I was recently referred to as the original New Orleans road dog for dropping out of college in ‘96 to go on tours with the Supaflies and One Eye Open. I just love a good road trip—which made it extremely easy to clear my schedule and take HiGH up on their invitation to travel with them to Gainesville, Florida for FEST 16 and help sell the merch. The invitation came in part because I designed the cover of their latest album, Evil Gene (with the help of my friend, Jeremy Wilson). While on the road I took notes and combined those notes with an interview, which I hope tells the tale of the trip, delves into the creation of Evil Gene as well as creates a vignette of who this band is. Because if you get to know them, I think you’ll like ‘em.
HiGH, your neighborhood power fuzz, ZZ Top-worshiping trio are back with a full-length follow-up to 2015’s self-released Bummer Burner. On Evil Gene, HiGH trades in being pretty around the edges for force-feeding you hard truths about yourself with sing-along hooks that are a saturated and sticky ode to their inner scumbaggery, a scumbaggery that is rooted in our DNA—the selfish gene, survival of the slickest.
Craig Oubre (guitar/vocals) was once asked what he did for a living, and his response was, “I do crimes.” Craig is nothing if not refreshingly self-aware of his certain tendencies. On the title track of Evil Gene, he goes to confession: “Drink until it becomes an excuse for things I really want to do. Drinks on me until the joke’s on you and good intentions are not assumed.” He’s often playful in his self-indictments, but is never afraid to go dark—like in “Scotfree” (for which they made a video with longtime friend Bret Lovetro), “Washed off everything I own. Cleaning it don’t make me innocent. Washed off all my skin and bone. Cleaning it don’t make me worth a shit.”
While the previous HiGH releases were dominated lyrically and vocally by bassist Isidore Grisoli, Evil Gene—despite having a picture of Isidore’s father, Marco, on the album cover—is a breakthrough for Craig’s lyric writing. It’ll have you wondering if he’s trying to pick slide into your girl’s DMs while you, nonplussed, just bang your fist against your steering wheel along to Joshua White’s energetic bursts of drumming. I’ve met a lot of interesting characters throughout my life and in my travels across the world, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone as funny or as honest with himself and his friends as Craig. He’ll let you know when you are fucking up. He’s also likely the greatest wingman of all time, almost treating it like he’s the manager of your sex life, like he gets 10% of every orgasm he helps you experience.
Izzy, how did you feel when it was decided that your dad was going to be the face of Evil Gene?
Isidore Grisoli: It was kind of like, “why not?” The pictures looked cool. I felt like my dad was perfectly cast to play that character. He gave Evil Gene a face. Then the fact that he actually shares genetics with one of the band members made it fitting… You know, it’s funny that my dad ended up being on the album cover because originally I had a concept that was about my mom. She was on a really strict diet and she was really happy about getting to have a cheat day. I was like, “We should call the record Cheat Day and put a bunch of greasy food and beer on the cover.”
Craig, there are some clear nods to Marco’s influence on you. In “Lowlife” you reference him by saying, “My only influence is the greatest fucker alive.” What are some of his most Etsy cross stitch worthy quotes?
Craig Oubre: There are so many, but I really like, ”I gotta keep my poison levels up.” That’s not about cranking up some Bret Michaels; it’s about drinking beer in the morning and alternating it with coffee, a whole bottle of rum, the occasional joint, and cigs to make sure you have the right levels of toxins all day.
Craig picked me up early in the GMC Safari minivan that was once filled with Catholic propaganda from its previous owner (Craig’s grandmother) but was now just filled with the lingering stain of Catholic guilt and branded as the “Winnedago,” embracing the slur levied at Craig’s family’s New Orleans-Italian heritage.
