low cut high tops
DEBUT ALBUM "EH, WHATEVER"
“What would sound good?” That, says David Burns—the frontman, axman, and everything-man behind the indie-pop act Low Cut High Tops—is the simple, singular question at the heart of his very nuanced debut album, Eh, Whatever (out January 22 on Kobalt Music). From his start making music at 7 (that’s right: age seven), this Seattle native has always been quick to indulge his curiosities, breaking out of his comfort zone. If an artist’s brand is rooted in their image, his musical currency lies in taking his DIY aesthetic to a genre-rattling extreme.
This is immediately evident in restless rant of “Red Lipstick,” Burns’ first single, which also happens to be the first song he wrong for Eh, Whatever. The title, of course, is ironic. While Burns’ output may seem effortless in an art-punk way, there’s a lot of method to his aural madness—a whirl of anthemic electronics, avant-garde atmospherics, and unwashed garage rock.
“Red Lipstick” also captures the very first time Burns, a self-taught musician who started out by programming, ever picked up a guitar. “I wanted to take the JUSTICE approach—do it almost ignorantly and make something that sounded fresh,” he explains of this punk piss-take about growing apart from a superficial ex-girlfriend. (Clearly there is great subversion his love life: Another Eh, Whatever track, the swelling, bluesy “I’m Coming Onto You” broaches similar topics.) “I didn’t need the perfect hi-fi sound, so the whole album is power chords. My goal is for people to sing along to my music in their cars. I want the power to connect with people on that level.”
Where Low Cut High Tops’ “Red Lipstick” boldly bridges sloppy and sing-songy, its indie-spirited video, shot by Burns, is just as provocative. An an aspiring filmmaker-photographer, Burns was just as inspired by the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sid and Nancy, No Country for Old Men) and director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) as he was by JUSTICE. “Storytelling is boring,” he says. “I wanted quality, cinematic shots.
The video opens by voyeuristically following a twentysomething woman’s bare behind. Sure, it’s smirky, but it’s actually a mis en place for the song’s broader message. “You don’t really like the person, but there’s physical attraction,” he says. “You want the sex.” Vice, in kind, complimented his “his surprisingly powerful snarling…voice” as well as his panty-sniffing acting skills in the spot. Clarifies Burns, laughing, “Those were actually clean panties my friend bought.”
Low Cut High Tops may be rife with angst, but Burns is a bona-fide prodigy. In the second grade, he started noodling around with sounds on P2P apps. (“I was one of those highly capable kids,” he explains, when pressed.) Two years later, he was skillfully mashing hip-hop tracks. This so impressed his mom that she upgraded him to legit software. By his sophomore year of high school, Burns was in a rap-satire duo that rhymed “about things we did not do…just the raunchiest of raunch.”
Word of mouth led to production work with local artists, which in turn earned him his first label deal at age 17. This came just after he entered art school, which he willfully quit because it wasn’t inspiring to him. “A lot of the kids there didn’t actually go for art,” he says of their empty imperative to be part of that scene. But when that label began to push him into working with mainstream-pop artists, he grew disenchanted with that as well. At the time, Burns found great inspiration in Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. “So everything I worked on, they’d be like, ‘This is too weird.’”
Weirdness, however, has become Low Cut High Tops’ greatest virtue. “I’ve always done great things when I’m isolated from people,” says Burns, who works out of his bedroom in his parents’ house. So after leaving his label deal, he retreated back to his bedroom and worked on new material. “I even did a song with Fatlip from the Pharcyde that I financed myself,” he says of his arsenal of unreleased material, which numbers nearly 1,000 compositions.
Reinvigorated, Burns ultimately composed roughly 30 songs for what would become Low Cut High Tops. He used a broken guitar his dad bought him when he was 12 and a drum set borrowed from his uncle to flesh out his work. Songs such as “Let’s Run Away,” which veers between buoyant and jittery, capture his headspace at this time—touching on how he deflected anxiety about the future by focusing on the present.
“During the day, my dad would say, ‘Don’t record anything.’ Then at night, ‘You’re waking us up!’” he recalls. “So there really was a lot of brainstorming. If I got a two-hour window to record something, then I just went balls-to- the-wall with it.” That’s no exaggeration: Some tracks, such as the harmonically off-kilter ditty “Pretty Eyed Girl,” were written and recorded in two hours flat.
“It’s a really hip-hop approach,” he says. “I focus on making a instrumental first. Then I’ll pull the mic towards me and sing gibberish over it until I find a really cool melody.” For instance “Raise Hell,” and its confident crescendo of muscular chords, was inspired by words uttered by Mike Tyson in a documentary he was watching at the time. “Who says, ‘raise hell” anymore?” Burns says. “He’s so raw and honest. He’s just out there. He’s just him.”
Before long, these tracks, which Burns put on SoundCloud, had amassed a grassroots following. At best, he figured Low Cut High Tops could nab a few sync deals, until Cobalt’s VP of Creative convinced him otherwise. Now with Eh, Whatever finally dropping, Burns is preparing to face his greatest challenge yet: performing live. “I mean, I performed one hip-hop show in high school. Everything that could’ve gone bad, did…,” he says. “I really have no idea how to perform live.” Burns pauses. “But, you know, I’ll figure it out.”