Meet Under High Street, Oxford’s Favorite Band, by Jason Meggyesy
It’s a classic story. A group of guys, in college, meet each other one day, pick up their respective instruments, and start to jam with one another. One of the guys suggests they start performing, another guy knows someone at the local bar, and boom! You have yourself a band.
This recipe is all too familiar for Miami students Jonah Simpson, Dylan Rackis, Evan Flagel, and Beau Hartrum who have come together over the last few years to form the band Under High Street.
But unlike some who follow this outline, none of the members from one of Oxford’s favorite late-night attractions are aiming for some crazy level of fame or notoriety.
“We have a shared vision of no particular vision,” says Flagel, the band's skillful drummer.
This mix of “nonchalance” and passion radiate from the band members’ music, allowing them the liberty to let loose while on stage.
When I sat to talk with the group, only three of the four members were available, and after talking with them, that’s kind of the same approach they have while performing — whoever is available just shows up and plays.
While the group members all have a shared goal to put on their best performance, they assured me that it’s all just supposed to be fun at the end of the day.
“We’re just four friends that like to play music together,” says Simpson, who splits time between playing guitar and vocals. “There’s nothing else really to it.”
With this simple mantra, the ceiling for Under High Street is as far as they want to take it. Read through our conversation to learn more about the hottest band in Oxford’s late-night scene.
I need the story of when you guys came together and said, “Okay, we want to make a band.”
Jonah Simpson: It didn't really come together in a one-day kind of thing. Evan and I had been kind of jamming [together], playing at some bonfires with friends. Dylan, over the summer, learned how to play bass. Then when we heard there was an opportunity to play live, we kind of jumped on it and I just invited Beau, our other guitarist, to come and jam on a few songs.
So Dylan, you didn’t even play bass originally?
Dylan Rackis: I picked up guitar at first and then when I heard them jam together, I was like, well, I'm not going to like play guitar alongside Jonah because he's just like way too fucking good. So, I picked up bass and ended up really liking it.
But having that experience already [from guitar] made [the bass] easier to navigate.
What type of band would you guys consider yourself?
Evan Flagel: Of course, just where we are at right now, being still very new at it, we are working as much as we can in our rehearsals to write stuff and kind of get those workshopped and where we want them to be.
But right now, it's just kind of filling the space with covers until we can get that time. Not that we don't love playing covers because they are a lot of fun to do, but we're hoping to move into strictly originals.
Obviously, you guys are all in school, so how much time would you guys say you give to this?
JS: It was definitely less of a time commitment last semester. We were maybe meeting once or twice a week for a few hours, you know, topping out at like three and a half for a really long practice. But you know, we've been going two or three hours a day now outside of our weekend shows.
DR: I would say, I noticed [...] a commitment change once we started playing O Pub. That's when we started putting in a lot more work.
EF: Fortunately, we’re able to use the Oxford Originals upstairs areas for rehearsal space, which helped out a lot. So, we really just started going in every single day after we all got out of classes just getting everything ready and getting the stuff we wanted to play put together.
So, when was the first time all four of you actually came together to make sound?
JS: Our first show was at 1868. That was the first time Beau had shown up.
EF: The three of us had practiced before that for a couple of weeks. But the first time Beau played with us, he really did kind of just show up when the show was about to start. Right before we ran through a couple of things and it just clicked really well for that being his first time playing with us.
What was that first show like then?
EF: The very first one, the thing that stood out to me the most about it, for better or for worse, was that it had the most hype around it. More people were inclined to want to go see it because it was our first time. So it was probably one of, if not the biggest, crowd we ever had at 1868, which was really cool.
Musically, from what I remember of it, I was pretty happy with how we were doing just for never having played in front of an audience before.
JS: I'm sure we thought that was a great show, you know what I mean? But playing in a band is definitely a learning curve, in that you learned [...] how people interact within the music and you learn people like communication methods when they're playing.
There's an intuition that you kind of have when you play with people for a while.
What does it feel like when you guys are up there performing?
