An Old Soul; An interview with Christine Fink of High Up

High Up release their debut album You Are Here on February 23 via Team Love. You Are Here was produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, First Aid Kit, Monsters of Folk) at ARC Studios in Omaha, Nebraska and showcases a band digging deep into their roots to inject some earnest soulfulness onto the indie rock landscape.

High Up singer Christine Fink moved to Omaha to be closer to her sister, notable singer songwriter Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, etc.) back in 2012. Down South in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Christine had been known to exercise her theatrical roots at the the local karaoke bars – and to great effect. The first time Orenda saw Christine sing at Sheffield’s Old Town Tavern her jaw dropped as she watched her sister bring the house down.

After a few years in Omaha, Orenda noticed that Christine brought the house down no matter where she was singing; with people of all ages and walks of life lining up to buy her drinks and even give her requests to sing their favorite soul songs. But Christine was depressed, feeling aimless, shuffling between minimum wage jobs, and the thrill of the weekend performances wore off quickly. One night, the two began to talk about the future, and Orenda insisted that Christine should try and do what makes her happiest, perform for people. After much discussion, they decided to start High Up, a collaboration mixing elements of indie, punk and soul that showcased Christine’s powerful vocals and Orenda’s seasoned songwriting.

Quickly assembling a band, which includes Josh Soto, Todd Fink (The Faint) and Matt Focht (Head of Femur, Bright Eyes), High Up draws from a wide variety of influences from Janis Joplin, (who Christine is frequently compared to at live shows from misty-eyed ex-hippies), Sam Cooke, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to Dead Kennedys and The Birthday Party. 

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Christine to discuss the endeavor.

Are there any soul bands of note that are from Omaha?

CJ Mills, Rothsteen, Mesonjixx and Dominique Morgan come to mind right off the bat. They are all incredible songwriters, singers and performers. I was honored to sit in with Curly Martin, a legendary North Omaha jazz drummer, at Hi Fi House last year. He and his band mates schooled us on the history of soul and jazz in North Omaha; it was an incredible and beautiful night of education, appreciation and music.

Where did your love of soul music originate?

My parents have always had good taste in music, and introduced me to a gamut of different styles as a kid: from Pink Floyd to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to Gram Parsons. My first real introduction to soul was in the late ’80s, when Smokey Robinson did a take on “You Really Got a Hold on Me” on Sesame Street…U was the letter of the day. The lyrics, the melody and arrangement… Even as a young child it spoke to me and forever changed me. From there, I moved into Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Otis Redding and the like, and I couldn’t get enough.

When did you realize that you had an affinity for song writing?

I was writing poetry and short stories and drawing from a young age. When my sister Orenda began her career as a musician it inspired me to step it up … She gave me an acoustic guitar when I was in my early teens and that meant so much to me, although I never followed through with learning to play really well.

That said, for this band, Orenda takes the lion share of the songwriting and I co-write and vocally re-interpret them. She loves writing for people and as sisters I think we share a special bond of being able to finish each other’s sentences. She basically conceptualizes them with me in mind and then we all flesh them out together.

It seems as though you have a pretty solid cheerleader in your sister. Does your relationship with her challenge you in competitive ways, or inspire you creatively, or all of the above?

Even before I dabbled in music, I made jokes about being in Orenda’s shadow, but it was in good fun. Though we were going in different directions, journalism and theatre for me, music for her, it was always a goal of mine of participate in music with her in some way, but I never imagined it would be to this degree. She has inspired me in myriad ways: Creatively, professionally, humanly… without Orenda, there would be no Christine, and I’m forever grateful to her for forging that path, and guiding me along the way.

Which High Up’s songs are you most proud of?

It’s hard to say what High Up song I’m most proud of. I feel pride and thankfulness for all of our songs, because they’re all borne of the same idea; sisters, and an incredible group of people, who love, support and believe in each other and what we want to say.

Your band is comprised of some very noteable folks, but this endeavor is very different from what they’ve done in the past. Do people ever arrive at shows with expectations for something different?

I can’t speak for people’s expectations. There have been many instances of people saying things along the lines of “I never expected THATvoice to come out of YOU.” But no one knows who I am, so that makes some kind of sense I guess.

The production on the album has a very vintage feel vs. maybe someone like Bruno Mars who delivers a very modern take on soul. How important was it to you to capture that vintage soul aesthetic?

I’ve always been a fan of “old soul” for lack of a better term. Some notable exceptions of course of modern artists who captured that sound: Charles Bradley, Sonny Knight and Sharon Jones, all of whom I’m a huge fan of. I wouldn’t say it was important per se for us capture that aesthetic for the sake of it, only that my voice, my feeling, lended itself more to the older sound than a more produced sound. A vintage sounding production seemed truer to our style, and Mike Mogis was instrumental in guiding us in that vein.

There is also some punk influence that can be felt in these songs. Where does that come from?

I grew up with oldies, but I soon fell into punk and indie as well. The first time I heard the Dead Kennedys, The Damned, The Smiths, Devo, I thought, Goddamn…. That led to my love of punk and new wave. Punk and soul have so much in common when it comes to expressing raw emotion and social change. In a strange way, they go hand in hand.

“Girl Walking Home Alone at Night” has a pretty relatable and timeless horror story narrative. It is especially poignant given the emerging #MeToo movement. What inspired the song and what are your thoughts on that movement?

The song was inspired by a personal experience. After practice one night, the rest of the band went to a local watering hole and I decided to walk home. Along the way, a car of dudes slowed down by me, catcalling. When I ignored them, it got ugly: They began yelling physical threats, pacing me, and this was on a poorly lit street in a neighborhood where no one leaves their lights on. I’ve bounced in bars, I’m not terribly sensitive, but I was terrified. I hid in bushes, prepped my mace, and called my sister, and she and a band member at the time [Greg Elsasser] jumped into a car and flew out to where I was. The guys peeled off when they saw me on my phone and another car coming in hot from behind. I came out of it fine – shaken, but fine – but many people don’t.

What are your loftiest goals for High Up?

Damn, I’d love to make a living from playing music. Fingers crossed, right?

Catch High Up live here:

03.01 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
03.02 – Lexington, KY @ Willie’s Locally Known
03.03 – Birmingham, AL @ The Nick
03.04 – Muscle Shoals, AL @ 116
03.05 – Nashville, TN @ The Basement
03.07 – Savannah, GA @ Graveface Records & Curiosities (Savannah Stopover Fest)
03.08 – Athens, GA @ The World Famous
03.09 – Charlotte, NC @ Crown Station
03.10 – Chapel Hill, NC @ The Cave
03.11 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat (backroom)
03.13 – New York, NY @ Berlin
03.14 – Philadelphia, PA @ Bourbon and Branch
03.15 – Cleveland, OH @ Coda
03.16 – Indianapolis, IN @ Pioneer
03.17 – St. Louis, MO @ TBA
03.18 – Davenport, IA @ Racoon Motel
03.20 – Denver, CO @ Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
03.22 – Boise, ID @ Treefort Festival (Official Festival Slot)
03.23 – Boise, ID @ Treefort Festival (Noisy Ghost / Graveface Day Party)
03.25 – San Francisco, CA @ Neck of the Woods
03.27 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theatre
03.28 – Tucson, AZ @ Hotel Congress
03.29 – Albuquerque, NM @ The Gold House
03.30 – Fort Collins, CO @ Surfside 7
03.31 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown

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