"Since day one with this band, we've always had hype" reflects Higher Power frontman Jimmy Wizard. "We've always had a lot of friends supporting us, and we've always had people going, 'Oh yeah, Higher Power's cool!' But I never felt like we really put the time in to deserve it."
Wizard's not wrong — at least as far as his band's early reception is concerned. Beginning life as a one-off recording project cooked up by Wizard and his brother Alex, the Leeds, England-based melodic hardcore band began picking up steam (and a following) almost as soon as guitarists Louis Hardy and Max Harper and bassist Ethan Wilkinson joined the fray. Higher Power hit the U.K. hardcore scene in early 2015; their first single, the three-track 7-inch Space to Breathe, dropped that August; and by March 2016, the band was already touring the States. Soul Structure, Higher Power's full-length debut, dropped in May 2017 to rave reviews, and suddenly the quintet was on the road so often that Wizard — a professional tattoo artist — rarely had time to work at his shop anymore.
Which, of course, is pretty much the ideal trajectory for any young band. But while certainly appreciative of Higher Power's success, Wizard believed that his group was capable of far more than what Soul Structure represented. "We had flow, and we had melody, so we were always going to stand out in a way that not a lot of hardcore bands do," he explains. "But I never really thought we gave ourselves the path to fully explore it and push it. I always thought we were playing it a bit safe."
After just one listen to 27 Miles Underwater, Higher Power's stunning new album, it's clear that they aren't playing it safe any longer. Killer cuts like "Seamless," "Lost in Static," "Low Season" and "Staring at the Sun" retain the hardcore ferocity of the band's earlier work, but with a far broader degree of artistic and sonic scope. The album's atmospheric musical maelstroms are occasionally reminiscent of Jane's Addiction or Deftones, but Higher Power have clearly found a voice and vision of their own.
Wizard says that there was just one operative rule for these frantic writing sessions: There are no rules. "It wasn't like, 'Yeah, we've got this catchy chorus bit, so let's write a heavy bit to counteract it.' This time it was like, 'This chorus is really cool — but if we keep jamming it, and it keeps veering off into this other spacey, melodic bit, then there's no room for the heavy mosh bit. But fuck it, let's keep going that way and see where it takes us!'"
Given the musical growth showcased on 27 Miles Underwater, one might easily conclude that the album's title references the band's exploratory voyage to new creative frontiers — but Wizard says it has a much more personal origin. "I'd written the lyrics to 'Seamless' before we had any of the music, and I had the line in there, 'I'm 27 miles underwater, and I'm still burning,' because sometimes being in your own head can just feel like being so deep underwater, even when things seem to be going well on the outside ...
"I'd been reading a lot about the theory of seven-year cycles," he continues, referencing 20th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner's belief that human development occurs in seven-year increments. "I started tattooing when I was about 20, working in a shop, but I always wanted to be in a band. Tattooing's cool — I love it — but I took it as a job because I didn't have faith in myself as a musician, or bother to push myself enough in music. I was like, 'Oh, here's something I can do, where I can work for myself, and it's cool.'
"But by the time I got to 27, I realized that I'd made a lot of decisions that gave me a life that I didn't really want, but that I'd kind of settled with. I'd entered into a long-term relationship with this girl at about the same time I started tattooing ... I knew I didn't want to be with her forever, but I also didn't take active steps to end it sooner, because I didn't want to let someone down, blah blah blah. And in a lot of friendships I had with other people, I realized, 'These people aren't lifting my life up. If anything, they're keeping me back!' So, by the time I was 27, I was like, 'I don't want to be in this relationship! I don't want to be in this job! I want to do these things!' I was at the end of a seven-year cycle, and ready to begin a new one."
Wizard quit the tattoo shop and began channeling his time and creativity into Higher Power. "We started touring full-time, which is what I'd always wanted to do," he says. "I'd taken control. In other bands before, I'd just played bass and coasted, but now I was like, 'We need to make these things happen. I want to do this!' This whole record, lyrically, is about those certain relationships I've had and certain movements I've made in my life, and finally leaving all that behind for the creative outlet that I've always wanted. And because I was 27 when I made those changes, I thought 27 Miles Underwater would be a good name for the album."
Fans of Wizard's ink art should not despair, however. "I still do tattoos," he says. "I'll tattoo some friends at my house when I home, just to keep my hand in it. But I don't have much time to do it between every tour, so I don't promote it on social media anymore. I'm always creating. I take a lot of photos, and I film a lot of stuff — I'm trying to put together a little photo 'zine — and I do some painting. I love tattooing, I love creating, but my main focus is Higher Power. I've always wanted to be in a band — and now is really the time to put everything into it."
Below, watch Higher Power's raucous live set in Brooklyn: