Today, we sit down with Tim Harrington and Paul Wright of indie-folk duo Tall Heights to discuss their latest single 'The Mountain'. Inspired by a lost photograph of their friend's late grandfather, 'The Mountain' is a riveting piece that centers on the importance of moments together with passed loved ones and taking time to process and heal. The duo expands on this project by inviting fans to share a photograph and story of their passed loved ones. These photos adorn Paul's attic, as the duo films and sings for their music video.
“It's about the ephemeral moment, the thing that is lost, the relationships, the moments in time you wish you could jar up and keep forever that you can’t. And therefore, I love that we can’t find the original photo that inspired the idea, and therefore everybody else’s photos are filling just fine.”
P.S. For a chance to win a Tall Heights band tee and Lomography Simple Use Camera, enter our giveaway at the bottom!
Can you introduce yourselves individually?
T: My name is Tim Harrington, born and raised in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and actually still where I reside. I play guitar and sing for Tall Heights.
P: My name is Paul Wright, born and raised in Sturbridge, Massachusetts as well, but I live in Portland, Maine now. I play cello and sing. We’ve known each other since we were little kids. Tim’s older brother was my best friend growing up, and so Tim was kind of the young squirt following us around. Many years later, we were each starting to write our own songs and you know, it wasn’t something our friends were doing. We started collaborating and writing together.
Why the name 'Tall Heights'?
T: Well, the name 'Tall Heights' has a boring story. It’s kind of a mashup of our names—just the sound of the words combined. So Tim and Paul combined become Tall. And Harrington and Wright combined become Height. And then we made it plural. In the tradition of using our names, we didn’t want to be Harrington and Wright, so we just took our names and made a band name out of our names.
What made you work together?
T: As far as why do we write, why do we do what we do, why have we weirdly intertwined our lives together for the last 20 years or something crazy having known each other for so long? We thought it was a normal thing; we thought it’s the way you collaborate with a person. I think recently we’ve realized how special our bond and our relationship are. We were living together in this house in Beverly, Massachusetts that we call the Tall House for about six years. When the pandemic struck, everything was obviously turned upside down. We were surprised and confused and scared. At the time, we did what we thought was totally normal: write and create. But given the amount of tremendous personal turmoil as well as global turmoil, we had health problems in our family and a lot of important people to us, unfortunately, passed away. I had a substance abuse issue happening in my family. We both found out that our wives were pregnant around the same time while we were living together. While we were in quarantine, we ended up writing and recording about 25 new songs during that time.
It illustrates that in a day-to-day sort of function, we turn to each other to process the full sprawl of the human experience. We turn to each other as two people who are curious about processing life and expression. The output of that is songs. We thought it was a normal friendship but since we’ve moved out of that house, we are realizing in hindsight: "wow, what an interesting reaction to all that strife and turmoil and isolation".
Could you tell us about the song and project 'The Mountain'?
P: It started with a photograph. We can’t find this photograph.
T: I love that we can’t find this photograph, it’s kind of perfect.
P: Our friend texted it to us to let us know his grandfather had passed away. It was a photo from the previous day of his grandfather sitting in his hospital bed looking out the window at the mountains in Vermont and the sun shining on his face. It's a really poignant image of a man on his last day. Even though we didn’t know him we felt so much for him and for our friend. And that was really the origin of the song. Then we had the idea, because of that origin story, to reach out to fans to ask them for that really special photo of someone they loved who had passed on. It’s always wonderful that you engage with fans in that way and not just share things in one direction. It’s great to get things back; you just don’t know who’s going to feel moved to share something.
We were totally overwhelmed by the response to this request. So many people sent beautiful photos and included amazing testimonials telling us about their special person and a lot of people said things like “I don’t even care if you use this, thank you for the opportunity to remember my brother, my dad, my grandfather, and tell you about him.”
T: I think at this moment, in the world as we emerge from this crazy period of time of isolation, the act of sharing is cleansing. As Paul said, it was so cool to read these heartfelt testimonials and see these photos of people we don’t know and feel so connected. To be right there with people even as we haven’t been with people for a while. It’s crazy how eternal and universal these feelings are.
P: Tim read some of them first and told me that he was crying. I thought that was really sweet. He’s a heart-on-the-sleeve guy, and then I read them and cried too.
What does the song mean to you?
