Mic Harrison and the High Score are gathered for a photo shoot at what might be the nastiest motel in Knoxville. The wallpaper is stapled to the wall. Stains stretch from floor to ceiling. Behind one bed is a filthy little alcove with a grungy sink and a rotting cabinet. When photographer Annie Clark Rankin picks up her beer up from the dresser, a roach has already beat her to the next sip.
High Score guitarist Robbie Trosper found a recommendation in an online review.
"'If you like to cook meth you'll love this place!'" says Trosper with a laugh.
"The homeless shelter we stayed in last week was a paradise compared to this," says High Score bassist Vance Hillard.
Of course, the band members didn't realize they were being put up at a hotel that also served as a homeless shelter, but those are the breaks. Just a few months earlier the band bunked at a $700,000 townhouse in Columbus, Ohio, where dignitaries usually dwell.
Such is the life of one of Knoxville's hardest working rock bands: Sometimes you sip from the same bottle of Scotch as Jeb Bush. Sometimes the roach beats you to your beer.
The photo shoot is for the cover art and promotional package to the band's new album "Still Wanna Fight," which is being released in Knoxville this weekend and nationally on July 3. It marks the band's fourth album as a group. Harrison released two solo albums prior to joining forces with the High Score.
The High Score, guitarist Robbie Trosper, bassist Vance Hillard and drummer Brad Henderson, recently expanded to add guitarist Chad Pelton. All the members add vocals, with Trosper performing some stand-out leads.
Harrison says the new album is a change.
"We recorded it live in the studio," he says. "All of us in the same room, playing at the same time. I don't think I ever want to go back. This album has a live feel."
The disc also displays more of the band's rock 'n' roll side than any disc since Harrison's pre-High Score album "Pallbearer's Shoes."
"We wanted to make more of a rock record," says Harrison.
A native of Bradford, Tenn., Harrison was working in a sawmill when he was asked to join Knoxville-based band the V-Roys in 1995. When the V-Roys called it quits on the eve of 2000, Harrison joined co-ex-V-Roys members Jeff Bills and Paxton Sellers in the Faults, along with Trosper. When the Faults fell apart, Harrison became part of Knoxville power pop greats Superdrag before the group disbanded in 2003. Initially, the already-established High Score signed on to back-up Harrison. It didn't take long for the partnership to become a much more collaborative effort. Since then, the group has become one of Knoxville's most popular acts and one of its most consistent touring acts.
Harrison, though, says the group's game plan is changing. Until this year, he says, the band took the advice given to him by Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen:
"He said, 'Play anywhere, anytime,' " says Harrison. "But we're not going to put another 100,000 miles on the van this year. I think we can stay home, make videos every month and probably have as much of an impact. We want to take advantage of the Internet."
To that end, the group takes a break from the photos to shoot a video for the new song "The Colonel Is Dead" for inclusion in the Internet event Couch By Couchwest. A few days later the video will be named one of the picks of the event by USA Today.
Tonight, though, the group hits a beautiful harmony in the sort of filthy hotel room they hope to never spend a night in blending on the chorus' final line "... the boys, they still wanna fight" that gives the album its title.
It's appropriate. For a rock band in 2012, every tour seems like a battle and every show that ends with a cheering crowd is a victory.
After the photo shoot, Harrison looks out into the darkness of the motel parking lot and puffs on a cigarette:
"Yeah, and we've got an arsenal of songs and we know how to use 'em."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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