Perhaps it was instant karma for Josh’s apparently ingrained inability to close things (pistachio bags, sunflower seed bags, cheese packets), but as soon as we entered the Frank Davis “Naturally N’Awlins” Memorial Bridge, a car sped up next to us and the driver began aggressively pointing to the X-Cargo on the roof that was holding all of our luggage. Judging by everyone else in the van’s reaction, this was not the first time they drove off without properly latching the rooftop carrier—and it was clearly not the first time Josh was to blame (or at least framed for the crime). While we coasted slowly across Lake Pontchartrain hoping we weren’t losing our clothes, Craig accused Josh of never having been a latchkey kid, which led to a discussion of the weird, broke-ass methods they had used to get to school as kids. Izzy rode a pre-razor scooter and Craig, for a time, piloted a big wheel that a mysterious woman his father was seeing had delivered to his mother’s doorstep.
We arrived in Tallahassee an hour before load-in and were all pretty amazed at the hotel room Craig had scored with the travel points he acquired through his non-doing-crimes job. It had two beds, a sofa, a full-sized fridge, a dishwasher, a toaster, a full set of dishes, and a jerk tent. It also came with a blowdryer, which HiGH endorses as a way to help prevent chaffing on tour.
You have developed several helpful body maintenance tips for tour. What’s an item or ritual you must have to be comfortable on the road?
CO: Wipes. It’s got to be wipes for me. Preparation H wipes are the best. They work good. They have witch hazel on them. You know that’s good for your hole. I don’t want to be to gross, but come on. That’s shit in there and you’re going to use just dry toilet paper to wipe that up?
IG: We definitely like to use the blowdryer for the undercarriage. I also like to bring my own pillow—even if the merch guy uses it the whole time. I mean, that’s cool…
The Tallahassee bill, at the Wilbury, was loaded with bands and featured two stages. HiGH shared the outdoor stage with Indian Shores, Success and Fat Heaven. The indoor stage started the trend of wolf themed bands: Aware Wolf and Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves (and wolf-themed band name jokes that would live on all tour). Alumine, Gender Roles (a British noisy indie-punk outfit that I particularly enjoyed), and The Run Up also played that stage. We were also introduced to the magic of the Seattle Fucking Supersonics whom HiGH would share the stage with at Fest in a few days. SFS’s band bio says, “We like three things: weed, basketball, and self-deprecation. And wrestling. And weed. Ask us to go bowl for bowl with you!” They introduced themselves by asking, “Are you guys HiGH? We’re a weed band too!” A friendship was instantly formed, and back pain was instantly numbed.
The Wilbury had provided free pulled pork burritos and pizza for all the bands. When it was time to pack up, Izzy scavenged a pan of pulled pork, slaw, and tortillas to bring back to our apartment-like hotel. We hung out around the fire pit, shivering while he smoked and ate burritos. While the pork may have been free for Isidore, the rest of us paid for it by inhaling cold pork farts throughout the night.
Craig began to recite lyrics from the Pinheads, a band he and Izzy were in when they were 12.
That morning we drove to Athens, Georgia where Christian DeRoeck, of a ton of bands—but it’s his band Little Gold that gets me, especially their perfect driving album, Spectral Sight —booked HiGH’s show at the Little Kings Shuffle Club. On the drive, Josh introduced me to one of his favorite forms of van entertainment: vaping competition videos. As he described them, “You won’t see a single baseball cap on straight.”
Athens was colder than a faked dap that turns into a sucker punch for us semi-tropical blooded boys, but Christian was manning the bar at Manhattan Cafe, where they specialize in warm cocktails. Most went with a classic hot toddy, but I went obscure with a hot chai and spiced rum cocktail. While I’m not much of a drinker, I loved this bar. It was an ideal mix of dive bar with interesting house cocktails and perfect decor. Alongside a buffet of popcorn was an old jukebox full of 45s that a guest DJ would restock each month.
HiGH went into this gig knowing it would probably be a dud since there were several bigger shows happening that night in Athens. In terms of attendance, the show was just that. As Zac Mayeux of the New Hampshire-based opening act Notches put it, “Stick around, your band is up next.” However, the show was far from being a bummer fest despite the dreadful turnout, as Notches and hometowners Cuddlefish absolutely slayed. Also, the venue had a bobbing for beer special that had a built-in boobytrap: a Mountain Dew that came with a shot of well vodka.
