Higher Authorities are shrouded in mystery. Steeped in warped psychedelic dub, it feels like the spirits of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry or Sun Ra could almost be presiding. Icons and motives all beamed through space and time, but definitely at one point from Liverpool… so a good place to start unravelling.
Deluxe: I really got transfixed on your artwork… but is it okay that I don’t necessarily understand it?
Higher Authorities: Yeah, that’s fine! It was a mixture of ideas that we had, we wanted it to be - above all - exotic and also not taking itself too seriously. We had the space theme running through our head, but we then struck upon pineapples… the pineapples have become an exotic theme. The music is deliberately technicolour and we wanted to mirror that in some way.
D: I think in terms of the tone of the music, I really picked up on the retro futuristic… kind of like how Sun Ra sounds like someone recording forty years ago, 300 years in the future…
HA: Yeah, I get you. I really like that older sound, but that in itself does sound alien as it is so different to what you hear now. I think we wanted to have something along those lines, but there is definitely more of a sense of humour in it.
D: I read that Sun Ra was a really funny guy… I mean, totally mad, but really good fun.
HA: I think not knowing whether he was joking would be the thing.
D: I’ve been driving myself a bit mad today with your pineapples. Should I be looking into them that much?
HA: Well, short story is in Liverpool the merchants used them on the gateposts on their houses as a signifier that they were merchants and involved in shipping and we thought that seemed fairly apt with how things have gone in the country with obsessions on status. Plus, it was a bit daft that we liked.
D: I was reading a blog today, not for a short period of time, called ‘A Brief History of Gateposts’.
HA: (laughing) Good new reading source.
D: Oh, the other thing I noticed is that your LP drops on a Wednesday rather than Friday… specifically April 20th… that is significant too right?
HA: Yeah, it’s “420”. As well as the exotic theme, we like the idea of a piss-take stoners album when it really isn’t that. We thought it was funny above all else. I think 4:20 was the time that they'd stave off until they could smoke weed… something like that, but 420 is in relation to cannabis culture.
D: I wondered if 420 was a police code or something.
HA: You’d think it was something a bit more tech, but no. The release fell sort of close to that date so we made the jump and also to maybe stand away a little from Record Store Day.
D: What are your own experiences of Record Store Day?
HA: I’ve been involved with a couple of things that have been released on the day over the years. I think as a punter… well, I think it has probably done more good than bad, but I am a bit sceptical and it feels like it might have been hijacked a little bit by the majors and turned into a circus. It should be about helping the smaller shops.
D: I feel like it is at a turning point.
HA: It almost feels inevitable. Whether it is a festival or anything that is expected to grow year after year it will reach a point where it becomes more and more about the commercialisation than the music I suppose.
D: Circus is a very interesting word to use, I think in terms of both positive and negative connotations. Next year's tenth anniversary is a good opportunity to really address everyone's thoughts I think.
HA: It’s a good opportunity on the tenth anniversary, it’s a good reason as you say to go into the studio and record something special.
D: If there was something that you really wanted to buy from the Record Store Day list, where would you be queuing on that morning?
HA: I would be at Probe in Liverpool. It’s a shop I’ve always been going to since I was a kid, it’s moved around a bit since then, but it’s still a really great shop. Good set of staff that have been working there for years. I didn’t used to even say “alright” to them, I was probably a bit scared to be honest (laughing) but I say hello these days.
D: Probe interests me a lot. They don’t have a really crisp logo or visual identity and I’m not sure they're even on social websites… but they seem to have a lot of honesty to what they do. Is that, more broadly speaking, indicative of Liverpool and its music scene in general?
I remember Probe had it on the wall with one of their stickers on the front saying “You should listen to this release…” I think that felt as satisfying as anything else we did really.
HA: I think so. I am sure that is true because Probe couldn't really get away with being anything other than honest, I think people would latch onto that straight away. It’s more of a basic thing, there is nothing particularly flash, there is no hard sell. I know it’s been taken on in quite a few independent shops but Probe always have stickers on the front of releases with small write-ups or recommendations. It seems to me that even though it is a relatively small thing it makes a big difference. It makes you want to listen to it. I think you can quickly see if people are doing it for the love of it.
D: I’m certainly not rich…
HA: (laughing) I know… I think you realise that quite early on don’t you?
D: Where else is Liverpool is good for shopping?
HA: Grand Central is an old performance hall and that has individual stalls. There is a stall in there called Cult Vinyl and that is old stuff, always good for a general look around. Plenty of oddball shops. I am sure in this boom time for vinyl that plenty of shops have opened and shut.
