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High Fighter Interview

High Fighter Interview
June 2016 (via Skype)

High Fighter

With a band name like High Fighter, one might expect Scars & Crosses to be a stoner soundtrack for a mellow night of bong rips. Hah, guess again! Scars & Crosses is a full-throttle, raucous album that refuses to tidily fit within the stoner, sludge, doom, or desert rock genres, although all of those elements certainly are present. Here is a band that brings the same simmering energy to their studio album, as they do to their live shows. Go forth, and head-bang!

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker circled up with High Fighter’s vocalist, Mona Miluski, for a long-overdue chat. Dive in for the low down on Scars & Crosses, Rottweilers, after-show shenanigans, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  Welcome to Sonic Cathedral, Mona! High Fighter is coming off a big weekend of live shows. Are you loving being out there again?

Mona:  Yea, it was a fantastic time with great shows! We started this year live with DesertFest in Berlin some weeks ago and a support show for Crowbar. Then our album came out over a week ago on Friday the 10th [of June 2016], and we played an album release show with Jucifer and The Moth together in Hamburg, our hometown. Now, I just came back from two shows we played with The Midnight Ghost Train. They are from Kansas, and are old, long-time friends of ours. So it was great seeing them again, and it was a lovely weekend with great crowds and energy on stage. We played more than half of the new album live, and it’s been a great time. But so typical for High Fighter, we never stop partying hard, so I’m a bit tired today from the weekend with a bad hangover. It’s been such a fantastic time, and we're excited to be back on the road again.

High Fighter 

Sonic Cathedral:  High Fighter’s debut EP, The Goat Ritual, was a down and dirty album, cranked out live in your rehearsal studio over the course of a weekend. With Scars & Crosses being a studio album, will fans still hear that raw, dirty High Fighter vibe?

Mona:  Yeah, they will. Absolutely! We still kept a rough and dirty vibe on it, but also with a warm sound and vibe, thanks to Toshi Kasai (The Melvins, Big Business) who did a fantastic job while mixing and mastering our album. The Goat Ritual indeed we recorded that one live in our rehearsal room on one weekend, whereas with Scars & Crosses (the new album), we took more time for. We also recorded it in a real studio this time, with Jens Siefert at Rama Studio in Mannheim, Germany.

You have to know that, when we formed the band in the summer of 2014 and when we recorded The Goat Ritual, we all just came out of different bands with different backgrounds. To that date, we had also never shared one single stage together as High Fighter. So, we just put out that EP with five tracks we had written so far, and then we went on tour a lot and played many shows over the last year, right after we released The Goat Ritual.

So I think the biggest difference between both records is that we had the chance to tour so much and to play many shows, because this is really what got us together as a band in the first place, and we grew as a band and so did the songs. Right after we released The Goat Ritual, we immediately started to write the album songs, which we also played live over the last year. The new songs had the chance and time to grow on stage with us. Due to playing live a lot, we became more than just a band … it became already a family to me. This also totally influenced our songwriting. Together, we found ourselves as a band, so the songs for the new album had some time and chance to grow as well.

On the other hand, like on The Goat Ritual, we are still very open-minded. We all listen to different bands and different styles of music, so it’s very important for us that we are not trying to be a pure stoner band, nor are we a pure doom or sludge band only. We combine many styles into one sound, which I call the High Fighter Sound. It is still very rough and mean, with still a hint of hardcore influences as well. But the new album, Scars & Crosses, sounds way more homogenous to me now than The Goat Ritual, just because we had the chance to play live so much. And I think this is the biggest difference between the records, and how we grew as a band together.

High Fighter 

Sonic Cathedral:  With High Fighter not falling purely into musical style and with each member having very different musical influences, how does the song writing process work?

Mona:  We all have our musical roots in metal, desert rock, blues, and in rock n roll. When it comes to our song writing, we are a very democratic band. There is no leader or no main song writer in this band who tells others what to play or what to do. So, in our rehearsal space, we smoke some weed and have some beers; if someone comes up with a riff, we jam on it. We record our jams, and send them around so everyone can listen to new ideas at home. If there is anyone in the band having some input to add to a new song idea, we’ll try it out next time when we see each other.

We meet a lot. We rehearse a minimum of two times per week. So at every rehearsal, everyone can bring the next input to a song we are currently writing on, and then we just heavily jam. I put my vocals on every track when the instrumentals are done, because I don’t want to confuse anyone else when I on top add my vocals to it while still getting the riffs together. <laughs> But when I hear a riff, I immediately know if this will be a clean part of singing or if I will shout, scream or growl. We just let everything happen. No one has any rules, like: “Hey, we can’t do that because we want to be a doom or a sludge or a stoner band.” We just let it happen and go with our own flow.

High Fighter is full of creative energy. Even if we all have our individual tastes in music, we manage to put all of them into a typical High Fighter Sound, and I really appreciate that everyone in this band is so open-minded for other styles. That's why we are able to bring more styles together into one sound.

Sonic Cathedral:  While High Fighter’s lyrics are not “yay, everyone should smoke weed”, but weed is something that you guys enjoy.

Mona:  Not everyone in the band smokes weed, but some of us do, yes. We are not praising weed in our songs. In my lyrics, I never sing about smoking weed. That would be hilarious! But you can hear it in the sound maybe, instead of us really making it clear, and stating: “Hey, here is a band that smokes weed.” <laughs> That is not necessary because you can hear it in the sound, and I have other themes I cover in my, mostly very dark and personal, lyrics.

But we are from Hamburg, Germany, and Hamburg is known for weed being not a big deal. You could smoke weed in every bar. No one would kick you out because you smoke weed somewhere … I mean the rock n roll places, so this is a very free city for that kind of stuff. We are big beer fans and also fans of the green. But we can also have lots of fun if we don’t smoke or drink.

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Sonic Cathedral:  I was more curious about legalization efforts, which has been a hot topic of debate in the US. I happen to live in one of the few states where weed is legal.

Mona:  I wish it would be legal here, but it isn’t. But especially in Hamburg, it’s more accepted. People here are a bit more tolerant and open-minded. But as soon as you go to like Bavaria, where we have just been last weekend when we played a show, it is totally different. You’re not even allowed to roll a joint in a venue, and then smoke it outside or something. You need to be really careful because the police may be everywhere. It is not legal in Germany, and also not in Hamburg. But I am absolutely pro legalization of weed.

Sonic Cathedral:  We are about six months into 2016, and I’ve already seen more ugly band break-ups unfolding on Facebook than at any other time I can recall. Obviously, social media is vastly important for DIY bands, but where does one draw the line between using it as a tool or as a weapon?

Mona:  Social media is super-important for us, especially for DIY releases. When we started the band, we self-released our first demo EP, The Goat Ritual. We can be lucky that we have tools such as Bandcamp and Facebook. This way, we get our tunes heard, and people (especially in the underground scene) get the chance to explore bands like us. We did not have a record label at that time or anything. We do everything on our own. We now have a record deal with Svart Records, but that’s it.

We are a very happy do-it-yourself band. It is so much fun doing things on our own. And of course, we use social media to promote our shows, to promote the album, and to meet new friends. We are always in good relationships with live promoters who are willing to book us, and are very grateful for every show we can play. Social media is super-important for us. But we also don’t take ourselves so seriously, and just post pictures of ourselves where we look good or serious. I mean, look at our Facebook page -- we post all kinds of stuff, even if we look funny and hilarious. It's us, no poser stuff.

We also always do tour documentaries when we go out on the road and tour. I think we now have three tour documentaries online, and all of them show us also in a not-that-nice or very professional super-rock-star attitude. There is one tour documentary from last summer, in the beginning, you see our bassist who is really pissed at us in the hotel room because we were all so drunk and stoned, and he was annoyed. I think all bands have that, where someone is annoyed by the other, and needs a few minutes alone … <laughs> especially when the others are acting like drunk and stoned douche bags. But we post that stuff. We always want to show our true face, and stay authentic.

But like you said, there are so many bands that are using social media to pretend to be something better or bigger than they probably are. They use social media as a weapon also when the band splits up. Of course, you need to inform people, and we did that with A Million Miles as well. But there was no bad blood or anything on our social media. I think it’s very important for High Fighter to stay authentic, and to show people who we really are. We don’t pretend to be someone else or any better or bigger than we actually are.

High Fighter 

Sonic Cathedral:  Mona, let’s dive into some of the tracks on Scars & Crosses. I very much enjoy “Darkest Days”. Would you give us a little background on that song?

Mona:  “Darkest Days” is also one of my personal favorite tracks. It is about those moments … you have them too, and every one of us has or had these darkest days in life. That song is more dedicated to a family member of mine, who was left alone by their parents at the age of 16 or 17 years old. It's about the guilt others have to take while leaving someone alone in the dark.

But I had these darkest days a lot in my life, too. You know those moments when you just feel that emptiness -- like some kind of a void -- and you can’t see any light at all? But then, the next day, you just try and stand up, and give it one more chance to brighten up your darkest days. So, that song is about the darkest moments that every one of us in life sometimes had before. I usually like to give enough freedom for using your very own imagination in my lyrics. I write a lot in metaphors, and leave space for what you feel or hear. The same goes for our sound and the vibes we like to transport, while still keeping enough space for your very own feelings ...

Sonic Cathedral:  If you had to choose a single track from Scars & Crosses to introduce new listeners to High Fighter, which song would you choose, and why?

Mona:  I would probably pick “Scars & Crosses”, the album title track, which is also the final track on the album. “Scars & Crosses” has it all -- and what the album represents. It has that rock and roll, desert rock, groovy vibe. But it also gets really mean and heavy in the end. “Scars & Crosses” totally represents the pain and beauty of High Fighter’s sound. There is so much beauty in our music, but also a lot of pain, which you can also see perfectly in our album artwork. I think “Scars & Crosses” is the one I would show first because it has all of what High Fighter represents.

High Fighter 

Sonic Cathedral:  High Fighter certainly has a lot of ferocity in your music. Which would you say is the fiercest track on Scars & Crosses?

Mona:  I think that would be “Blinders”, which is the song we also just shot a video for. “Blinders” is one of the heaviest tracks on the record; it’s very mean, a fast one and the most aggressive song on our record, I'd say. It is about people … and this is actually what the album is about in its entirety … people who have to change themselves for others, until they are finally worthy to be loved or to be accepted, because we all have our scars and wounds of our soul that life has given you. I don’t mean physical scars, but rather, scars on your soul that you’ve collected in life, maybe because of your history. Our scars and history engrave us.

But for some people in society or in any relationships, you sometimes have to change yourself because people don’t like that bad character side of yours -- the scars. So, you’d better change, ignore your scars, and be someone “better” until you are finally worthy to be accepted 100%. This song exactly goes out to all these people who think they need to change, because maybe they don’t need to. If you’re good with who you are and you’re okay with your scars, then other people should better learn to love you 100%, or not even trying, then you better get rid of those who can't take the entire package of a person.

This song goes out to everyone who thinks they need to change themselves or their character sides to be someone better. I think people who also have their scars -- like me, like you, like so many other people -- are already good. You need to be loved with all the good and the bad sides. And this is what “Blinders” is about. Don't be a blinder, but be yourself. Also from the sound, it’s one of the fastest and heaviest tracks on the record.

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Sonic Cathedral:  On the “Blinders” video, I enjoyed seeing one of the lovely Rottweilers that was part of your promotional photo shoot. Where did the dogs come in? They look sweet, while still being rather intimidating.

Mona:  They are super sweet indeed! Actually the wife Thomas works with Rottweilers, and I think they currently have NINE of them at home. She raises them, and does championships and stuff. Some she sells, but not that often I think. She is more about going to championships with these dogs, and they have won many prizes. They are waaaaay more famous than we are, and hopefully someday they will make us famous, too! <all laugh>

No, but that was really sweet of Thomas’s wife to give us their nicest dogs; they are called Rufa, Vania and Oli. They did the photo shooting with us, and they are very professional working dogs. <laughs> Rufa and Vania are also the video shooting-stars in “Blinders”. We did the video completely on our own. Constantin our bass player filmed and edited it.