DR: I've never done anything like this before. I was always sort of a sports kid growing up, but I always had a passion for music and always had an ear for it. So, being on stage and being able to do this has just been amazing. I don't really care how many people show up or anything.
It's just awesome to be able to play.
JS: It's a whole other environment you're in and it’s kind of like everything outside of it fades away. You're within [...] the stage, you're only with those people around you. It's really like a religious experience. I feel like I can communicate my passion for music through the song.
EF: For me, I almost wish that while I was doing it, I could take it in a little bit more. As you get going you start to notice the crowd and the atmosphere less and less.
But, before the show, I have one or two moments where I’m like, “Oh my god, I really get to go do this.”
What’s your guys’ earliest music memory?
DR: When I was little, I had this CD player and my dad [...] had a bunch of [...] Bob Marley and Lenny Kravitz CDs. That’s pretty much my foundation of music, I know it's kind of a random combination.
JS: I remember various moments of listening to the Crosby, Stills, & Nash and The Beatles. My parents used to play it for me all the time; it was what they really liked.
But I think [...] my first memory that was kind of vivid is when I went to go see my first live show when I was like five or something. My parents wanted to take me to go see Tedeschi Trucks Band which is a band that I have grown to really love in the last few years. So, that was kind of special to have that as my “first show.”
EF: When I was a baby, it would always drive my dad up the wall every time there would be some kid's music on TV. So, he would put on some of his CDs or whatever he had then. I remember listening to Billy Joel and some [...] classic rock stuff like John Cougar, Mellencamp, and even some Neil Diamond. He's shown me Soundgarden and Nirvana and Pearl jam and that type of stuff, which was what he listened to when he was in college.
This all feels really organic, so I have to imagine your jam sessions are the same way, right?
DR: We always start with a jam. We kind of decided that pretty recently because it gets us warmed up and it definitely helps our chemistry throughout the rest of the practice.
EF: When we set up for rehearsal, Beau or Jonah will start with something going on the guitar, I’ll add some behind it and we'll just go for like the first ten minutes and just play whatever the hell comes out of us. Then, after that's over, we're all kind of in that headspace of like, “Okay, we're ready to work.”
Wrapping up, what do you guys think you do well and what things do you think you need to improve on?
DR: I think, when we're on stage, we set everything aside and are able to deliver something at least half good. Then it's just about getting to know each other as guys.
The longer that we spend time, I think that communication will improve.
JS: I think the biggest thing that we have trouble with is time management. We're all very studious, you know, so we have lots of classes and all have things going on.
It's definitely difficult to prioritize, practicing over other things, but it's something that we've been working on.
EF: I mean, obviously we're going to hear (the music) differently than the audience hears it and we're going to hear our own mistakes. But I think at the end of the day when we're called upon to play a show or when we're called upon to deliver something, we can do that. I think we're all good enough to produce something that will have at least a pretty good response, or at least can keep people entertained.
So, what’s the vision? Where do you see this going?
JS: I think, ideally, all of us would like to see something big come out of this. With the situation we're in, we kind of have to think about it in terms of the next big thing, right? And I think the next big thing for us is recording.
We've been talking with Oxford Originals and Mike Burns over there about recording and working with High Street Records as well, possibly. But, I think our big thing is trying to get out a recording.
EF: Of course, I would say, in a perfect world, I would love to go play arenas and everything like that. Absolutely. But I mean, we of course have to look at it for exactly where we are and what it is right now. We're all in school, we're all pursuing what we're pursuing here. But I think, like Jonah said, the best way to look at it is just, “What's the next goal?” What's the next feasible goal that we can do [...] while we're all here.
So, whether that's writing more songs, recording stuff, getting out singles or an LP, or whatever. We're looking for just those types of goals. What's the next step? And just on and on from there.
Stay tuned to all upcoming Under High Street shows by following them on Instagram @underhighstreet. Check them out at O Pub, Uptown on Thursdays at 9 p.m. (That is, if you’re 21 or older).