D: I think it’s interesting to note that a shop can only really exist if it is part of that culture it is physically in… if it is not, if it is synthesized, then it can be pretty unwelcome.
HA: Yeah. Probe always had adverts and cards up from people in bands, listings to sell musical equipment and stuff and that was very much the cultural meeting place.
D: Liverpool is very much a band's city, a musical city.
HA: It is, it is still that way and still predominantly about bands. There have been some movements towards electronic music or club music, but it is still mostly about bands and I think you wouldn't see that in say... Bristol or London.
D: As part of it, does it feel like a strong scene still?
HA: It does actually yeah. We had Bido Lito! the music magazine here for about five years now and that has really helped to make it feel like something definite, something that exists. The community isn’t competitive between the bands, it doesn't feel bitchy.
D: We met Peter Guy last year who is doing great work there too… also an Everton fan so that goes over well with us… that said, aren't you Liverpool fans?
HA: I’m … well, I used to be a big fan and was lucky enough to be around to see the Dalglish sides but once I got into music I kind of just drifted away from football… so if I’m honest I am a bit of a plastic supporter these days.
D: I guess I’m also pretty plastic as although I’ve supported Everton for 30 years I live 300 odd miles away and have never seen a game at Goodison Park…
HA: What got you into supporting Everton then?
D: My Dad. They were pretty barren in the fifties and I think he saw them as underdogs and started to support them as it might piss people off… I mean, hardly anyone knew where in the country they were either… so when I turned up, I was just told that we were Everton fans. A rubbish inheritance for sure.
HA: They’ve always been pretty steady, this last decade anyway.
D: I think it has prepared me for life… be glad with what you’ve got, always be ambitious, but don't set your heart on it… it’s just not worth it. Quite grounding right?
HA: The nearly men… you had a decent side in the mid-80s though.
D: And some! I was old enough to know what was going on and I do remember those trophies, but in my life, in terms of what I can really remember clearly, we’ve won the FA Cup once… not a good return at 34 years old...
HA: That was the problem with that time period, we took it for granted, it was like “Who are we winning against this week then”, you get completely spoiled. I think I was just glad to finally see Alex Ferguson get taken down a few pegs finally… it seemed like he could do no wrong for years.
D: Growing up in Liverpool, was it Probe that you would have visited for the first time
HA: Yeah, it was Probe in the city centre. I lived in one of the suburbs, about twenty minutes outside the city centre. I can remember in junior school, just after new wave and the mod revival stuff I was aware of people talking about Probe and I wanted to see what it was like there. Through that quite rapidly I started looking back at places like Eric’s circa 1981 and Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes and started to really follow those scenes… then further back at psychedelia and the Velvets and on and on, but all starting at some point with Probe.
D: Do you remember your first purchase?
HA: First one I think was the “Too Much Too Young” single.
D: Have you still got it?
HA: Yeah, yeah I have still got it I think… it’s at my mum’s (laughing). It didn't have a 45 adaptor, the plastic in the middle so I remember feeling a bit ripped off. That said, it had five or six songs on so it was quite good value at the same time...
D: How did it feel going into a record shop for the first time?
HA: Probe, as I was saying, was quite scary, kind of intimidating as I was only about 12 probably. It was prime time for punk too so lots of mohicans and other things that at that age seemed very weird-looking. Going in there not knowing much about indie music and just hearing music that was almost hard to make sense of, but that was also so exciting and was what really drew me to it.
D: And since then, which shops have really resonated with you?
HA: There is one in Liskeard, which is more of a second-hand shop. That place is really good, there aren't many of those places now where you feel like you can go in and buy records that aren’t overpriced, those sort of bargains just don’t seem to be there anymore. There is another shop I like in Southport called Quicksilver and I like that for the same reason. I think in Liverpool one of my favourites was Pink Moon which sadly isn't there anymore. They used to specialise in all the Liverpool band releases, stuff you just couldn't get anywhere else.
D: Do you remember seeing your own music in a record shop for the first time?
HA: Not specifically which release, but I remember Probe had it on the wall with one of their stickers on the front saying “You should listen to this release…” I think that felt as satisfying as anything else we did really.
D: I love in-shop information, what else is important in a shop to you?
HA: I’d probably say dark corners… something that isn’t so brightly lit, where you can drift into the background a bit and have a look through on your own, like basements. You can spend a really long time in a record shop if you don’t feel out of place or obliged to buy something.
For me it has to all be nice and relaxed.
+ Photographed by Dot Blackburn
+ This interview was published in issue ten of Deluxe. Available in all good shops now and online to read here.