At the end of the show, all of the bands traded merch and Craig and I took an Adderall to start our late night trek towards Orlando, where we would play a four-hour game of deer Frogger on unlit, old Georgia/Florida backroads. We hit a Circle K to fill up, get bad snacks, and re-up on smokes for Izzy, a.k.a. Cig Vicious. Craig had set the autofill latch on the gas pump, which never kicked off, so while we were inside, gas started gushing out of the tank and puddled up under the van. Before this was noticed, Craig began to recite lyrics from the Pinheads, a band he and Izzy were in when they were 12: “Circle K. All four of us hanging out at the store.” It’s crazy to think about how long these two have been writing music together.
When and how did you first join forces? Name every band you’ve been in with and without each other.
IG: I was in a band with Bret Lovetro for a while and I met John Crabtree and Craig because they were in a band that practiced on the same street. Then I wanted to quit the band with Bret and join more of a punk band, and Craig and John’s band was called The Gutter Punx. I was 15 and Craig was 13. It was April of ‘96.
CO: Izzy changed our name to the Pinheads. That’s really how we met; but our best friends were best friends, so it was this weird little kid community.
IG: Eventually, the other members quit our band and it just fell apart.
CO: We always had plans to start another band together.
IG: But him living in NORCO was way too fucking hard to make work because I lived in the Dust Bowl [near Destrehan]. Still, we’d jam once a month and talk about our band over the phone every day.
CO: Yeah, we used to play each other songs over the phone and shit like that. It was just cheese puff shit like that. But we always wanted to keep playing together because we had so many common interests. It was hard, though, because Izzy was older and was starting to know more people and had more access to music, shows, and other musicians. It was just hard to stay connected ‘cause we lived further than we could ride a bike.
IG: But after that we never really jammed again. I played in Santa Smokes and Craig was in Evil Eyecare.
CO: We played a lot of shows together and Izzy would name my bands for me. He named Evil Eyecare and the Skalawags too; but that’s how we started playing music together. Izzy’s been in a ton of bands since, and I wasn’t even playing music when we started HiGH. I started to see him uptown and we hadn’t hung out in years. I’m going to say I dated that chick first—
IG: —Then she dated me. [laughs] But that’s ancient history. We don’t fight about this anymore, but apparently we do have similar tastes. But when I was in high school I was a bit of a shit talker and I said something mean to Craig and he got full—like his gold chain came out and he was like, “Look motherfucker! I’ll whip your ass in this driveway…you’re on my turf now.”
CO: Yeah, I think I got mad outside the Rancid show. No it was the NOFX show.
IG: We were buddies at the Rancid show. We were the shortest ones there. We had to stand on top of an amp case.
CO: But I’d still see Izzy around and eventually we were drinking at Balcony Bar and we started playing ZZ Top on the jukebox and bonded over that.
Tell us about your band DIY and how you interpreted that name at that age.
IG: When I was 13 or 14 and living in Destrehan, I hadn’t been to a punk show or anything yet, and I was asked to play bass in this band. The singer told me he had been reading this Green Day interview and they said they were DIY and that it meant “do it yourself,” and that we should call ourselves that. I thought, “Yeah, that’s cool. I’m into telling people to do it themselves. I ain’t doing that shit.” That’s what I thought it meant, and I really related to that. But I was totally wrong.
You guys grew up in the DIY scene, but now you consider yourselves a YDI band. Explain.
IG: Yeah, “you do it!” That’s the theme with us. Our tour kickoff show was booked by the Fruit Machines. We told Bret to do the video. You guys at Wiretap, you do this promotion. And we asked you to do the album art. We don’t want to have to do shit.
Josh, knowing the history of these two and their brother-like bond, do you ever feel like an outsider? Have you ever won a band argument?
Josh White: I don’t ever feel like an outsider, no. Those two dudes definitely have a tight bond and a lot of history, but we all get along well. I win arguments all the time. It’s easy when you’ve got a bachelor’s degree in forestry.
