TRACK BY TRACK: Hope in High Water walk Total MK through their debut album

Hope In High Water are a UK folk/Americana duo hailing from Milton Keynes, as regular readers of Total MK will know.

Having both spent their early twenties touring Europe in punk bands, Josh and Carly met at a London venue in 2010.

Crossing paths again several years later the pair quickly formed a bond and within months were both living together and beginning to collaborate musically.

Josh and Carly have since gone on to be one of the emerging duo’s of the UK Americana scene sharing the stage with the likes of Nikki Lane, Willie Watson (Old Crow Medicine Show), Beans on Toast and Aoife O'Donovan.

They have picked up some tasty radio play on both sides of the Atlantic too, including BBC Radio 1.

Now their debut album ‘Never Settle’  is making them lots of new friends, and has already bagged a 5/5 review from Rock’n’Reel magazine.

They talked Total MK through the release, track by track...

Time Shall Pass - Josh

Time Shall Pass is a song about the unceasing and unforgiving nature of time and the way in which an awareness of this doesn’t need to be a depressing thought but instead can be a great motivator to live the life you want to live now and pursue happiness in the moment.

Bored Of Just Getting By - Josh

I see this song as a continuation of the theme of Time Shall Pass, it’s about the importance of feeling like you’re living a full life with all the ups and downs that that brings. I think at times we all have a tendency to feel a boredom that comes from trundling along in mediocrity. I remember heading out for a run of shows and suddenly feeling alive and remembering what it felt like to be following your purpose and that’s when I wrote this song. It follows the Never Settle theme, which is all about not accepting mediocrity because it’s safe and comfortable and pursuing something meaningful, whatever that may be.

Four Strange Walls - Carly

Four Strange Walls was the first song I wrote after an almost 4 year writing hiatus. I have written music my entire life but at 23 and newly sober after 5 years of chaos and self-destruction, suddenly a more settled life felt very appealing.

So I quit music, quit writing and got myself a sensible job, unwittingly quitting feeling in the process. I fell into the trap of thinking that I needed to settle down and be sensible, that I needed to refocus my energy into a career, saving for a mortgage and getting married.

All of this went up in smoke when I re-met Josh and within a few months I left London in a whirlwind with little more than a suitcase and a couple of bin bags of possessions. Here my new life began and gradually music began to be a part of my life again but writing was still not something I was thinking about, so Four Strange Walls took me by surprise.

I was cycling home one night listening to Cary Ann Hearst and one of the lines cut me like a knife and from there the song came to me almost in its entirety.

Four Strange Walls doesn’t paint a very pretty picture but that was important to me.

It was important for me to own up to the chaos, destruction and hurt I had caused and to highlight the damaging nature of addiction. Four Strange Walls is an open letter to those I had hurt in my years of addiction.

Pictures - Josh

Pictures was written about a year after one of my best friends died of cancer and is about the lessons that can be learnt from those experiences, if given a bit of time, whilst also just accepting that sometimes you’re just going to feel grief and finding peace with that.

I think sometimes it’s easy to feel that you should be experiencing grief in particular ways at particular times but in reality it often hits you in unexpected and unexplainable ways, silly little things like going to call that person to tell them about your day, having a vivid dream where they’re very much alive or feeling like they’re beginning to fade in some way from your memory, they’re all normal reactions but I think it’s important to share them to create an awareness that we all go through these processes.

Ultimately though the message of the song is that one of the important realisations to be made from the death of a loved one is that life is precious and fragile and that we can’t let grief close us off from experiencing the rest of the life we have left.

Who’s Gonna Hold Your Hand - Josh

A lot of people have misinterpreted this song as some sort of promotion of married life or the importance of finding a partner but it was never meant to be about romantic relationships.

It’s about being aware of the fact that the way we act now determines how life folds out in front of you. Pick grasping and acquisition of wealth at the expense of others and ultimately you will be left with an empty existence, where as if you choose to be giving and strive to be a caring person you will most likely end up with genuine and meaningful relationships. Basic karma really.

Angels In Heaven - Josh

This is the only cover on the album, it’s a traditional gospel song that has been performed by countless artists over the years. I became aware of it after hearing a raspy, impassioned Tom Waits version.

I think regardless of your religious persuasion there’s something incredibly powerful about traditional gospel songs. They contain a purity and sincerity that gives them that transcendental nature that they were intended for.

I once read an article about an American Troubadour who talked about how he dealt with life on the road and when asked how he dealt with a run of bad shows or unappreciative audiences he said that he had a mantra he would repeat to himself before going on stage, ‘sing it for the gods’.

I always liked that and it’s something Carly and I often say to each other if a show isn’t quite how we imagined it and it reminds us to experience and really feel the songs, taking us out of what is immediately around us. I guess for me that’s what Gospel music is all about.

Forgive Me - Josh

This is another song I wrote after the passing of my friend but this one was a bit more immediate. It was an instant reaction to the desperation and hole that is left immediately after losing someone. It’s an admission that at some point in life most of us will find ourselves on our knees looking for some sort of understanding.

Late Nights - Josh

Late nights is just a straight up country heart ache song but perhaps with the slight twist being that coming from Milton Keynes gives a different experience of life to those singers of the States.

It talks about the struggles of trying to find contentment outside of a touring life and the inevitable downs that coming home from that sort of life can bring, along with the daily acceptance of those we’ve lost.

But ultimately it’s a recognition that my own experience isn’t harder than anyone else’s and that grief and sorrow but also joy and love are shared human experiences and that you can’t have one without the other.

She Cries - Carly

Musically, I originally wrote She Cries in a major key in an attempt to veer away from our habitual tendency to ballad in three chords but when I took it to Josh he played it in E minor and there was no going back.

In terms of the content, I was having a very difficult time with a particular person in my life and it was my way of reminding myself that usually when someone is treating you badly there is a reason and their anger and coldness is often a result of a deep-rooted fear and inability to communicate that fear.

Our society values strength and power to the detriment of our wellbeing and any display of emotion is seen as weakness and a loss of control. She Cries serves as a reminder to stay open, honest and soft in difficult times and not to be turned hard by the world.

Heartaches on Hold - Carly

When I first started to write again I noticed that with it surfaced old emotions and feelings that I hadn’t dealt with since getting sober. It felt as though I had opened the door to years of repression and it was the first time in years that I was forced to sit and face my emotions head on with nothing to numb them.

I would spend evenings feeling as though every bone in my body ached with the pain of needing a distraction. This was the inspiration for Heartaches on Hold.

When Sorrow Calls - Josh

When Sorrow Calls was inspired by the sight of a homeless man standing in front of one of those advertising boards for the new housing developments in Milton Keynes.

There was something really poignant about the image of this man looking at this picture of an idealised and probably un-realistic family life and I started to wonder what it was he was thinking and what his story was.

Out of that came a whole narrative about a man who had lost contact with his family after having his trust broken by his wife but who still held a longing for what he had. Overall the song is just about the human ability to stay resilient through unimaginable heartaches and turmoil and just an admiration of peoples ability to carry on.

I also think it’s really easy in modern society to have a pre-conception of people and what they may be like but actually I think it’s incredibly important to be curious about people’s stories and make an attempt to understand why people are where they are and their motivations.

I think through changing your mind-set in that way and seeing people as individuals rather than groups you start to enrich your own life and find empathy for people you may have once felt no connection with.

The album ‘Never Settle’ is out now.