Interview: High Vis

Frontman Graham Sayle on defying professionalism and finding personal perspectives on socio-political issues

“All I’ve done since this morning is have meetings on computers and feel naughty,” laughs High Vis frontman Graham Sayle from his sofa, cuppa in hand. He’s fresh off a driving course – “I got done for being on my phone in the car” – and a podcast that apparently got quite personal. “I’ve got no filter at all,” he grins. “I literally can’t stop myself.

It’s the end of a long day for Sayle, but there’s no hint of tiredness. If anything, as our conversation continues, he becomes more energised. Totally in love with the act of making music, every gesture of recognition and period of monetary gain is a bonus for High Vis. It’s a sentiment that seems appropriate in light of post-punk outfit’s latest offering, Blending, a candid response to the capitalistic corruption overtaking Britain and a love letter to the people feeling its effects.

Born out of the hardcore scene in London, influenced by Britpop and 80s post-punk, High Vis is comprised of Graham Sayle, Edward ‘Ski’ Harper, Rob Hammeren and Martin McNamara. All ex-members of other hardcore bands, they came together in High Vis to utilise their experience and create a new sound, hopping genres to follow whatever appealed to them. On Blending, their sophomore record, they are at their most skilful and visceral, whilst losing none of the sincerity that have earned them their fanbase. They unpack the oppression of the working class, mental health and the constant search for hope with blunt grace.

Or, as Sayle puts it: “I just moan about stuff.” Passionate about his work, tongue-in-cheek about his talent and allergic to compliments, he is an ideal representation of what he writes. Few groups manage to sit so successfully in the intersection between hardened, outspoken working-class heroes and wide-eyed dreamers who just want to play guitar.

High Vis - "Talk For Hours" (Official Video)

You guys released your first singles on Spotify in 2018. What’s changed over the last four years?

I think we became more of a band and started taking it a bit more seriously. We were just putting stuff out sporadically, whenever it happened. When we signed with Dais, they sort of had like a plan. In the past I’d just be like, “Quick, put it out now. Get rid of it. It’s done.” And then we’d do another thing and then be like, “Quick, do that.” And I think none of us really gave any of the songs the credit that we should have – we just weren’t very precious about anything. We’d just do a thing and then put the thing out. We’ve definitely become a bit more… not professional because we’re not professional! But organised.

Why do you say you’re not professional?

Because I think as soon as something becomes professional it’s not fun, is it? To call something professional, that means it’s just a part of your daily life. But also, at the same time, the idea that like you could do a band and it be something that doesn’t just cost you loads of money is quite good.

Do you think you guys have managed that?

No! F*ck no. But hopefully in the future we will. Even just like selling tickets – before, we’d never sell tickets. The idea of that seemed mad because we’d basically just play shows to our mates and we’d let everyone in for free anyway. But now I understand that there is a market and people kind of want to pay to do cool stuff.

Is that what most of your early shows were, just playing to friends?

That’s the world we come from. Your mates’ bands would ask you to play or the promoters… it’s quite a close knit circle. But there were also periods where we played no shows, and then we’d get asked to play other shows from other scenes or whatever – we never really fitted into any mold, I guess.

A lot of publications have found you guys quite hard to pin down, because your sound pulls from so many different genres and schools of thought. Was that the aim from the beginning, to create that blended sound?

No, not at all. There was no aim. I still don’t think there is an aim. No one’s steering this ship.

What’s propelling it?

F*ck knows! Hyperactivity, I think. I don’t know what’s propelling it really. Just sort of… everyone. People take different roles and push it in certain directions. The earliest stuff was driven by Ski (Edward ‘Ski’ Harper) and little Rob (Hammeren). And then when Martin (McNamara) joined it started going a bit of a different direction. It’s a living thing.

High Vis - "Fever Dream" (Official Video)

It’s a difficult time to be an artist in the UK in a lot of ways. Do you find it hard to access that motivation?

The motivation to do it? It’s not hard to do it, because we’d be doing this anyway. Now that we’re trying to tour and stuff like that, we’re looking at being, like I said, a bit more together. Before, we’d go on tour, we’d know what to expect and it would just cost us money. Now, we’ve all got to pay rent, when none of us have money… looking at it as something that we could break even on is kind of amazing.

We’re learning as we go along. We’re learning that if you get merch together before you go away, people might buy that merch, rather than on tour going, “Oh, yeah, we could do this t-shirt,” and then printing 20 and giving them to your mates.

Does Blending represent that effort to make all it feel more together?

I think so. It was just more of a positive record, or not necessarily positive but more about understanding ourselves and looking at what drives us and who we are as people. The hope that is in that kind of comes out in other ways. So now we’re just being a bit more like focused on not being confined to that idea of what you’ve done before means like, you’re in your box.