I was very hyped about the show in Orlando. Not only have I become pretty close friends with Mike Levin, but I’ve loved his music since I first saw his band Shyster open up for Face to Face and Guttermouth at Rendon Inn in 1995 (Isidore opened for Shyster at a skatepark in Houma with his band, Santa Smokes in the late ‘90s). Mike’s newest band, Curtains, was playing their first show. New Orleans is one of those towns that really appreciated Shyster and another one of Mike’s bands, New Lows, despite their general under-appreciation everywhere else. Surely songwriting, energy, and musicianship played a role in this appreciation, but I also feel like Mike Levin’s inability to escape his ex-bandmates is something the New Orleans scene can relate to.
Isidore had recently spent some time in Orlando and had discovered an Asian street food concept restaurant called Hawkers that was across the street from the venue, Will’s Pub. Eating at Hawkers was his sole focus on the drive in. I was all about it too after having lived six-and-a-half years in Southeast Asia and missing accurate representations of the amazing cuisine that region has to offer. Touring as an adult is the best because you understand how to eat and have the money to do it right.
However, before we stuffed our faces, we had to find a Kinkos to design and print makeshift covers for some Evil Gene sampler CDs that featured the title track and a cover of the Meat Puppets’ “Look at the Rain.”
On Bummer Burner, you covered Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” and on this record you have a Meat Puppets cover. What other covers have you worked on in practice that haven’t made it onto a record?
IG: An early one that we did that we never really played at a gig, but that we always jammed on was, “You Got Lucky” by Tom Petty. We’ve also tried to do a couple of Guided by Voices songs. We did “Very Ape” from Nirvana.
CO: We messed around with Thin Lizzy for awhile, “Angel from the Coast.” We did [the Ramones’] “The KKK Took my Baby Away” as part of the set for quite a while. The Tommy James cover was Izzy’s idea.
IG: Yeah, I heard that song on the radio one day and it just fit us.
CO: Oh, and we covered “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles at the Bummer Burner release party. We’ve been playing that Meat Puppets song for a long time.
IG: Doing a Meat Puppets cover was something we’ve always wanted to do. That’s a band that’s really influential in the way they can just get up on stage and do a different cover for every tour, like [The Everly Brothers’] “Cathy’s Clown” or [The Beach Boys’] “Sloop John B.”
CO: We play a lot of stuff in practice, but when picking a cover to be part of your set or album, you want something that you play differently, something that you can own and make yours. “Look at the Rain” is from kind of a weird time in production, so I felt like we could really do something with it.
IG: It’s from one of our mutually favorite albums and from their ZZ Top-influenced era. Josh loves them too. No matter what: if the song means a lot to you it’s going to come out as a good cover.
The Orlando show was likely going to be the best non-Fest show of the tour because it not only featured Orlando punk/indie hero Mike Levin, but the rest of the bill featured Oregon/California’s Walter, Etc., Boston’s Rebuilder (an up-and-coming East Coast sincere youth band, featuring Jawbreaker back patches on denim jackets), and the heavy hitter of the night, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires.
The Orlando crowd was great and HiGH had the biggest audience of any band that night. Watching Mike sing along to the songs he knew from Bummer Burner and watching as Lee Bains and members of Walter, Etc. and Rebuilder left their merch booths and looked on, nodding approvingly at HiGH, I realized that like how there are comedian’s comedians, HiGH may be a band’s band. Later on, Mike would tell me that watching Craig playing guitar made him want to quit playing guitar. Perhaps it was the energy reflecting off of the crowd, a song request throwing the polished setlist slightly off kilter, or the open tab with quality beers, but the main comedian in HiGH soon delved into some stage banter. As he stole a gulp of Izzy’s beer, Craig handed it back to him with a look of dismay and said, “That’s not my beer, there’s no pills in it. I thought you said this was a pilsner.”
