Sounds Local: High Tea release existential album, “The Wick and The Flame”


For the Recorder

Published: 02-08-2023 3:10 PM

The past year was a good one for the folk-rock duo High Tea. Their EP “Old Cowboy,” released in late 2021, received positive attention and they toured heavily throughout New England, including a string of shows opening for Heather Maloney. High Tea, which consists of Isabella DeHerdt on vocals and guitar and Isaac Eliot on vocals and percussion, were also chosen as one of the top four bands in the Massachusetts Tiny Desk concert.

“Our first show was at Iconica Cafe in Northampton,” DeHerdt said in a recent phone interview. “They had no setup – just us playing our instruments. Then by the the end of the year, we were on tour playing the Philly Folk Festival with Heather Maloney, so I definitely feel like we had some fun experiences and some growth.”

It’s all the more impressive when we consider that DeHerdt and Eliot, who met at a music camp in 2016, did not form High Tea until 2020. This upcoming year looks to be an even better one for the pair. Tomorrow (Feb. 10) they will release their third album “The Wick and The Flame,” their first disc recorded in a studio.

The Greenfield-based duo will celebrate the new release with a show on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Parlor Room in Northampton. Chris Freeman, of the band Parsonsfield, will open.

“The Wick and the Flame” is a passionate and tuneful collection laced with innovative musicianship, insightful lyrics, warm vocals and magical harmonies. The songs here range from campfire folk (“Made for Two”) to indie rock (“Wine”) as DeHerdt and Eliot continue their musical journey writing folksy and poetic songs that are introspective while at the same time inspire us to sing along.

Everything from the title, taken from a line in the upbeat song “Made For Two,” to the album’s artwork convey the themes and energy of the album.

“The title ‘The Wick and The Flame’ speaks to the idea of creating something and it will burn away, and that’s life, that is the experience, that is everything about the human condition,” said DeHerdt.

“We do so much, but at the end of the day it will all burn down. And that’s the beauty of it – it is just a part of a song but such a fruitful metaphor,” said Eliot. “The title couldn’t have been anything else.”

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The album cover, designed by DeHerdt, is a photo of an old dollhouse that the pair went wild decorating in glitter and such. They then set their creation on fire.

“It’s a very good parallel to making anything and setting it off into the world, or just like the need of release in life,” said DeHerdt of the cover.

DeHerdt (who also plays in the band Kalliope Jones) and Eliot, who both contribute to the songwriting, dig deep on this release with eight songs that draw from their personal experiences, to create material that all listeners can relate to.

“We stuck with our joy of storytelling on this one,” DeHerdt said. “We expanded it to kind of explore the push and pull between passion and relationships and the idea of solitude – kind of acknowledging and celebrating the need that we humans have for community and also for time for reflection on your own.”

These ideas permeate through the album’s first single and opening track, “The Tale of Billy and the Void.” “Billy looked out into the void / He said oh, who’s that looking back at me / That’s no reflection that I see or that I like,” sings Eliot against some foot-stomping percussion and melodic acoustic guitar.

DeHerdt explained that the song about the abyss was chosen as the album’s opening track and first single because they felt like it was a good introduction to the disc and the themes it explores.

“That song was inspired by watching this show called ‘The Outer Range’ about cowboys who find a void into space and time. So it started a more fantastical song than how it ended,” said DeHerdt. “It’s not like we set out to write a song about a television show, “added Eliot with a laugh. “We started watching this show and there was a hole in the ground that led to nothing – and what a great metaphor.”

“It’s insane how small we are when you look at the stars and you are like ‘what is the point of all of this?’ But then at the end of the day it’s just singing along with the people you love and think ‘I’ll figure it out,’” said DeHerdt, adding that when they wrote the song she imagined it being sung in a pub with people sloshing their beer.

A bluesy acoustic guitar leads the way on “Wine,” a song about making connections that builds to a rocking, head-banging conclusion. They switch musical gears but not the sentiment on “To Be Alive,” a quiet folk tune about reaching out to another person and acknowledging that “sometimes it’s hard to be alive.”

“We’ve played that song many times over the past year and I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘that song was able to describe how I’d been feeling but I didn’t have the words for it,’ and when you are able to do that in any kind of art, it feels really meaningful,” said DeHerdt, noting this is her favorite song on the disc.

Eliot shares similar thoughts about the song. “I still tear up a bit every time we play it,” he said. “One thing I got out of this album is that I got to channel some feelings that were building up and yell a bit. Like, I really love performing the end of ‘Wine’ and I really love the drums on ‘Love Potion.’”

The song “Oh, Disaster” is one of those songs on which he is able to pour out his feelings, as it’s the first song he wrote in its entirety. DeHerdt took more of a lead on the lyric writing than on previous releases. Eliot, who said the song is about the process of songwriting, delivers lines like “I’m getting tired of feeling like I’ve achieved / Nothing in so many years / Tired of waking up feeling like I’m made of / Nothing but so many soul-sucking fears.” The song has a Lumineers-like tone to it while the shouts that punctuate the chorus and the fierce percussion nicely counter the vulnerability of the lyrics.

The material isn’t new, so audiences may recognizes some of these songs. They were recorded and mixed by Andrew Oedel at Ghost Hit Recording in West Springfield and mastered by Kevin Butler. High Tea’s previous two releases were recorded in their apartment in Greenfield, in part because they were working during the pandemic. This time around, they recorded eight songs in two, nine-hour days, and said working under Oedel’s guidance was an excellent experience.

Next up is touring the album which includes more dates opening for Heather Maloney including a trip out west in March. Both were fans of the Northampton based singer-songwriter before they shared the stage with her and have found working with her to be a great learning experience. “Heather has certainly effected my view on songwriting and making music, but she has also impacted my perspective in terms of coping with every day stress,” said Eliot.

At the Parlor Room, the band will play the new album in its entirety along with some new tunes (and a special guest might show up), so don’t miss out.

Tickets for the Parlor Room show are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show, and are available at

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Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at