The High Divers: Former islanders jumping into Charleston Music Scene

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Sometimes a change of scenery will do you good.

While that mantra is what brings plenty of people to Hilton Head every month, for island musicians Luke Mitchell, Kevin Early, Julius DeAngelis and Mary Alice Connor it meant packing up their instruments and heading out of town last year.

“We all just made a concerted effort and decision to go to Charleston,” says Mitchell, a Hilton Head native who’s been a mainstay at Skull Creek Boathouse for the past few years. “We all moved on the same day with the end goal of being a Charleston rock band.”

That band is The High Divers, an indie roots rock group with an easy Southern vibe whose music and lyrics hint of their Wilco and Tom Petty influences.

“Charleston is having an artistic renaissance,” Mitchell says of the group’s decision to reinvent themselves just north of home. “There are a lot of great local bands around here; everyone’s writing really cool stuff right now.” 

The High Divers are adding to that list with their debut album, “Riverlust,” released this month from their label, Hearts & Plugs. “Riverlust” features 11 original tracks, written mostly by Mitchell but with a collaborative bent.

“I bring in the bare bones of the song and have everything figured out, and I bounce it off of them and see what they think,” says Mitchell, who previously released three solo albums. “Sometimes they’ll just tell me it sucks, which is very nice. You need those people in your life that can cut straight to the chase.”

When it comes to writing songs, the band’s front man said the lyrics are typically the last to come. “The music usually comes first and the melody,” he says. “But it’s funny, the first thing I always hear in other people’s music are the lyrics.”

Mitchell wrote most of the words to the tunes on “Riverlust,” although Connor shares lyric-writing honors on “Troubles,” and Mitchell and fellow musician and friend Johnny Delaware co-wrote “Tall Promises.”

Mitchell and Early have long been music-playing partners, playing together in the rock cover band The Gnomes as young teens. Connor, Mitchell’s girlfriend of four years, is a talented pianist who played some late-night gigs with Mitchell on the island. The three felt primed for a new adventure, and when DeAngelis left his former band and joined up with them a year ago, everything clicked.

“Julius kind of made everything come together for all of us,” Mitchell says. “It’s so hard to find a good drummer.”

After so many years as a solo artist playing his own tunes or tourists’ favorite covers, Mitchell says he had to adjust to the ensemble style of performing.

“At first, it was hard to relinquish all the control I had over shows, but now it’s a lot more fun, it’s a lot more natural, it flows a lot more easily than when I was by myself,” he says. “When I was playing solo stuff I could dictate what was going to happen, but now songs will just move in their own direction and everyone contributes their own voice to everything we play. It makes it a lot more unique. That’s what makes it The High Divers.”

The band’s influences range from John Prine to Paul Simon, and the members have been listening to other local bands — old blues, Motown and, of all things, The Everly Brothers.

While fronting a band might seem like more pressure than being solo, Mitchell says for him, it’s just the opposite.

“I feel a lot less pressure. With them behind me, I can actually go off and play guitar and stuff. When I was playing solo, you have to kind of keep it simple,” he says. “But we can play really anything; they’re all really good musicians.”

The band will celebrate its homecoming at a CD release party at Poseidon’s rooftop bar at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 16. There won’t be a cover charge, but there will be lots of hometown support for the talented foursome — even if they’ll pack their things at the end of the night and head north again.  

“It’s the best move we’ve ever made — literally and figuratively,” Mitchell says of launching this new chapter of their lives in Charleston. “We’re in such good company, and everybody’s just let us into their circle and been really welcoming and supportive.”