But the dogs are so cute. I also have to say that there are many people still in society who are very afraid of these dogs, but they shouldn’t be because they are really, really cute and have some good hearts. It is just humans who make them into beasts; it’s not the dogs themselves. They look really mean and very, very powerful and mighty. But they are very cute inside, and it’s lots of fun to work with them, as they are even way more professional than we are.

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Sonic Cathedral:  Awww. One of the things that brought us together some years ago was the story of the horse that you rescued. How about a shout-out to your handsome boy?

Mona:  Guderian. I love him! I have been with horses since I was five years old. My stepdad bought me a little and fat pony when I was six years old, so I have been surrounded by horses my entire life. I grew up with them, and I always had horses. After my last one died, I stepped a bit away from having my own horse. I was riding at a location where the owner got some cheap and young horses who were not ridden before, and I made them “ready” to be sold to people. I practiced with the horses; I taught them how to be with people, and how it is to be ridden by a human.

I met Gudarian when he was 12 years old, and he looked horrible because he came from a place with very bad conditions. He didn’t trust anyone, and was very afraid of people. The owner of the place where I was riding the horses and getting them ready to be sold to children or whatever, he bought that horse super cheap. Gudarian was in really bad condition, and the owner was like: “Hey Mona, you need to get this horse ready to be sold.”

Every time there were people interested, they went away because that horse did not trust anyone; most of those people weren't even able to touch him. So, it took a very, very long time until he finally trusted me in some kind of way. I took long walks with him in nature; I talked with him all the time; and we spent lots and lots of time together, until I was able to ride him, and he was almost ready to be sold to some girl. But when she tried to ride him the first time, he was going crazy. He was going NUTS because he did not trust other people, so that potential buyer, she stayed away from Guderian.

So, I went to my bank, took all money I had, and got a credit. I just bought him with all the cash I had. I was telling the owner like: “Hey, I’m going to buy that horse because you will never sell him to someone who will be able to handle this horse.” He was really a little bit crazy because of his bad experiences with humans. Since that day, I’m very, very lucky to have him in my life! I could ride him for two more years after I bought him, but then he got sick in his leg.

Now, he is living on a huge field together with other old horses, and he is the king of that field and group of horses. <laughs> He is an amazing dude, and I love him so much! I am very glad that I could rescue him, and that he stepped into my life. Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened to him because, in Germany, you get a bunch of money for giving your horse to the slaughter. The slaughterhouse pays 400 euros even for totally healthy horses.

My horse seemed to be crazy to other people, but I accepted him totally with the good side (because he’s a beautiful, super intelligent and lovely horse) and also with his “bad” character sides. I understand why he was such a freak, because he had such bad experiences with humans. I always try to find out why someone or even an animal behaves the way he does, because there is always a reason for it. I totally understand, and I would behave the same. He is a very, very lucky old man now, living on his field. I am going to see him this evening after our chat. I will bring him some apples and stuff he likes.

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Sonic Cathedral:  Please give him a scratch and an apple from me. Wrapping things up, what is coming down the road for High Fighter?

Mona:  We just released Scars & Crosses, and now we are ready to hit the road again. We are going to play a few festivals, mainly in Germany, but also in Poland, Switzerland and other places. We are also going to play our first festival headlining show, and we are really looking forward to it! For us, we are still absolutely underground, and we open at festivals and support headlining bands. So, this will be very exciting to headline a festival in Poland.

We are also going to hit the road with our friends in Earth Ship and Mammoth Storm in the end of July, kicking off the 22nd. This will be a 9-day tour over Germany, France, and The Netherlands. We are more than looking forward to that run. We are also going to play lots of shows in September. We just LOVE being out on the road. We love to play live as much as we can, because these are the best moments for us. We are totally a live band, and we hope to play way more shows than we already announced for this year.

Sonic Cathedral:  That sounds wonderful! Mona, thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today.

Mona:  Thank you so much for having us! It’s really a pleasure.


Photo credit (promo): Peter Kupfer
Photo credit (live): Sven Ceder

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