West Orange-based band The High Ground is only a year old, but it’s quickly gaining traction in the local music scene and will play Vans Warped Tour Aug. 3.
West Orange High student Andrew Parker, a member of local band The High Ground, was lying on his couch watching “The Office” when his phone pinged.
It was a text from his friend and bandmate, Jack Brown: “Yo, we got Warped Tour!”
RISING IN THE RANKS
For many pop-punk and rock bands in the last 20 years, playing the annual Vans Warped Tour has been a dream — an accomplishment or a pinnacle of success.
Thousands of bands apply to play the largest traveling music festival in the country each year, but only a handful are invited to play among the “big names” such as All Time Low, Mayday Parade and A Day To Remember.
So for a local band that has been together for less than a year, being invited to play Warped Tour when it stops in Orlando — especially in what will be its final, full cross-country run since its inception in 1995 — is quite the accomplishment.
The High Ground consists of lead vocalist Andrew Parker, lead guitarist Jack Brown, bassist Matthew Brown and drummer Dillon Smith.
Jack Brown, 20, is a 2016 West Orange High graduate and rising junior at Florida State University. His 18-year-old brother, Matthew, is a rising senior at Windermere High. Smith, 18, is a recent graduate of The First Academy and now studies at the University of North Florida. Parker, 17, will be entering his senior year at West Orange.
The band formed in July 2017 but already has played gigs in DeLand, Winter Garden, Orlando, Daytona and more. Most recently, the members were invited to play the Florida Music Festival in downtown Orlando, which led to the opportunity to play Warped Tour.
“Warped Tour has always been a dream for us, because all our favorite bands play,” Jack said. “We’ve all gone as fans, so we knew we wanted to play. This website, ReverbNation, had a submission for Warped Tour and Florida Music Festival. We ended up getting Florida Music Festival, which opened the door. We ended up talking to Lou, the founder of ReverbNation, and he was a fan of what we were doing.
“It was a little surreal for us but he followed through (helping us get Warped Tour),” Jack said. “Warped Tour is so great because there’s so many different scenes — emo, pop punk, heavy metal — and it’s a lot of fun.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Parker and Matthew Brown have been friends since elementary school and always played music together, but it wasn’t until last summer that they had the idea of forming a band.
“We wanted to be in a band and everything, and obviously Matthew’s older brother Jack played guitar, and we had this plan to form a band last summer,” Parker said. “We got Jack in on it, but we didn’t have a drummer.”
As massive “Star Wars” fans, their band name is a nod to a scene in “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” In the scene, the master yells to his apprentice, ‘It’s over, I have the high ground!’”
Jack Brown said The High Ground was a three-piece for a time, bringing in Dr. Phillips native Chris Kamrada as the studio drummer for the band’s first EP, “Concrete.” But after releasing the EP, they knew they needed their own drummer.
“We knew we needed a fourth member to be in and help us with songwriting and bring creative energy to the table,” Jack said. “Andrew and Dillon met playing together at church, and (Andrew) brought him over to jam with us. Right there, we knew he was going to drum for us. It was love at first sight.”
The members describe their sound as a big blend of genres, among them pop-punk, metal, hard rock and post hardcore. They grew up playing and listening to the likes of Metallica, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, as well as pop-punk bands.
“It’s a style of music I love playing and listening to, and being in a band is kind of a longtime dream,” Smith said.
The “Concrete” EP began when Matthew and Parker brought the song “Two Face” to Jack. That was the first they ever began working on as a band. Jack described “No Takers” as a pivotal song for the band, since it was the first time each member could be heard doing his own thing.
They record at DreamWalker Studios in Gotha under producer Mike Walker, a longtime mentor and guitar teacher for the band.
“The first songs we wrote for our Concrete EP, we were really just kids playing rock ’n’ roll,” Jack said. “We just wanted to write good songs and stuff. We’ve kind of gelled together now a little more and fused and matured as songwriters.”
Parker is one of the main lyricists, typically coming to the group with an idea and a few chords and words. They build off that and bring their own ideas, where changes might be made here and there based off of creative input.
Currently, the band is in the studio working on a new song, “When It Rains,” to release later this summer as promotion for Warped Tour.
The bandmates enjoy performing live and songwriting but hope to put their heads down toward the end of the year to focus on recording new material.
But the best part of it all is simple: They get to create and play music with their best friends.
“We’re still a local act, but being able to play music and collaborate with three other guys who love music as much as you do is a dream come true,” Jack said. “I couldn’t think of a better time than hanging out with my three best friends doing what I love. It’s become very much a brotherhood.”
“To everyone who has listened to our music, thank you,” Parker said. “There’s no point in making music unless someone listens to it.”