With a stellar debut album Sleep in the Garden under their belt, we caught up with Canberra band Highland Light for a yarn on all things gaming, songwriting and caffeine addiction.
Just days out from the release of their debut album Sleep in the Garden, Highland Light are catching up on some well-deserved downtime. Tracing themes from mortality to self reflection, the post-hardcore album is an explosion of anthemic grooves, gritty vocals and expansive instrumental landscapes — so it stands to reason that the Canberra four-piece are cooling off with “a few too many hours on the xbox,” says guitarist Riley Gardner.
So essential is video gaming to the band that Gardner credits his early passion for music to Call Of Duty, while fellow guitarist Lachlan McPherson cites Halo among the things that make him the happiest. But there’s more to Sleep in the Garden than its genesis from an Xbox, with the bandmates diving deep into the album’s creation, the music scene in Canberra, and their emotive songwriting for an interview with Happy Mag.
Scroll down to get to know Highland Light with their full interview, and listen to their new debut album Sleep in the Garden below.
HAPPY: What are you up to today?
Riley: I spent half my day commenting on various TikTok videos begging for Title Fight to make a come back and the other half listening to Title Fight
Lachlan: Yet again trying to overcome my G-Fuel addiction but failing miserably
HAPPY: Tell us about your average day?
Lachlan: I’m a music tutor so it usually consists of teaching smoke on the water to my guitar students and seven nation army to my drum students
HAPPY: What about your ultimate day?
Riley: Honestly, I’m a simple man. I appreciate a good sleep in so would have to start with that, maybe a few too many hours on the xbox after that before I decide to drag myself to the gym, then finishing the night off maybe some mates around watching a movie or something.
HAPPY: Tell us about your creative community.
Riley: It’s honestly a fairly tight knit community around the Canberra music scene. Everyone seems to get along and support each other really well, you can always catch other bands at local shows. The only downside I guess is the lack of viable venues for local shows, although I’ll note that this has been getting better with more and more places opting to support the local music scene
HAPPY: What did you read or watch growing up that fuelled your passion for music?
Riley: Off hand but my passion for music actually came from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, I remember sitting there as a 12 year old kid loading into Origins for the first time and hearing Shepherd of Fire by Avenged Sevenfold pumping as the cinematic was going off. I was HOOKED. It inspired me to pick up the guitar to learn the song, I did and I haven’t looked back since.
Lachlan: My Dad gave me a little pink usb mp3 player when I was about 10 or so and about 50% of it was filled with Michael Jackson and the other half with KISS and a bunch of disco songs from the 80’s. I distinctly remember sitting in the lounge room listening to these songs on repeat doing nothing else and being so captured by them.
HAPPY: What did you read or watch last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?
Lachlan: Clarksons Farm. Farmers got it tough man
HAPPY: Can you tell us more about the year-long journey that led to the creation of “Sleep in the Garden”?
Riley: We had the songs for a while so we went into a rehearsal space and practised them religiously till we felt they were good to go. After that it was honestly a lot of demoing, recordings and redoing things. I think we re-recorded everything on the album at least 3 times.
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HAPPY: What themes did you want to explore with this album, and why were they important to you?
Lachlan: This album sorta turned into a culmination of all my emotions after losing my Uncle to cancer in 2019. I’ve always felt that the best song writing comes from the raw, unapologetic, true emotions that everyone of us feels and that was a time in my life where I was really trying to make sense of everything around me in my first adult years.
HAPPY: “Sleep in the Garden” opens the album with a powerful and emotional track. Can you discuss the creative process behind that song and what you were hoping to achieve with it?
Lachlan: It was originally supposed to just be an acoustic song without any drums, bass, electric guitar and all that fun stuff. The guys liked it enough to flesh out the track to what it is today. The lyrics are about grief, growing up and how at the end of the day, it’s up to ourselves to decide what life we want to live.
HAPPY: “The Words You Never Said” is a standout track on the album. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind that song and how it came together?
Lachlan: I only had the intro and main halftime riff for ages. It reminded me of PUP or DZ Deathrays but I had no idea where to go from there. I was getting really into Title Fight and a bunch of other post-hardcore bands at the time and I was very inspired to write something a little faster/punky and once I did, the rest of the song just wrote itself.
HAPPY: How do you balance the emotional intensity of your lyrics with the musical intensity of your post-hardcore sound?
Riley: I don’t think it’s something that we’ve ever really had to think about. I feel like the nature of the lyrics and our musical inspirations just kind of make it happen
HAPPY: “Expectations” is a particularly dynamic and engaging track on the album. Can you discuss the process of creating that song and what you were hoping to convey with it?
Riley: I was very frustrated at that point in my life, I felt like for every step forward i’d be pushed back 3 more, it’s hard to achieve your goals when somebody else is constantly moving the goal posts. There’s also a certain fragility to being in this situation and I wanted to convey that as well.
HAPPY: Can you walk us through your approach to songwriting and how you come up with ideas for your music?
Lachlan: Each song can be different but I find that we’re always creating whenever we feel inspired to do so and it never feels like “work”. For me it usually consists of creating a riff, humming sounds over that riff, turning those sounds into words that have meaning to me and building a structure from there. Over time I’ve written some objectively bad songs but I find as an artist/musician you have to go through the mud to get to the gold.
HAPPY: How has your sound evolved since you first started playing together as a band?
Lachlan: I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re a completely different band to what we were when we first started. Every band has to start somewhere, the important thing is that we create something we’re proud of at the time and continue to grow from there.
HAPPY: What do you hope listeners take away from “Sleep in the Garden” after listening to it?
Lachlan: We’re just a little ol’ band from little ol’ Canberra and although it can be a lot of fun, creating an album is no easy task. I hope people will feel inspired by that in one way or another. The lyrics can be very “heavy” for sure but that’s the reality of life. My favourite artists in the world are the ones who aren’t afraid to embrace any kind of experience or emotion to the fullest.
HAPPY: How has your music evolved over time, and what do you see as the key themes and ideas that run through your work?
Lachlan: The music grows just as we grow as people. We’ve sorta found what we’re good at and although that’s great we don’t wanna just keep putting out the same stuff. I think we’ll always strive to be better and write about things that are important to us.
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HAPPY: What role do you see music playing in shaping and reflecting the current culture, and how do you hope your music contributes to that conversation?
Riley: I think music plays a huge part not only in culture as it always has but also on a smaller scale down to people’s day to day lives.
HAPPY: It’s an escape for a lot of people and I find it amazing that an artist can write a song that has its own meaning to them and then somebody else can take it and interpret it in their own way and connect with it.
It’s like therapy for many. These songs mean a lot to us and I hope others can find their own meaning and connect with them as we do
HAPPY: What’s next for Highland Light, and where do you see yourselves going creatively in the future?
Riley: We’re heading out on tour in support of the album and we’re super keen to meet new people and make new friendships along the way. I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t think anybody does, I try not to worry too much about what’s ahead and live in the moment as much as I can.
HAPPY: What makes you Happy?
Riley: The simple things, staying healthy, always pushing myself and of course my partner, my friends and my family. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without them.
Lachlan: Having genuine close friends and family. Being outside, experiencing the world, caring for others, my dogs, Halo, Star Wars and of course Music.