The High Divers want to "Ride With You" through the sticky Southern summer with their third album, which will drop on June 7 in tandem with a release show at the Pour House.
Since releasing infectiously relaxing easy-listening disc "Riverlust" in 2015, the Charleston rock band has grown to become one of the most promising local endeavors, following in the touring footsteps of Americana-meets-psych rock Susto but also carving their own pathway and racking up loyal fans across the country and even internationally.
Lead singer and songwriter Luke Mitchell's warm whiskey vocals swirl into a refined yet reminiscently rugged roots-rock cocktail with his wife Mary Alice Mitchell's sweet, sultry soulful keys and alto harmonies. The Americana-laced old-fashioned is topped with a maraschino cherry and citrus slice — that is, Kevin Early and Julius DeAngelis, holding it down in the rhythm section.
This time in the studio, six-song EP "Ride With You" developed into a more distilled and polished sound than the two sonically charged summery-swamp records before. There's some white space, and everything's a little crisper. Yet, there's still an undeniable out-on-the-bayou groove that isn't lost in the process.
Nashville producer Sadler Vaden had a heavy hand in shaping the studio sound.
"They’re used to playing live so much and having to fill up space," Vaden says. "It was really just thinking about the groove and leaving space for other instruments to play and not have the guitar bashing throughout the whole song."
Vaden, the guitar player for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, hails from Charleston, but he didn't meet The High Divers until 2017 when they opened for him at The Commodore.
Summerville native Sadler Vaden has been a touring guitarist with Grammy award-winning Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit since 2013. But long befo…
He really connected with Luke and Mary Alice, though, during a Tom Petty tribute concert they played together at Party at the Point. After the show, he dropped a note for them to keep him in mind for their next album. They did.
"It's hard to get the right match with a producer, someone who will let you be genuine but also improve your songs," Luke says. "This was the perfect recipe. Sadler took us out of our comfort zone."
And Vaden's vision, which came to light at Jeremy Ferguson's Battle Tapes Recording Studio (Cage the Elephant, Joshua Hedley, Sleeper Agent), was expanding The High Divers' horizons and letting the power of the songs shine through.
"Listen to what the song is telling you to do. That’s what it’s all about," Vaden says. "It's not about serving your ego as a producer or your ego as a musician; it's about the song’s ego."
It's not just the sound that shifted with Vaden's guidance. He also helped make the song selections for this EP, and opted for the ones that Luke and Mary Alice were a little more uncomfortable with sharing. That's how they knew they were the right picks.
The lyrics stray from carefree, frolicking 2015 hit "Summertime" and 2017's shimmery, butterfly-inducing "Fall In Love So Fast" into some somber subject matter. The disc touches on suicide, bullying, abuse, depression and PTSD.
"If you don't do something that really scares you, you're not going to grow," says Mary Alice, who sings "Our Love is a Fire," which is about an abusive relationship she was in for four years as a young teenager.
The band also relives the horrific car crash back in 2017 that left them all in the hospital and off the road for months while they were supposed to be on tour. It's the heaviest, hardest rock-and-roll song on the album but ultimately lands on a positive message: "Still Kickin.'"
"It happened so fast, do you understand how lucky you are to be sitting here? Did you see the lights change?" it begins.
"Could Not Be Loved" is about Luke's traumatic experience being jumped as a preteen, while "Stick Around" is a stripped-back guitar ballad about losing friends to suicide and overdose.
"I want you to please, please stick around," it pleads.
The title track is about getting out of your groove, or more specifically out of your close-minded hometown, and experiencing something new.
"We were like a swimming pool, blue and full of chemicals, wasting away on the dunes," Luke croons. "We had our summer jobs, they didn't pay enough. Your boss was just staring at you. Here comes that empty feeling, where there's no such thing as a weekend. If we could only get away now, we could go find some place new. Take me anywhere, I don't really care, as long as I can ride with you."
And there's more to look forward to. The High Divers recorded another EP with Vaden a few months later at the same studio in Nashville, which they are planning on releasing down the road.
Vaden says the songs on the upcoming, second EP are even better than the ones on "Ride With You."
"I really believe in their band," he says. "They're one of the best bands to come out of Charleston in a long time."