All of us were aware of Lee Bains & the Glory Fires prior to this show and had a general idea of what we thought they would sound like, but we weren’t expecting to be so blown away by them. We were expecting a Drive by Truckers-like Southern/country alternative rock band (and there were notes of this), but it was way more garagey and Ted Leo-ish than we’d expected. A few songs in, Lee began to discuss what it’s like growing up in Alabama and being surrounded by racists and the internal conflict of having family—people you’ve loved your whole life—being such a letdown; and how you have to challenge their views and abandon them as necessary. Craig walked over to the merch table and said, “Man, these guys are really winning me over.” HiGH and Lee Bains quickly entered the mutual appreciation society, and seemingly a friendship was forming.
Craig, you seemed to have a really deep appreciation for the political and social commentary coming from Lee Bains. What grabbed you? Why did you appreciate their message so much?
CO: They are Southern guys from Alabama; it was done pretty earnest. It wasn’t contrived. It was brief, not cringey, and to the point. What I appreciated about it is that it’s easier for us being in New Orleans or other bands in certain regions to speak out like that. These guys are in Birmingham and that message isn’t welcome there. It’s a lot ballsier to be like, “Fuck our grandparents and their views.”
As the club cleared, Mike said we should head back to his house to hang and sleep over. He warned that he was light on beers, so Craig said he’d grab some go beers from the bar. Mike warned that they don’t allow that in Florida. I said, “Don’t worry, Craig does crimes, he’s got this” as he was walking towards the bar. He came back with a perfectly intact 6-pack that he had charmed out of the bartender. We hung out on Mike’s porch sharing beers and edibles. Craig and Josh got into a debate over whether or not there is such a thing as non-pork chorizo. Craig ended it with, “You go and get some beef chorizo and I’ll eat a cauliflower boudin with you.” Then Mike passed out and HiGH worked out some new songs on the porch on acoustic guitars.
On our first night of tour, Josh had assured us that he had brought nasal strips that eliminated his snoring, which I had no idea was a problem until he forgot to wear them this night. I woke up a few minutes into my sleep thinking that Izzy was playing bass in the living room, but I soon realized it was Josh snoring. Craig and I shared a napkin of a blanket and, the polite Southern boys we are, allowed each other to take turns stealing it in order to fight off the cold. At one point, Craig spooned me, even tucking his knees up under my knees. I was startled but also cold, so I hesitated to push him off.
In the morning, we set off for Gainesville, where HiGH would play a matinee show. The two hour drive to Gainesville was fueled by Guided by Voices’ greatest hits and a glut of Bob Pollard impersonations, including Josh’s perpetual state of high kick. This off-Broadway show was only interrupted when Josh found a video of HiGH playing in Orlando on Lee Bains’ Facebook page. The lone comment from a follower said, “Love the rock, hate the shorts,” in reference to Izzy’s wardrobe, which constantly breaks Craig’s unwritten on-stage dress code.
As he stole a gulp of Izzy’s beer, Craig handed it back to him with a look of dismay and said, “That’s not my beer, there’s no pills in it. I thought you said this was a pilsner.”
Seeing as the crowd at Mother’s was obviously familiar with the two opening acts, it wasn’t shocking that it thinned out for an unknown non-Florida Water Music band like HiGH. However, by the second song in the set, all of the smokers put a few minutes back on their lives, stubbed out their American Spirits, and joined in the pack of converts, making for a pretty decent crowd and successful showcase.
As the Seattle Fucking Supersonics were tuning up for their set, Danny, their second guitar player, finally made it to the gig. After a few songs of toe-tapping Lookout! Records worship where all of the girls in the love songs were replaced with ways to ingest marijuana, Ogre (guitar/vocals) announced, “We have shirts for sale that have a joint slam-dunking a nugg into a bong.” He wasn’t lying.
