California so much” that they have been bugging their managers to play in So Cal, and their manager promised them that they will be doing a “West Coast” run before Christmas.

Purchase “The Boy Who Died Wolf”

Purchase “Mister Asylum”

Post by Leanna Ahmed

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