By Justin Smulison
Long Island is the birthplace of several successful bands and musicians. One relatively new band making a name for itself is Born On High, a Huntington, NY-based group comprised of local scene veterans. The quartet seamlessly blends groove, hardcore, thrash and a dash of punk which electrifies during live shows.
Born On High’s members had been in various groups which experienced modest success opening for national acts during the past 15-plus years. And after some lineup shuffles, the band solidified its current roster: guitarist Mike Melo, drummer Mike Lalli, bassist Joe MacDougall and vocalist Scot Trollan. The camaraderie of Melo and MacDougall goes back decades, as friends since 1989 and continually playing in several bands together since then.
The band typically keeps things local. BOH’s debut EP, The Barlow Files, was recorded at Looney Tunes Studio in Holbrook, New York by Patrick Rutter. Mastering is by Patrick Rutter Studios. The Barlow Files was released for free on Bandcamp in November 2019 and was recently featured as one of “Ten Overlooked Albums of 2019.” The EP is a hard-hitting, five-song collection which explores inner strife and socioeconomic struggles.
Musicinterviewmagazine.com recently caught up with Born On High to discuss the band’s history, writing and recording processes and what the future may hold for this promising, sub-genre-blending hardcore metal group.
Musicinterviewmagazine.com: The history of Born On High is deeply rooted in Long Island’s local music scene. Take us back to the start.
Joe MacDougall: Mike Melo and I first met back in 1989 through a mutual friend and quickly became best friends. We formed a band, but always struggled to find a bass player. That’s when I picked up the bass and we then went on to find the other missing players. In 1994, Exhaust was formed and when the drummer left in 2002, we found Mike Lalli, aka ‘Chops.’ He had been jamming with members of a group named 40 Below Summer.
Then, the search for a singer began. After a ton of auditions, Vinny Vocia joined and OneMoreBreath was formed in 2004. A new chapter started; songs were written and we opened up for bands like Soulfly, Prong and Powerman 5000.
In early 2014, we were again on the hunt for a singer. After jamming for two years with no singer, but with a ton of new material, it was time to get back on stage. We jam at Looney Tunes Studio, so we asked an acquaintance there if he knew any singers. We were introduced to Scot Trollan, who was singing for Ionize; they were also jamming at the studio. We hit it off and the band Barlow was formed.
We quickly realized we had felt a new energy in the band. As the sound formulated, Barlow was renamed. Born On High was spawned.
That sounds like a right place, right time scenario.
Scot Trollan: Lalli reached out to me through a text [while I was with Ionize], and we quickly realized that we knew each other from jamming years ago. I was in a band called i131 and he was in Lunicide and our bands would constantly hang and play together. I was always really impressed with their sound. Cut to the recent past and our groove came together real quick and then we just spent time locked away refining it. It’s good to finally be playing these songs for people.
We had previously likened you to a cross between Clutch and Biohazard, with strong elements of groove and hardcore. How would you characterize your sound?
JM: I guess we are kind of a heavy groove-based band. We are tuned down to B and like that low-tuning punch we get. We all had input on the editing, production and mastering of the EP. Patrick Rutter really helped us out a lot.
ST: Thanks so much for the compliment. Those are two vocalists and bands I admire. Born On High definitely brings a solid groove and I just found my place within that vibe. My vocals have always had a groove style, even back when doing extreme metal, so it’s a real good match. Melo’s tuning also suits my vocals really well.
I think we are all rooted in Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, both of which brought the groove. We are also all big Slayer fans, so I think we try to channel some of that intensity. I don’t feel we ‘settled’ on a sound as much as we wanted to try catching our ‘true sound.’
Pat Rutter originally only engineered the tracks and they were produced by someone else. That guy tried to give us a more polished mix and we were not digging the sound. We asked Pat, who had heard us live, to take the reins. He stepped up. We pushed for a big melodic sound and let the rest kind of fall into place.
I first heard you in November 2019 at a small venue, Buckley’s in Valley Stream, Long Island. Barlow Files had just been released and you played it from top to bottom. The EP sounds exactly like you did live. Do you record live as a band in-studio?
JM: We did not do a live recording for our EP. We tracked everything and really focused on making sure the sound we got mimicked our live sound.
ST: Lalli, our drummer, was the foundation for that sound. He recorded his tracks solo. He memorized the beats and had the band playing in his head. The dude is a machine. Melo doesn’t do a lot of overdubbing on the recordings and it helps keep it sounding true. I try to do the same with the vocals.
You have a song called “Infernal” and the riffs sound like something of an homage to Pantera.
You’ve all been part of the local scene for so long. What keeps you playing? What keeps you writing?
JM: Our love for heavy riffs and chest-pounding beats. We are always writing new material and the beats just keep coming, so why stop now?
ST: I think as individuals and as a band, we just need to play. It’s our therapy. It’s a brotherhood. Plus, there is magic in bringing good songs to life.
What influenced you to release Barlow Files on Bandcamp for free?
JM: We just want to get our music heard.