After the show, we headed to Bo Diddley Plaza to meet up with James Whitten, Craig’s roommate and the engineer of Evil Gene. James often tours with A Wilhelm Scream, and was with them to run sound for their set at Fest. We decided to cash in on James’ free meal ticket at Emiliano’s Cafe, a relatively upscale Spanish restaurant in the middle of a punk rock festival. The hostess seemed overwhelmed by the unusual dirtbag clientele that Fest delivered to her doorstep. Craig made an attempt to charm our way up the waiting list by saying we had a reservation under “Them Pasta Boys,” an ongoing inside joke.
What are some of your favorite kinds of boys that we were on this tour?
IG: We were Them Watching Them Smoking Popes Boys. We were Them Pork In The Queso Boys. When we found out there was a pool at the hotel, we were Them Swim Boys, but then we were Them It’s Too Cold To Swim Boys. We were also Them Use Every Towel In The Hotel Room Boys.
CO: I really liked when we were We Them We Them Boys Boys. There was we Them Meet Me At The Soundbooth After Y’all Finish Pissing Boys. We Them It’s Hard To Swallow Mushrooms Boys. When it was cold in Athens we were Them Semi-Tropical Blooded Boys.
JW: We them Extravagant Dinner Boys, from the same night when we were Them Pasta Boys. Are we Them Ready To Go Home Boys yet?
In order to no longer be this hostess’ burden, we pawned ourselves off on the bar—which is where you always get the best service anyway. We shared three types of paella, some steamed prawn dish that never made its way to my end of the bar (just like that Portlandia sketch), roasted duck, stewed pork, and two or three other dishes I can’t even remember because we also had two giant jugs of sangria. Finally, we split four desserts and each had an espresso to return us to some level of awareness beyond the mere blinking to show we could hear each other in the food-coma state we had eaten ourselves into.
We decided to bail on the Fest and chill at Josh’s friends Ricky Schroeder and Phan Tram’s apartment where we were staying. Ricky and Phan were incredible hosts. They had donuts or pastries for us every morning, as well as hot and iced coffee. They had a full bar—like fuller than the bar I work at full—and beers in the fridge. They wound us down every night with Netflix comedy specials. One night, Phan (who is also a Marrero native like myself, so we bonded over Marrero things) even cooked us some homemade eggrolls that owned.
Isidore had heard good things about Bong Mountain, who were playing Boca Fiesta, which is a taco spot owned by Warren Oakes, former drummer of Against Me! Apparently the rest of the world had heard good things about Bong Mountain too, as a huge line to get in was flowing out of the al fresco area of Boca Fiesta when we arrived. We were fine with not joining that line, because tacos. Josh fell victim to the unlabeled habanero pepper sauce and looked like he was watching suckling pigs being slaughtered as tears welled up in his red, swollen eyes. As Craig tells it, “Josh tickled a pig or something once at a farm and now he can’t eat pork because he loves them so much.” The rest of us dug into some pleasantly greasy chorizo queso, ‘cause fuck pigs.
After we ate, we rushed to Bo Diddley Plaza to see The Dirty Nil, whose superhero-squared-jaw guitarist, Luke Bentham, is ushering in the new wave of Cheap Trick rock’n’roll inspired punk. The Dirty Nil are becoming a favorite of the New Orleans scene, and this was the first time any of us would see them with their new bassist, Ross Miller (from the band Single Mothers). Miller’s stage presence was something I can only describe as an Andy Kaufman conceptual art project on PCP. Over the past few years, HiGH has become friends with The Dirty Nil, playing together whenever the Canadians are in New Orleans. Luke spotted them in the crowd, dedicating a song: “This song goes out to our friends in HiGH. It’s called ‘Always High.’” It was a song about how a friend was once an engaging participant in conversation, but now they were just always high and impossible to hold a conversation with.
