Philadelphia Freedom: Highnoon

With Isolation Drills, MAGNET has been checking in with Philadelphia-area musicians during the pandemic, while Where We Belong shines a light on our beloved local venues. Now that our city is opening again, MAGNET has launched Philadelphia Freedom to explore what happens next with our music scene, post-quarantine. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Kennedy Freeman: When MAGNET did these photos, we were working on a song I wrote for my band Highnoon. I write and sing the songs as well as play rhythm guitar and sometimes keys. Brendan Simpson plays lead guitar, Nathan Avila plays the bass, Justin Roth plays the drums.

We’re planning to release it as the first of two digital singles. We hope to have this one out by the end of the year. We spent the afternoon Thursday tracking drums and acoustic guitar, then all day Friday doing electric guitars, bass, vocals and synths.

My approach to writing and recording has shifted pretty starkly in the pandemic. I found myself with a lot more time to devote to song ideas and to study other works that inspire me. I learned about things like guitar tone and compiled a pedal board that helps me better achieve the sound I’m looking for. I was also finally able to get an interface so when I had an idea, I didn’t have to wait to show the band live and could make up a demo that was already pretty close to what I was going for. This also allowed me to self-record for the first time with my acoustic EP, Divers, which I released on Bandcamp in May. I’ve also been taking vocal lessons during the year, so if there were parts in the songs I was struggling with, I could bring them to my instructor and learn techniques to help me get the parts down.

Having time to improve my skills has made me feel much better prepared in a studio space with the band. We could construct a very thorough demo of this song before we were even able to meet in person after we’d gotten our vaccinations. I would send out the original demo, then work individually with Bren, Justin and Nathan to create the parts together. They would send their stems to me, and I would provide feedback. Then within the next couple weeks, they’d send me another pass, and we’d put it all together to listen to it.

This is the first time we’ve ever made a song together as a four-piece, so we didn’t really have a process to fall back on. It admittedly took a long time for us to get somewhere and adjust to remote demoing. But I think it gave us the advantage of really getting to learn the song. I was also able to pay much more attention to detail when listening and fine tuning all the parts. I was really happy to have spent the time cultivating a really thorough process and learning that we don’t have to be in the same location to get really good work done. Being a fairly new band, it was hard for us to adapt to the changes of lockdown, but I’m really proud of how much we’ve learned in making this single. It will be the very first song we’ve made together, and I’m really excited for everyone to hear it.

Aside from playing lead guitar, Brendan also spearheaded the engineering of the single. He wanted to share these words: “I’ve been interning at Headroom since 2018, and since then, I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn under some really incredible engineers. But with regard to the pandemic, I wasn’t able to sit in on as many sessions in 2020 as I would’ve hoped. I’ve always been a pretty meticulous note-taker, so I spent the weeks leading up to the session pouring over old notes to prep for recording the single. We were very grateful to have Johanna Baumann help as assistant engineer. It can definitely be a challenge to juggle the roles of engineer, producer and band member, especially when you’re already so familiar with the demo. Having Johanna provide some fresh ears and perspective really helped elevate the song. It was also kind of surreal taking the song from the early demo stages to the full-band studio recording. I’m also so incredibly thankful to have Kennedy’s trust to do the single justice. And on a personal note, I couldn’t be more proud to have my first session at Headroom be with people I care about so much!”

As restrictions are lifted in Philadelphia, we’re all looking forward to safely playing accessible shows again and finally being able to work on the new album!