ST: [Bands] used to hand out CDs and now it’s usually a download card. We figured we would make it easy for the listener. Hopefully they come down, see us, rock out, and grab a shirt. The Dead gave their live music away and I always thought that was the coolest.
What are your experiences playing rock and metal in Long Island? What are challenges, advantages or changes?
JM: There are not a lot of good places for local bands to play anymore on Long Island, other than a bunch of smaller bars and clubs. But we love to play out and take every opportunity. Long Island still has a huge music scene, not as big as it was in the late 1990s or 2000s, but the heavy metal music scene is still there in the underground. Those who love it still come out to see live music and we appreciate all the fans from all the bands who come out to support local heavy music. There are still a few good promoters out there giving us local bands a chance to play and have our original music heard, like Todd Smith at Rock Island Management.
ST: There are a ton of smaller clubs on Long Island, with so many great local promoters doing good things and then you have your big clubs. There is no middle-level club for up-and-coming bands anymore. All the mid-level places want tribute acts or cover bands with masks. I think one of the toughest aspects is being a new band and having to cover a ‘pay-to-play’ of 50 tickets for a ‘real show.’ It’s just the way it is and we’ll do it, but it ain’t fun trying to cover that.
But we do play a lot of great smaller shows, and there is definitely a thriving music scene on Long Island still. It’s more DIY for sure. We have met some great Long Island promoters recently who are really trying to keep the scene growing.
What are your goals as a band?
JM: Just keep doing what we love to do: Rehearse and play live. Of course, we would love to get signed one day, but if that doesn’t happen, we won’t let that deter us from playing out and writing new music.
ST: Keep writing good tunes, play some real shows, release a full-length with some label support and repeat. We are currently showcasing and shopping Barlow Files and hoping to catch the ear of someone who believes in our sound. We are trying to build a good following with music and hopefully a deal will follow.
Had any of you previously been signed to a label? If so, what lessons did you learn that you would be mindful of if BOH inks a deal?
JM: I have never been in a band that was signed.
ST: The closest I have been to being signed is my old death metal band’s demos were released by Relapse Records, back in the day. I worked a couple of labels and it’s a double-edged sword; they offer great and wide promotion, but they are nothing more than a loan shark with distribution. You owe every penny back.
Aside from financial and business issues, what are the biggest challenges the band faces now?
JM: I guess the biggest challenge the band faces now is just getting up every day and going through the daily grind. We still have families to care for, support and we are always trying to keep our heads above water. Playing music is our outlet, our therapy, our way to forget about all of the bullshit and nonsense that goes on in our own lives and globally. We live in a fucked up world today. If we don’t start taking better care of our planet, this world is fucked!
[Writer’s note: Check out the BOH song, “This World” on Bandcamp for the full lyrical reference. The track rocks hard.]
ST: Time. We have more creativity and drive than we know what to do with.
Do the songs originate during jam sessions? What is the songwriting process?
JM: We had some material written that we wanted to use when Scot joined us. There was just music, no lyrics nor structure for lyrics. So Scot restructured the jams we had and we made actual songs from them. After that we basically just started to freestyle until we felt the music and all agreed this is a song. We are going to work on this! We just jam and more times than not, we all click and a song is born.
ST: We can spend a whole practice just jamming, playing an idea 1,000 ways. I think it’s cool that we can do that, pushing the music in different ways. My experience has always been with more regimented guitarists in the past, it opens up song writing. These guys had three ideas they had been working with when we got introduced, all of which are on the EP. ‘Psycho Warfare’ was the first song.
That is the killer opener of Barlow Files. It has movie dialogue playing just before Scot sings one of my favorite lines on the album: “I believe in the progress, like a kick in the teeth.” What inspired that line and section?
JM: That’s Morgan Freeman from ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ It’s the scene where he has to keep getting up in front of the parole board and he knows that they will never let him be a free man. So at that point he’s got nothing to lose and he just speaks his mind. It’s about how people mess with your emotions and your mind by giving you a sense of hope and they just keep letting you down.
If you could each pick one active band you’d like to share a stage with, who would it be?
MM: Corrosion of Conformity.
Mike Lalli: Sevendust.
What have been the most surprising reactions you have gotten thus far?
JM: [Laughing] I guess you stating Born On High was an underrated band in 2019 and this interview. In all my years of playing out and sharing the stage with huge touring bands, we have never gotten a request like this and we are all loving it.
We have a few invites to the city we really need to take advantage and go west. It would be great to do some out-of-state shows also, like New Jersey and Connecticut.
You have four more new songs ready to go and record. When might that happen and eventually become available?
JM: We are hoping to have them finalized and possibly recorded by mid-May or early June.
ST: It will definitely be an easier process this time around, so we would definitely like to get those four recorded. We are starting to play them live, so it would be cool to get a full-length record out that basically [captures] our live show.
Speaking of live shows, when and where will you be playing next?
ST: We have been putting together some programming and visuals for our live shows, and trying to get it all tight. [We will use them for] intros, and between songs. It adds another level to the live show.
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.