We were all excited to see the 12:30 AM Hum show that night, so we grabbed dinner and went back to Ricky and Phan’s to rest up for the late gig. The Hum show was packed. 8 Seconds is a really big club with an upstairs, and there was very little wiggle room. We took our lesser mushrooms for this show, saving the potent ones for Sunday—our big hitter day. Maybe it was the mushrooms or maybe it was genetics, but to me, Matt Talbott (guitar/vocals) looked like Seth Green playing Steve Albini in a Steve Albini biopic. He was also wearing a Goatwhore shirt, which scored points for These New Orleans Boys. The show was exactly what we expected: loud, heavy, and tight with huge crowd sing-alongs to “Stars” and “I Hate it Too.” I loved every second of it, from the opening riff of “Isle of the Cheetah” to making Josh wait in the merch booth line to buy me a shirt on the way out, while I chilled against the bar staring at patterns on the floor that may or may have not really been there.
We started Sunday off by taking in some minor league wrestling that featured rubber duck-themed wrestlers and a trophy made out of semi-crushed PBR cans. We went back to Boca Fiesta for the octopus tacos we missed out on the day before. Mike Levin and Clara drove in from Orlando that morning and met us there for margaritas and our leftover chips and queso. Josh and Ricky also found us; we ate fistfulls of mushrooms and walked to Bo Diddley Plaza for our main attractions: Smoking Popes and Superchunk. As we walked right up to the stage—surprised that we didn’t have to fight a crowd—Craig cautioned, “Those mushrooms we took last night were cool background shit. Remember, these are different. These are DRUGS.” Later he would say he saw the exact moment they hit all of us in apparent unison, as all of our faces changed at once.
“We them Extravagant Dinner Boys, from the same night when we were Them Pasta Boys. Are we Them Ready To Go Home Boys yet?”
Smoking Popes are favorites of Mike Levin and Izzy. As the mushrooms began to wring splashes of joy from my miserable spine like a wet rag being twisted vigorously, I smiled uncontrollably watching Mike and Izzy bop around, singing their hearts out to every word. At one point, Josh Caterer (vocals/guitar) announced they were going to play a song off their new record, to which two people yelled out, “Yeah!!!” Caterer responded, “Wow, thanks for the enthusiasm for that typically bummer of an announcement, even if you are faking it.” Then, as an award for me being happy for other people’s joy, they extended the bridge in “Brand New Haircut” and turned it into Jawbreaker’s “Do You Still Hate Me?” In what would prove to be a premonition, just before he explained how he fumbled his attempt to relight a relationship whose spark had died in “Pretty Pathetic,” Caterer said, “This is where things get really dark.”
For the entire trip there had been a very dark cloud looming over Isidore. His mother had been moved into hospice and her health was taking a turn for the worse. Before Smoking Popes started playing, he told me he had a call from his sister that he didn’t answer. I felt like he knew it wasn’t good news and there was nothing he could do about it at the moment, so he was letting himself enjoy the Popes and then he’d deal with reality after. After the set, Izzy bought a Smoking Popes hoodie, a shirt, and a poster. I joked that he was going as their merch booth for Halloween. I could sense his stress and understood he was on mushrooms and how that could be a bad combination.
We all met up again at front row, center stage for Superchunk. They opened with “Learned to Surf” off Majesty Shredding. They played hits from all of my favorite albums: Here’s Where The Strings Come In, Indoor Living, Foolish, On the Mouth, and No Pocky for Kitty were all well represented. I had just seen Dinosaur Jr at Riot Fest and Craig had just seen them at the Varsity. Both of us agreed that Mac McCaughan—as much as the two of us love J Mascis—slays J live. He’s out there doing Who windmills, jumping on monitors, and running a marathon around the stage while nailing every note.
Now that the mushroom dust has settled: J Mascis or Mac McCaughan?
CO: I’ll say I was pretty high when I was making those statements. I really love both of those bands. I was talking with Lefty and James at Euclid Records about that, and they kind of set me straight by saying why would I even bother making those kinds of comparisons. I think that is the right answer, but I had recently seen Dinosaur Jr and I really enjoyed the in-your-faceness of Superchunk. I haven’t spent nearly as much time listening to Superchunk as I have Dinosaur Jr, so guitar-wise I don’t know… Superchunk did kind of steal my heart that night. Mac was doing windmills and playing solos in my face. I was loaded and just feeling like, “Fuck that slacker shit.”