T: Not finding the original photo made us realize it doesn’t matter that we lost that photo. It doesn't matter that we’ll never see that photo again because it’s not about a specific photograph. The song is about the importance of a moment together. And the song is, in our own agnostic naturalistic spiritualism, the promise of eternity that we impart upon the natural world around us, to say "When I see roses I think of my grandmother because she loved roses" or "When I see a cardinal I think of my brother because he was superstitious about seeing cardinals". In this case of 'The Mountain', I’ll be looking at the mountain because he loved that place. And that’s a place that you will live for me forever.
“What is eternal about that is the ephemeral moment, the thing that is lost, the relationships, the moments in time you wish you could jar up and keep forever that you can’t. That's what it's about. And therefore, I love that we can’t find the original photo that inspired the idea, and therefore everybody else’s photos are filling just fine.”
P: It’s not like we sat down to write a song about the COVID times. But obviously, it feels so relevant and important because they are things we’re talking about: symbols and ceremonies for people we love and lost. Those are denied to so many people who lost loved ones during COVID where they were taken to a hospital and never seen again, or couldn’t do a funeral. It’s a reminder of how important it is for us humans to have those symbols and ceremonies.
T: I didn’t lose anyone I know to COVID but I did lose a grandfather at the beginning of COVID. I still feel like I haven’t processed that because I wasn’t able to. ‘The Mountain’ as a song has been really helpful for me. Low and behold the week we put that song out, my grandfather’s wife died. I was on a whole other level of playing that song for a week where it really helped me because as Paul said, we’ve been denied a lot of those experiences.
Is there one message that you hope to convey to your fans?
T: I think this moment for us is about a realization that we’re wide-eyed, surprised, and brand new in this surprising landscape where there’s no control. There’s healing and hope in that you realize you can take every moment through these beginner’s eyes and through this understanding that you can’t control a single thing so all you can do is create.
“Wake up and move forward on something that matters. For us that’s songwriting. It’s expressing ourselves through song, melody, harmony, and instrumentals. It’s this new ethos for us in which we are empowered because we are clueless.”
P: Our last record two years ago has been a total rollercoaster. The new mantra is to understand we’re not in control. Know that everything will change and to try to find beauty in that. It’s not easy to find beauty in losing a loved one; but as discussed, it’s there.
Have you developed any relationship to photography through this project?
T: It would be a misrepresentation to describe ourselves as photographers.
P: If I hadn’t made a record during COVID, that would’ve been a good hobby.
T: We have a tremendous appreciation for artistic beauty and expression in many of its forms. I think photography is sort of like songwriting in that it is capable of moving mountains. It’s wild the way one photo or one song can change the course of history. Not to say that’s what any of us here are doing, we can only hope. But that’s why you wake up in this different landscape every day and try to capture it.
As songwriters, we’re a bit photographic in that we’ve never elevated our craft in our minds to anything loftier than just trying to capture a moment and document it. I think that’s what photography is about too. It’s usually something that isn’t as grandiose as its impact ends up being. Just a photo of a person and a place. It doesn't have to be so shocking or rare. It’s just something where you haven’t seen it that way.
That’s super interesting. The feeling that we need to capture a moment and hold on to it is for a lot of people why we take photos. But at the end of the day, a lot of us are realizing it doesn't work like this. You can’t really convey that moment in just one photograph. It has this different effect in which a random photo can become something when you later look back.
T: I feel that. I experience that. You can totally see that at work when you’re walking around Paul’s attic still adorned with all these photos of dead people. He kind of seems dodgy with these photos floating around because A) we were too lazy to take them down and B) we felt it was hard to destroy.
As these photos attest, you can see most, if not all, were taken without their purpose in mind. This was not that moment they thought they needed to hold onto forever. It was just a moment that grafted itself onto their being and then they’re sharing it with us, and now it’s grafted onto our being. That’s such a great message to convey in the Instagram era: Stop trying so hard to take a moment look and feel and last. Instead, release and let go. You don’t know when a moment is going to stick.
So, what else is lined up for you guys this year? What can we expect next from Tall Heights?
T: We have made another album coming up and have talked about it pretty loosely. Right now we’re playing shows in people’s backyards, and that really aligns with what we talked about. We’re playing in backyards! There’s nothing grandiose or lofty about that, but in its simplicity, without feelings of grandeur, I feel some sort of a religious leader at these shows. I’m not saying that with a god complex, maybe more of a discussion group for some spiritually interested. It just feels really valuable. I’m speaking mostly for us but I’m getting the vibe it means a lot to other people too. It’s a good moment to be playing in backyards and offering yourself in your simplest form in an environment that’s as accessible and comfortable as a backyard. That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we’re going to continue to do into the fall.