For those people who enjoy their pop music served with a generous helping of psychedelia, then the name Hilarie Sidney should be all too familiar – or possibly if you found yourself immersed in the network of the Athens, GA/Denver, CO Elephant 6 Collective during the mid to late ‘90s. As one of the founding members of The Apples in Stereo, she helped provide the foundation of what would subsequently become the sound so commonly associated with bands residing under the E6 umbrella, namely Beach Boys-esque harmonies mixed with Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd melodic weirdness.
Within the Collective, there was a communal pool of musicians who frequently played on each other’s records, and Sidney wielded her talents on albums by Secret Square, Von Hemmling, and eventually The High Water Marks. “Having been in the Apples and on the road since 1993, I started to have many more songs than could ever be released on an Apples record,” she explains. “I was piling up songs, and being surrounded by a group of men for so many years, one can lose oneself.”
This backlog of songs would help her work through the development of The High Water Marks, with the band’s debut record Songs About the Ocean releasing in 2003. The album was constructed through the mail with her now-husband and bandmate Per Ole Bratset, though they eventually brought on Logan Miller to contribute bass, guitar, and drums alongside multi-instrumentalist Øystein Megård. After the birth of her second son in 2005 (she also has a son with Apples in Stereo co-founder Robert Schenider from a previous marriage), she decided to take some time off. She explains: “I realized I wanted a break from touring. That whole life had begun to wear me out.”
Time passed, with a handful of sessions done in 2011 being scrapped, leaving her feeling “kind of hopeless”, she recalls. However, after work on her Bachelor’s degree led to a scholarship at the University of Oslo, she began to play music again. And now, 13 years after the release of their debut album, The High Water Marks will share their new record Ecstasy Rhymes on November 20. Filled with fuzzed-out power-pop melodies that stretch out for miles, this collection finds the band having matured in their approach to concocting and coaxing their wonderfully odd-ball rock eccentricities into vibrant movements of rhythmic inclusivity.
On their new single, “Award Show”, the band rips through an indie barnburner that would have felt perfectly at home released sometime in the early ‘90s – I’m looking at you Foolish-era Superchunk. But as much as the song owes a debt to bands of that time, and Sidney’s own work during those years, it never comes across as beholden to a specific aesthetic.
“’Award Show’ is about anxiety, being really confident, and then over-thinking your behavior,” Sidney says. “You know, you go somewhere and try really hard, and act like you’ve got your shit together, and then you go home and start replaying conversations in your head and feeling foolish.”
It’s classic indie rock, yeah, but there is something more coursing through its melodic veins, resulting in a wry distillation of influence and experience which few bands can express with any sense of finality. The High Water Marks manage this herculean task without the least bit of effort.