Upon realizing that Superchunk was not going to do a second encore, I also realized that Izzy was missing. Craig thought he may have bolted to see BIGWIG at High Dive, which he mentioned he was considering. Then I told Craig about the phone call from his sister and worry set in. Craig was able to reach him on the phone and he had gone into a port-o-let to have a moment of solitude. We split up and camped outside of both clusters of toilets waiting for him to emerge. Eventually he did and we all met up outside of the plaza and group hugged. Things were sounding really bad back home. Izzy’s sister feared their mom wouldn’t make it through the night. We discussed driving home immediately, but he said we should get some sleep and leave early in the morning.
We started back to New Orleans early on Monday morning with a real sense of urgency. I doubt Izzy slept much the night before. He was clearly stressed. However, he spoke with his sister briefly, who informed him that his mother just had a bad reaction to a heavy dose of morphine, combined with a few smuggled beers and a bloody mary, and was doing much better. Craig eased some of the tension with his dreadful armpit smells. It was like he dumpster dove Wendy’s chili and used that as deodorant. We listened to all of the albums we had collected at shows on this trip. We stopped in Tallahassee for lunch. Craig brought us to Backwoods Crossing, a farm-to-table restaurant that was pretty incredible.
After lunch, I walked around the gardens outside the restaurant with Izzy while he smoked. His mom called and he had a pretty long conversation with her. She seemed good, assured him she was doing much better. He told her he would come see her the next day. Relaxed, he set his phone on airplane mode, plugged it in to charge, and took a well-deserved nap.
When he woke up, Izzy immediately went for his phone to see a ton of missed calls from his aunt, his sister, and his mom’s hospice. He called his aunt and we heard him ask weakly, “She died?” The van was silent, the air was heavy, and the rest of us hung our heads mouthing “fuck.” It was the ultimate gut punch. He was prepared to get hit for so long that the second he let his guard down and felt safe, a Mack truck leveled him. It was fucking brutal. None of us knew what to say or do. Craig eventually asked if he wanted to pull over to have a minute. Izzy wanted to keep driving straight to the hospice. Craig told him to smoke or do whatever he needed to. He lit a cigarette and stared out of the window. It was really, really heavy. He began to sob quietly. I put my hand on his shoulder. He put his on my knee. I held it tightly. He nodded in approval.
Izzy, HiGH has just produced a 12” monument to your father, but this article can also serve as a tangible memorial to your mother. Is there anything you would like to say about her?
IG: I was really close with her the whole time she was sick—and of course, before that. She was always really supportive of the bands that I have been in, but HiGH was her favorite. She had come to a few shows, even when she was lugging around an oxygen tank. I remember having to stop people from smoking outside of Gasa Gasa for one show so I could walk her out. I was like, “Hey guys, I love cigs too, but I’m about to bring my mom through with her tank and I don’t want her to ignite.” She always used to say, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” And it’s true; she had several HiGH t-shirts. I just love her, you know? And she wanted me to play music, and to do what I was doing. She told me to go on tour, be happy, and live your life. Even the last time I spoke to her, she was letting me believe that I was going to see her again later. She was still being a good mom. Pretty much everything I do is going to be a monument to her, by doing what she knows I want to do, inspired by the love and support she gave me. She totally would have wanted us to eat mushrooms and watch Smoking Popes, and not be worried about her. She was going out on morphine, partying with her Shady Lady friends as best she could. She went out how she wanted to go.
Izzy would eventually ask for us to pull over. As Craig filled the van with gas, Izzy walked off to the opposite end of the parking lot and called his family. When he returned, Craig gave him a huge embrace. They went into the store and bought a 6-pack of Miller Lites. We climbed back into the van and Izzy handed us each a beer. We waited until we were back on the I-10, and without any sort of cue, we all popped our cans open in unison, touched them together, and drank one to the memory of Gail Lynn Brown.
Cover Photo by Kevin Barrios