Sugar & The Hi Lows know that popular music isn’t a mirror, that melodies and lyrics aren’t tethered to the cultural landscapes of their day. Breathing a new sound into music with an old soul, this rootsy, vintage duo reminds us why people dance, especially in the midst of hard times.
Music has always had the power to buoy spirits and wash communal hardships into the background. When Judy Garland clicked her sparkling heels and sang of a place “Over the Rainbow,” the rest of the nation was still reeling from the Great Depression and entering World War II. From the ashes of the same economic tragedy sprang Duke Ellington’s flitty jazz number “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” And though decades have come and gone, music still possesses that power.
Ringing in their new sound, Sugar & The Hi Lows are bringing back the era of feel good music, the days when one take as enough and an auto-tune was a thing you did to your ’55 Chevy. Brought to life by experienced songwriter/performers Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup, Sugar & The Hi Lows is a bit of a nostalgic love offering.
Growing up in Mississippi under the sway of Memphis blues, Dabbs was raised to the soundtrack of Motown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. “My father used to make blanket statements like, ‘It’s not good if you can’t dance to it,’” he remembers. And though he wasn’t into his father’s sonic selection at the time, he says that style of music has come to evoke a feeling he just can’t get anywhere else.
“The older that I got, I realized how that was kind of seeping into what I loved musically, and it just brings this joy, it brings this happiness,” Dabbs says. “With the climate of everything right now – with the economy – you could write the most depressing songs ever, but I really feel like the world needs light; the world needs lighthearted.”
The happy-go-lucky numbers that evolved into Sugar & The Hi Lows began to take shape when Dabbs purchased a vintage box amp and sat down in his basement for a regular co-write with Stroup.
“We got talking about his dad and throwback music from the ‘50s and ‘60s and just like, ‘Why isn’t there that type of music now?’” Stroup recalls. That day, their song “This Can’t Be the Last Time” came in less than two hours. But somehow everything had changed. A newfound creative freedom had been tapped, and the next seven tracks for the project fell quickly into place after that.
“We weren’t really trying to treat it like a band,” explains Stroup. “We just wrote this series of songs, but they didn’t feel like an Amy Stroup song or an Amy and Trent duet. It really felt like its own thing.”
With more than 100 TV placements between the two of them, Dabbs and Stroup are certainly no strangers to pop culture, but they’ve chosen to step away from their traditional singer-songwriter sound to pursue something with more of a swing.