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A Conversation with Kennedy Freeman of Highnoon

Kennedy Freeman is the songwriter and front-person of Highnoon, a four-piece indie-rock band based in Philly. As a fan myself, I was excited to talk with Kennedy about their record Semi-Sweet, the Philly music scene, an upcoming record, and more.

Avery: When did you start making music as Highnoon?

Kennedy: Around 2017 or 2018 I just had some demos that I wrote and recorded on my phone and then I just put it up under Highnoon on SoundCloud— I’d only share them to Facebook and my Twitter and stuff. And once it became more of a full-fledged thing and I just decided that I wouldn’t change it. But yeah it’s been like 3 or 4 years now.

Avery: And you have a couple of bandmates too, right?

Kennedy: Yeah it’s a full-on project now. Justin Roth is my drummer, and Brendan Simpson is my lead guitarist and he was my bassist for about a year when we were a three-piece. But then we added Nathan Avila who plays the bass now… his project is Beach Bods and I’m also in his band but I haven’t really been active for a bit.

Avery: Highnoon is involved in the Philly scene. What’s your experience been like there as a fan and an artist?

Kennedy: The Philly scene has been really cool. As someone who didn’t totally know that it existed before I went to college, my mind was kind of blown by how many shows are always going on throughout the week, and I feel like I’ve had a very good experience as a fan, too. There were always people touring in the area, and there are a lot of communities and great accessible venue spaces to go to.

But one problem that has been happening in the last year is a lot of them are shutting down just because they can’t afford to stay open with everything going on. When they were open, I felt like those were really good spaces that I appreciated with some really intimate shows where you could see some relatively big independent artists. I was thankfully able to play a show at Everybody Hits! which was a community space that was really important to the scene. It’s been hard to see them close down with the pandemic and everything. I’m expecting Philly will become a lot more centered around house shows and stuff like that in the future; I’ve played a lot of house shows myself and attended a lot of them as a fan, so I am excited to see where that goes once everything is over… and to go to a show again, of course.

Avery: Definitely— I feel like we’re all really sharing in that experience of missing live music right now. I saw you guys went on tour too, that was back in 2019?

Kennedy: The tour was really wild and fun… it was the first time I had even traveled at all, really. It was cool to be able to do it with my friends. We actually went really far haha and it’s because we couldn’t find cities to play in that we had connections with that were closer so a lot of our drives were six to eight hours, which was crazy! Once we left the Northeast everything was so far apart, I was like, is this what it’s like?

Avery: That sounds like it was so fun! Any favorite shows or cities?

Kennedy: I’d say two favorites… My friend used to have a house in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania which is just like a college town randomly in the middle of P.A. Basically, it was just a bunch of people I knew— friends and collaborators and stuff, and so that was really cool. Also, we played all the way in Iowa with just a friend of a friend who I told we’d be in the Midwest… we played in Cedar Falls which is another college town. Originally we were expecting maybe that’d be one of the worst shows because we didn’t know what it’d be like out there. But there were so many people— everyone was really nice and supportive and it was really cool to like, drive all the way over there. Everything is so flat haha. A lot of the shows were really fun and it was cool just to be there and drive that far, even just to play for thirty minutes.

Avery: I also wanted to talk a little more about Semisweet. Were there any notable inspirations or influences behind the record?

Kennedy: At the time [of making the album], I was just a beginner at the guitar and had only been playing for like a year or so when I started writing. There were a lot of musicians I was listening to in general, and seeing if I could get some inspiration from the chord progressions and style and song structures and everything. A lot of [Semisweet] was inspired by King Krule, Jay Som, Alex G… that was a lot of what I was into at the time.

Also, since I’ve attended a lot of house shows and stuff, some inspirations were a lot of people that I’ve seen play shows. I officially started writing when I was a junior in college, I had taken some time off of school, so I was spending some time at home and I had just gone through a breakup and everything. A lot of the songs are about that and just reconciling with what had happened. I was spending time trying to learn about myself, and learning what it means to be a musician and make songs… I didn’t even expect them to really get anywhere or be listened to at all. It was kind of my first attempt at making an album, and Justin [Roth] had to persuade me to put them out on streaming services and everything. It was really an experimental process for me to just kind of see if I could make an album, and I guess I did haha.

Avery: How has it been working with Oof Records?

Kennedy: Yeah! I met Ava [founder and label head] on Instagram actually, we were trying to play a show together at the beginning of last year, but over the year we kept in touch and sent each other our demos. Ava had recently started Oof which officially launched in March. She said, let me put out tapes for you and I was like, haha I don’t know and eventually, we just worked something out and I had tapes originally made by one of my friends who just has a machine where you can dub the tapes over. That’s what we did mostly on tour and everything, but since we weren’t playing shows and didn’t have any way to make money off of the music, we did it.

[Oof Records] is like a small label of course but it’s been interesting to see all that promotion does for you and it’s been cool to learn in general how everything works and to kind of figure everything out on a smaller scale. I feel really happy with how everything’s gone, and the sales of the tapes. Yeah, it’s been really fun and a good experience… it definitely helps with the whole 2020 thing. We actually had a whole record written and were aiming to put it out by the end of last year, but now those plans are squashed and everything, so it was cool to see [Semisweet] get some new life and attention since it came out back in 2019. So I’m just really thankful for the opportunity.

Avery: That’s awesome; it’s great to see bands collaborate in general and I’ve loved checking out other artists on your label, too. I have to ask more about the upcoming record. If you can disclose this, is it still in the works?

Kennedy: Oh yeah for sure. I had started writing again kind of the month before Semisweet came out, like July of 2019, and over that 6 month period, I was writing the next record. So by February, we had decided to work really hard and try and put something else out for this year. I had felt like it was finished and we were practicing once a week to try and get everything together, so we could start demoing. But of course, the pandemic hit and so I had actually moved back home in early March. Everything shut down, so we just got stuck here, haha, which was actually cool. We tried a couple of times to keep practicing and everything safely but it just sort of stopped making sense. So we decided to wait it out and see what happens but at the moment we’re going to try and put a few things out remotely as a band and see what happens. Again, we’ll see!

Avery: Yeah everything is a bit of an experimental process right now I think…

Kennedy: Exactly. I’m cautiously optimistic but I truly don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I do still plan to put stuff out on my own and everything. For the last two months, I’ve been working on an EP that I’ll probably just self-release next month.

Avery: That’s amazing!

Kennedy: Yeah, and I’m not really going to promote it, only because I just sort of made it quickly. I don’t want to put effort into a whole promotion cycle, I just kind of want to see what happens haha. So that’s what I’m currently working on and planning for… maybe I’ll do tapes for it!

Avery: Would you put it out as Highnoon, too?

Kennedy: I think so! But it’s interesting because we were starting to move into like a full band, within our project and our image too. We announced it like, hey, we’re the real deal now! But then this is probably the most solo thing that I’ve worked on at all. So it’s going back and forth but we’re for sure all adapting as we go.

Avery: Is there any music you’ve been listening to that you’d say is inspiring the upcoming record?

Kennedy: I was listening to a lot of Elliott Smith and some more obscure artists… Honey Stretton has a new EP out called Wail that I really like, and it’s recorded on a 4-track. So I was definitely going for something a little more stripped-down like that. Just the general feel of the record I want to be like it was recorded in a room haha, because that’s where I have been. You know, make it feel very intimate because we’re all locked down in our own spaces and I want to show what these spaces are like right now, for everyone. It’s acoustic stuff, not a lot of arrangements. I’m excited to just throw it out there!

Check out Highnoon’s music (and new merch!) on Bandcamp and streaming services.

Art by Nghi Nguyen.

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