Making the campus band

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April 15, 2008

3:17 PM

__The four-year history of a student band, Tallest Highest, and its musical career__

p. Fall Blowout, 2006: Campus rock band Tallest Highest opened on the Sunken Garden in 30-degree weather with guitarists bundled in gloves and their drummer forced to play what the bandmates could only describe as “a little baby drum set.”

p. Bassist/vocalist Eddie Charlton ’08 was forced to stop the band mid-performance during several songs.

p. “Eddie would realize how badly we were playing and would just stop [us],” guitarist Andy Beers ’08 said. Several band members were not sober.

“It’s all about getting as close to that line, where you’re just like as loose and having as much fun as possible, without actually losing any technical abilities,” Beers said.

p. “It’s a thin line to walk, too,” Charlton said, referring to their Blowout show. “In terms of walking the line, that’s how [a show] can go bad.”

p. The story of Tallest Highest is one that stretches back to Fall of 2004. Though the Blowout performance was marred by alcohol, the band has garnered a certain musical fame on campus, having created a fairly prolific career through their live shows.

p. “I think Dave enjoys most of [the fame],” Beers said, referring to vocalist/guitarist David McClendon ’08, who sports a thick, black beard that makes him recognizable to fans both on- and off-stage.
“It’s weird to think that people who don’t know us personally are aware of us because we’re in Tallest Highest,” Charlton said.

p. Along with Beers, Charlton and McClendon, the band included drummer Ryan McQueeney ’07 and now includes drummer Sean Dalby ’09, McQueeney’s replacement since he graduated last year.

p. McQueeney’s induction into the band could be considered the real beginning of Tallest Highest, as the band simply couldn’t perform without a drummer. Beers and McClendon, the two original members, took up jamming in a Gooch Hall kitchen their freshman year.

p. Charlton had transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall of 2005 for his sophomore year when he was placed in Dillard Hall. According to Charlton, the dorm’s isolation from the rest of campus proved less than desirable.

p. “Everyone banded together because it sucked,” Charlton said. “It was like living in a leper colony.”

p. This was how he came to meet drummer Ryan McQueeney ’07, a transfer student from the University of Virginia also living in Dillard. Charlton and McClendon had played together in high school, so the band’s connection to McQueeney came about by chance.

p. “We literally asked Ryan to be our drummer not knowing anything about him,” Charlton said. “It’s funny now because it’s not something we’d probably do. We’d never just play with somebody we don’t really know.”

p. McQueeney, however, proved a valuable member both in terms of skill and his ability to work with the band. The members praised his ability to translate their layman’s descriptions of drumbeats into what Beers called “actually sweet beats.”

p. “He existed in a whole other rhythmic universe,” McClendon said. “One time I said, ‘Make it sound like a swamp,’ and he did it.”

p. After a number of practice sessions in the basement of Unit M, frequented by passing frat boys and residents with laundry, a performance hosted by WCWM at the University Center was offered to the band last-minute after another group canceled.

p. Charlton was in Richmond when he got the call to play. He raced down Intersate 64 through a snowstorm to make the performance. The group had virtually no material ready and put together three songs half an hour before the show.

p. “It’s kind of the stereotypical story of the inexperienced band playing their first show and not knowing what they’re doing,” Charlton said.

p. According to the band, the show was also headlined by a particularly intimidating group, The Widows, who boasted a hoard of eager fans — a few of who resembled characters from the post-apocalyptic Mel Gibson film “Mad Max.”

p. After the success of the first show, the band went on to plan and promote its first real performance at the Meridian Coffee House, which would become one of their staple venues.

p. “Our best shows have been there,” Charlton said. “Not in a technical sense of good sound or anything, just being cramped in a little hole like that kind of brings out the energy.”

p. Their music might be described as akin to the massive textural approach of groups like Broken Social Scene, but there’s also an element of unabashed emotional content and a melodic power that suggests their shared affinity for groups like Interpol, New Order and Sonic Youth.

p. “That’s kind of the energy we’re going for,” McClendon said, referring to such groups. “We never, ever really adhere to that style, but we at least want that aesthetic.”

After a hiatus over the summer of 2006, the group found it difficult to get back into the swing of playing for the fall semester, running through a few unsuccessful practices before scheduling another show at the Meridian.

“It was hard getting back; we hadn’t played with each other in three months,” McClendon said. “Everything sounded like crap.”
The show actually featured the final performance of Dr. Thunder — another campus band — and to the shock of Tallest Highest, the Meridian was jam-packed with people.

“We were in there watching [Dr. Thunder’s] set and the energy was just insanely high,” Beers said. The energy was enough for the band to pull through.

“I don’t think we could’ve played anymore, ’cause we had pools of sweat on the ground below us,” McClendon said. “I think I almost passed out on the last song.”

Following that show into the remainder of the year, the band played their most prolific stint of live shows.

The group describes the College’s Battle of the Bands show as the culmination of their whole live career. The band delivered only a 20-minute set but won the contest after playing what the members described as one of their best performances.

“It was 50, 60 of our friends just dancing and singing along, which was a feeling I’d never really had at a show, just looking down and seeing people going nuts,” McClendon said.

The band picked up playing again earlier this semester, with Dalby as their new drummer, performing a string of shows to finish out their senior year. They hope to continue playing together after graduation, though they plan on leaving the name Tallest Highest behind.

“We might do a campus reunion tour, someday, years in the future,” Beers joked.

The band will perform its final show during Blowout weekend at the Meridian.

__Ryan McQueeney’s name was spelled incorrectly in the original version of this article. The Flat Hat apologizes for the error.__

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