We could play to the same people every time and that’s quite easy. The idea of playing to people who don’t know us at all is quite terrifying. But I want to do it. I don’t want to just play to the same people. I still want to play to my mates, though. I’ll never not.

Are you still doing those mates-only gigs?

I always will, I think. We know loads of people that do interesting things like Concrete Culture, which my mate Alex does and it’s this thing in a skatepark in Dulwich. We will always play stuff like that. If people do an interesting cool community-based stuff, absolutely. No one’s saying no if there’s no money and this is only for fun. It does seem at the moment that a lot of people in our scene are doing quite well. We’ve come from a really rich scene. And like London’s got loads of great underground hardcore bands.

When you first came to London in the early 2010s, did you find it quite easy to immediately get involved in this community?

I moved to London because I knew I was into hardcore and I knew the hardcore scene in London. I knew people down here. I basically went to Goldsmiths because I was seeing a girl who went to Goldsmiths and I was like, “Oh, right, yeah, that’ll be me going.” And then I came down and I was like, “F*cking hell, this is mental.” And then I started a band.

Do you think it’s been an advantage that all of you have been in bands before High Vis?

Definitely. We approach it in the same way as we would a hardcore band. We’re not burdened by aspiration, you know, no one gives a f*ck. Everything’s a bonus and we’re not like, “We should be playing this, we should be doing that.” And it’s just cool. Because, obviously, we want to do this with our mates.

High Vis - Walking Wires

A lot of conversation surrounding Blending has aligned its post-punk 80s sound with the political parallels between the 80s and the 2020s. Was that something you were intending to get across?

It’s definitely not something I intended, no. I think some of this stuff, working class class identity and stuff like that, I talked about a bit and people just ran with. But I do stand by all that stuff.

I think these times do seem quite similar to the 80s. I wasn’t actively involved in the miner strike – my family all worked at the docks. But the managed decline of the north… there’s a lot of similarities to what was going on then. And I think years of austerity have had an effect on people in the country.

It’s interesting how incredibly timely the album seems, even if unintentionally.

Definitely. It’s songs like ‘0151’, I think, because that song is overtly f*cking northern. But I wrote that after my uncle died in lockdown. He worked on the docks. I just started thinking about that and about the docks shut down and the treatment of people in the northwest and all those letters that got published about the managed decline of that area.

That made me think about all the cuts to services and things that affected my brother’s life and stuff like that, that I saw. I live down here, but I’m still there, you know? l see exactly the effect that these cuts have on people, especially the vulnerable. My brother, he’s disabled. Even little cut, like bus services, just have a profound effect on him – he can’t go anywhere. He’s literally stuck at home. I think about the effect that has on his mental health and the complete lack of support. And then every year he gets reassessed to see if he’s still disabled because it’s pushed by the government.

When you write about these topics, do you often approach them from that personal angle?

I mean yeah, because I don’t know what the f*ck else to do, really. I’m not poetic. I can only really write about what I know. A lot of it’s just trying to make sense of yourself, isn’t it? Blending as an album was born out of just looking at myself and starting to try and understand why. Why I feel how I feel, or why I am what I am. Maybe the next album will be clever.

High Vis - "Blending" (Official Lyric Video)

Do you feel like you tend to be self-deprecating when you talk about your music?

Naturally, I think. I don’t want to hear someone telling someone that something they’ve done is sick. I’m like, I like it. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. I don’t want to put anything out into the world and be like, “This is f*cking amazing.” Because it’s just a thing that me and my mates are doing. It’s so nice that people connect with it and talk to us about it. But I can’t take a compliment.

Does the reception you get ever take you by surprise?

Oh my god, I’ve had messages from people in the f*cking pit of America – I don’t even know where they are – just being like, “I really like this song. I connected with it.” And I just think about that song being about me and my d*ckhead mates. You know? It’s hard to understand, but I believe it. I don’t think people are trying to gas me up to make me feel better or whatever.

What are your hopes for 2023?

I want to tour. I especially want to go to America. I think we’ve got like a little European tour in February. But I have to work around my real life job, so that’s the tricky bit at the moment really trying to organizeit and pay for visas and stuff like that. That’s why it’s good that people are buying tickets for stuff because I’m just like, “Oh, wait, people do actually want to come to it.” I don’t know the size or scale of anything. It feels nice that people like stuff, but I don’t know, in reality how many people do until we play shows until meet people and go, “F*cking hell, you’ve come to watch us. That’s cool.”

I guess you’re kind of in your bubble?

I’m constantly in my bubble. I don’t know if I want to come out.

Blending is out now on Dais Records. High Vis will play Bristol Strange Brew in February 2023. Find tickets here.