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INTERVIEW: Kevin Harrison & True North

Hi Kevin, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about our music!

I’ve been great – really excited to be getting these new songs out there.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Brother”?

We’ve always considered Kevin Harrison & True North to be a “rock n’ roll” band, but “Brother” is far and away the most rock n’ roll song we’ve ever released. Going into the recording session, we were on the fence about which track we’d lead with as the single. After one listen through the album, “Brother” made that decision pretty easy for us.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

You know, this one did have a pretty direct inspiration. A few months before the 2016 election, I was hanging out with a group of guys I’d grown up with and was completely caught off guard to find that we had such different perspectives when it came to politics (or in this case, morals that I felt transcended politics). These were guys I’d known since I was a kid – we’d gone to the same schools, our parents had the same kinds of jobs. I figured we’d share the same outlook on the world, but we didn’t.

After the election, I was – like a lot of people – a little shell-shocked. But, I tried really hard to understand the other side instead of lashing out. “Brother” is the songwriting result of those efforts. The lyrics offer an olive branch, an attempt to reclaim common ground, but the delivery certainly doesn’t hide the anger and frustration that I felt.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Probably not for this one. We’ve got some ideas brewing for another song on the EP that we think makes for a more creative video, so stay tuned!

The single comes off your new album Howl – what’s the story behind the title?

It began with the cover art. I’ve loved wolves for a long time (since overcoming an early childhood fear, but I’ll save that story for a psychology journal interview) and was struck by this beautiful sketch of a wolf howling.

We realized that none of the individual song titles properly summed up the full collection, so we had a blank slate. Through a combination of the wolf drawing, Brendan’s howling lead guitar lines, my howling vocals, and a coyote’s cry in the distance on the last night of our Catskills recording session, Howl just felt right.

How was the recording and writing process?

Among the most fulfilling experiences of my life, and I’m pretty sure the other guys would agree whole-heartedly.

We started with 15 or so song options. Some we’d been playing live, a couple were a bit older but didn’t fit the first album, and a few were brand new demos that needed to be built from the ground up. Once we whittled those down to 7 or 8, Simone gave us his perspective and we narrowed the field further.

We spent 5 days in Simone’s barn studio in the Castkill Mountains of New York completely immersed in music. It was a dream.

Our bassist, Pete, doubled as our videographer, so we’ll have some cool behind-the-scenes footage to share on our YouTube channel (youtube.com/kevinharrisonmusic) when the album comes out.

What was it like to work with Simone Felice and how did that relationship develop?

Inspiring and efficient. Simone and our mixing engineer, Pete Hanlon, were fantastic. We’d planned to track one song each day, with the fifth day reserved for mixing, but they helped us squeeze in another track that we’d have hated to leave off the EP. We’d each been through sluggish sessions in the past, so it was really refreshing to work with professionals like Simone and Pete and hammer out some great-sounding tracks.

The relationship began with an email that I frankly expected to go unanswered. We knew we wanted to bring in a producer for this album, and I’d read an excellent article about Simone’s work with the Lumineers on Cleopatra. I felt like their sound took an impressive leap between their debut and Cleopatra and hoped Simone might be able to push us the same way. I tracked down his email address, forwarded along a link to our demos, and crossed my fingers. He called a few days later, and I immediately realized how lucky we were to have the opportunity to work with him.

How much did he get to influence the album?

Our drummer, Ray, had worked with a big-time producer on an earlier solo album and warned us that we’d better be ready to hand over the keys to the songs entirely. We weren’t expecting Simone to shift any of them toward electronic pop hits, but we figured at least a couple of the songs might come away sounding very different than we’d conceived.

Instead, Simone guided us toward sounding like the best possible version of ourselves.

Simone encouraged us to strip away a lot of the excess noise that we’d used as a security blanket. He and Pete offered subtle suggestions to serve the songs, always as partners, never superiors. And beyond the specific musical tweaks, Simone also played shaman – burning sage to get the vibe of the room right; offering a simple thumbs up when we were on the right track or jabbing that same thumb in the air when he wanted us to push it; dropping one-liners that we’d be cracking up over at dinner later that night. Some of it might sound corny, but it worked. The songs came out better than we could have imagined and the experience was unforgettable.

How The Black Crowes and Rival Sons has influence your music?

Those were two comparisons that another publication made when reviewing “Brother,” and we’ll take it! The Black Crowes have been a major influence for a long time – Chris Robinson is a hero of mine and Brendan has been to more Crowes shows than he can count. Rival Sons was a new, but welcomed, analogy. “Brother” definitely features some of that Zeppelin-esque riff rock that Rival Sons are doing better than just about anyone else these days.

As a band, our influences overlap a lot in the bluesy rock arena, but we also each bring something from outside the circle. Ray adds some alt-rock heavy hitting to the drums, I’ve got some folky singer-songwriter tendencies, Pete is a musical encyclopedia, and Brendan carries a lot of soul in his guitar playing. Our friend Sloan joined us on keys for the album, expanding our collective inspiration even further.

What role did the Catskill Mountain play on the writing of this album?

Some of the more overtly Catskills-themed songs were left off the album, but the mountains’ influence still carries through. It’s easy to have a rocky relationship with our home base of New York City. It can be unbelievably inspiring – our first EP is an unabashed love letter to NYC – but it can also feel mean and confining. The Catskills have been a refuge for me when I need an escape and made the perfect setting for recording these songs.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Almost exclusively through my own experiences. I’d love to be able to write an anthem for the factory worker like Springsteen, but that’s just not what comes out when I pick up my guitar and notebook. I write about my own feelings in the hope that it’s the most genuine way that I can tap into others’ experiences. Lost love. Found love. Angst over dreams unfulfilled. Questioning who I am and who I’m supposed to be.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes! We’re firming up dates now, but we are planning to be busy in September and October once the EP is released: NYC – Long Island – New Jersey – DC – and hopefully getting back up to the Catskills. Folks can head to kevinharrisonmusic.com or track us on Bandsintown to stay updated on tour dates.

What else is happening next in Kevin Harrison & True North’s world?

I’m just wrapping up a run of solo acoustic shows in California and getting set to make the cross-country trek back to the east coast. It’s been fun and challenging to dust off my solo chops for a few shows, but I’m looking forward to playing these new songs the way we recorded them.

We’ve got a few logistics pieces left to handle – printing up CDs and shipping out orders to all of the folks who helped make the album possible by supporting our Kickstarter – and then it’s time to start gearing up for our fall shows and Howl’s release.

Thanks again for helping our music reach new audiences – we hope your readers enjoy “Brother” as much as we enjoyed making it!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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