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SoundCheck: Three Kids, Their Radios in Tow, Learned the Skill of Blending Voices

Steven Spencer

When I listen to vocal groups with vibrant harmonies, I feel a rush of emotions from admiration to jealously. I’ve never been very good at it myself.

But Emily Higgins, Larry Lee and David Wilson are.  They’ve recently come together in a new trio that bursts with three-part harmonies. The group has dubbed themselves The HigLeeWils, taking a bit of each of their last names. But how does someone learn how to sing in harmony?

From Tarkio Road to Seven Bridges Road

Emily remembers being an 8th grader hanging out in a pal’s room, just three girls, guitars at the ready.

“We were listening to Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley’s album Tarkio Road. We just sat around and listened to it over and over and over again and sang along with it. They were so tight. I really was fascinated with that,” she said.

Then she heard the Eagles do Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road.”

“It was so magical—because it wasn’t just that they were harmonizing—they were phrasing tightly together. And their pitch was so perfect together that it really made a seamless one note. It was several voices coming together make one perfect sound in your ears. It made me want to try it,” said Emily.

Credit Jessica Balisle / KSMU
The HigLeeWils in the KSMU studio

Wake Up Little Radio  

When Larry Lee was a little kid, he would hide at his dad’s office and listen to a small transistor radio.  And one day, he heard the sound of the Everly Brothers singing “Wake Up Little Susie.”   He still remembers, in his young mind, thinking, “‘What is that sound?’ I knew it wasn’t one person – it had to two people – but I hadn’t really heard it that way before.”

A few years later, he would tuck that same transistor radio under his pillow at night, falling asleep to the rock ‘n’ roll played on WLS from Chicago.

“Y’know, as I got a little older, the Beach Boys were a big influence to me. And of course, the Beatles, y’know. They turned my life around. Y’know, good songwriting and then some really good vocals. I get tuned into that, I really enjoy it,” said Larry. 

Down At The Creek

As for Dave Wilson, he and his friends would listen to the Beach Boys and the Byrds with the mission of learning the songs.

“We would tear those songs apart and learn all the parts, sit around a campfire or in our front rooms. That’s where I got really excited about those kind of vocals,” said Dave.

If the Ozarks weather was nice, they’d make an outdoor weekend of it.

“They both lived out north of McDaniel Lake. Sometimes we’d take our guitars, other supplies and go down to the creek. Just playing songs over and over again,” he said.

Credit Steven Spencer
The HigLeeWils - Emily Higgins, Larry Lee, and David Wilson

Blended Biscuits

“I like unusual, quirky voices, like Crosby Stills and Nash. If you listen to each one individually, they’re pretty quirky. But when you put those quirky, weird voices together and it works, it’s just stunning. It’s really appealing to me,” said Dave.

“Kinda like us, Dave,” said Emily.

“Kinda like us,” said Dave.

“We’re all quirky,” said Emily.

“The thing of it is, we just feel like we’re in unison together, even though we’re singing harmonies,” said Larry.

Unusual and in unison, the HigLeeWils don’t disappoint when they blend their voices together like the perfect biscuit mix. Thanks for tuning into SoundCheck. I’m Jess Balisle.

Be sure to catch the band on KSMU’s Studio Live Friday (Oct. 12) at noon for an hour of music and conversation.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.