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INTERVIEW: J R Harbidge

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

Thank you. I am feeling very excited about finally getting my music out there.  It’s taken a while to get all the pieces together and to make sure they all fit but I am very confident that everything is good as it can possibly be.  It’s an album I am very proud of.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Turn The Screw”?

Turn The Screw is a fast paced upbeat song with a big chorus lots of harmonies a killer Hammond part and it even has a harmonica solo in the middle 8.

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

Lyrically, it was written as a direct response to the financial collapse and how I felt angry, disillusioned and betrayed that these “institutions” that we grow up trusting and rely upon can be run into the ground, collapse and steal our savings, destroy our businesses and no one is held accountable or sent to jail. It weighed on my mind for years, it still does. I don’t trust institutions of any kind any more as a result and that’s where the lyrics for this song are rooted.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

As a new artist you really have to budget and rightly or wrongly video was pretty low on the list after recording, mastering, duplication etc. So I ended up filming the video myself at a cool rehearsal studio called Neon in Litchfield not far from where I live. It has a stage and lighting all set up, perfect for a video shoot.

The idea was to film me playing all the parts, vocals, guitars, bass and drums and cut it together so it looks like I am every member of the band. It was filmed on the hottest day of the year and playing ten takes of drums was a killer, I must have lost a stone in weight. There was a lot of costume changes as I videoed each pass at different angles.

It was a fun, hot, long day but worth it in the end. After the filming was complete I sent it over to Jason at Mechanical Tree Productions in Spain to edit it together. I have done a bit of editing but I know my limits.

The single comes off your new album First Ray of Light – what’s the story behind the title?

First Ray Of Light is the album title and there is a track of the same name on the album.

Its about hope,  however bad things get always look for something positive to hold on to and use it to pull you through. I know it’s easier said than done for some people but if you look really hard you can find something, whether you choose to see things as positive is down to your mind set of course and getting to that point in the first place can be a massive undertaking but when you make that connection it will make you stronger.

How was the recording and writing process?

I love writing as much as recording and performing. I tend to be able to write something every time I pick up a guitar.  The music always comes first with me and then the melody and then the subject matter and finally the lyrics.  I don’t set out to write that way it’s just what happens. Musically I am very influenced by the late 60’s Americana type stuff like  CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, Eagles so inevitably my music leans to that kind of sound.

I don’t really suffer with writers block, fortunately. When I come to a difficult part of a song that doesn’t naturally want to write itself I either put it on the back burner and revisit it at a later date or I will make myself write until I find something that works, both methods work for me. It’s not often I’m stuck for an idea.

Lyrically the album tackles depression, politics, love, all themes that are very much present in my life and writing seems to help me resolve a lot of the conflicts I have with regard to those subjects. Writing, for me, is very therapeutic.

I love the art of recording. I recorded the majority of the album myself at the Twangs private studio in Birmingham, I also recorded some of the material at Dubrek in Derby and Abbey Road where I later learned Paul McCartney was recording his latest album in studio 3 while we were recording in the Gatehouse. Recording at Abbey Road was a dream come true and the engineers were fantastic, I learned an awful lot from those guys in the few days I was there. Techniques I will take in to the recording of the second album for sure.

Whilst recording at the Twangs studio I engineered the debut album by JAWS and learned a lot from their producer Dreamtrack. I also learned a lot from Gavin Monaghan who we recorded a lot with over the years. He has worked on number one records as well as with some artists I really respect like Robert Plant and Scott Matthews.

What was it like to work with Gavin Monaghan and how did that relationship develop?

Working with Gavin was great, he was my first real introduction to the art of recording. I used to sit next to him whilst he was mixing and ask him questions about almost every thing he did to our mixes. I must have driven him mad with all the questions but he’s a great bloke and first class producer and very patient, and he was with me.

How much did he get to influence the album?

He didn’t directly influence the album but I certainly took a lot of his tricks and techniques in to the studio when recording the album. He taught me about how to use room mics effectively in the mix, raising the levels  in certain parts of the mix to introduce a slightly different vibe to say the chorus and dropping them back in the verses to create a tighter sound. He also used to mic up the stairwell where he would get a huge drum sound he could mix in with the track. I do that as a matter of course now.

He produced Scott Matthews “Elsewhere” and I fell I love with the sound of that record and strive to get as close to it as possible when I can.

How Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan has influence your music?

Bob Dylan has influenced the album in a few ways. He was my introduction to the protest song and I have a couple of protest songs on the album Turn The Screw and I Won’t Support Your Wars. He says it as it is and I love that. Musically he influenced the song Older & Sober, we kind of went for the “When Dylan went electric” as the approach to that song. I have Pete Larkin (keys player) to thank for that bit of direction.

Ryan Adams is my favorite songwriter and has probably influenced me as much if not more than CSN&Y (my other favorite song writers). I’ve been a fan since I heard Rescue Blues back in 2001.  What he does lyrically is amazing to me, his turn of phrase, the words he uses are words I would never think of using and the way he constructs the lyrics are inspiring to me.

Musically whatever he does I like and every album he releases is better than the one before. I don’t know of an artist that continuously releases gem after gem. A real inspiration. Something I strive to do.

What aspect of politics and your life did you get to explore on this record?

I Won’t Support Your Wars is the other protest song on the album and is my anti war song. I am a pacifist, I don’t see any reason to kill anybody, especially not for resources like in the Middle East or for strategic control of an area like in Yemen.  It breaks my heart to see people having there families destroyed and countries laid waste like what happened in Libya. War, killing, shouldn’t be on the table at all in my opinion. As Gandhi said “An eye for an eye makes the world go blind” you can’t argue with that.

Many of the songs on the album are born out of depression. Somebody very close to me suffers with depression and it’s an awful condition, for those suffering from it and for those around them who struggle to understand its effects.  Even though many of the songs are influenced by depression I generally try to put something positive in every song, a light at the end of a tunnel if you will.

There is a bitter sweet love song on there called “ When You Don’t Love Your Man”, it is going to be the second single. This song was written from the point of view of somebody struggling to understand someone at absolute rock bottom. It’s difficult to put it into words, the feeling of limbo that you feel as the outsider when someone you love is at rock bottom and nothing you say or do appears has any effect.  It’s certainly a stressful situation all round.

Regrets!! That’s the subject matter of the song Older & Sober.  It’s about making mistakes and regretting it. People say “no regrets”, but I have them. People say “those choices made me who I am and I don’t regret that” and to a degree I agree.  I have learned patience, I’ve learned to control my anger, I’ve learned to give considered responses, I’ve learned to be less selfish, I’ve learned not to shoot my mouth off,  all of which are the results of experiences I regret, so yes. In a way “no regrets” but I cringe when I think back and I do regret certain actions. Oh, and I used to drink an obscene amount of whisky which didn’t help. I still enjoy a pint here and there but the whisky days have gone ( that could be a good song title) hence the sober part of the song.

Learn To Love The Rain is a song about loss. My wife lost her mother recently and of course it devastated her. This song is about how helpless I felt in the face of such a terrible event.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes. I am looking to put a tour of record shops together around the time of the album release in October. There will also be an album launch party in a great pub called the Malt Shovel in Aston On Trent, Derby on 5th October.  After the album is released I will be putting together a full band tour so keep a look out for dates.

What else is happening next in JR Harbidge’s world?

I have the second single coming out in August “When You Don’t Love Your Man” followed by maybe a third in September and then it’s all hands on deck for the album release on 5th October.

The second album is already written so I shall probably start writing the third as soon as I get 5 minuets.

Watch here

www.jrharbidge.com

www.facebook.com/jrharbidge

@j_r_harbidge

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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