Toronto, Canada may have birthed the electrifying duo of Harrow Fair — Miranda Mulholland and Andrew Penner — but their own Americana-folk blend of blazing vocals, thumping kick drum, roots-laden guitar, and fiery fiddle also evokes other places. Sometimes sounding like they could inhabit the hollows of Appalachia, other times traveling down a dusty Western road, and sometimes roaming through a haunting Southern landscape, Harrow Fair is brash and brazen, bittersweet and tender.
Their brand new stand-alone single “Sins We Made (Acoustic)” is a stripped-down stunner, with simple instrumentation and vocals giving rise to a strong message. The song was originally written about the changing environment for men and women post #MeToo and what that means as a duo, as friends, and in the workplace, and how to support and create space for all voices. This brand new take — recorded over the summer — on the title track from their most recent album (which was just released in April 2020) wears an acoustic cloak, and the song reveals new and deeper meanings about everyone being mindful about their actions and reactions.
How did they get there? In a creative mood during the pandemic, the pair carved out some time to escape to Miranda’s boat-in cottage in Muskoka, Ontario in Canada’s cottage country. They set up some old ribbon microphones in the main room of the cabin and tried to strip the song down to its essence. Says Miranda: “With all the production from the album gone, what does the song still say? This was a mirror of what we’ve been forced to reckon with in our lives. If live performance isn’t the same, what are we left with?” The result is a hauntingly beautiful acoustic version of “Sins We Made.”
Vents Magazine sat down with Harrow Fair’s Miranda and Andrew to talk about their brand new single, “Sins We Made (Acoustic),” and the album by the same name that they put out earlier in 2020.
Vents: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your music.
Miranda: We have very different musical training, and we bring really different yet complementary things to the table. I think we are able to push each other to take more risks because of this.
Vents: Your music really inhabits a lovely Americana/roots space, with both gritty/intense and haunting aspects to your songs. Your songs are also very timeless — like they could have come out decades ago in some ways, but they also sound really fresh and exciting now. How did you land upon this sound, and what does it mean to you to make the music that you do?
Andrew: We found our sound quickly. We realized that we each provide an important piece to a musical puzzle that we find really exciting. A big focus of our music and songwriting is on storytelling. Telling interesting stories and creating subject matter we find inspiring is something we always focus on.
Vents: Who are your biggest musical influences and why are they important to you or favorites of yours?
Miranda: I really love the album “Raising Sand” by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. I think the way each of their very opposite voices brings out aspects of the other is really captivating. That’s one thing I love about Harrow Fair as well.
Andrew: Stevie Wonder’s constant search for new musical boundaries, while completely having a sound that is unflinchingly his, is a well I go back to often to drink.
Vents: Tell us about your latest single, “Sins We Made (acoustic).” How did it come together?
Miranda: We hadn’t played together in months but we did our first livestream with great studio sound in a cottage town north of Toronto. I have a small cabin on an island there, and it seemed like a great opportunity to musically get to know each other again. Andrew brought some of his great gear, and we just started playing.
Vents: How did you choose to record this song, basically to put a different spin on the title track from your latest album for a new standalone single?
Miranda: Our full album really runs the gamut in production from stripped down (“Rich Looks Cheap”) to bombastic (“Shadow,” “Sins We Made”), and we wanted to see what the title track would give us if we took away all the bells and whistles.
Vents: Favorite part(s) in this acoustic version of the song and why?
Miranda: I like that there’s a tiny hint of the crickets outside the cabin. Can you hear the chipmunk we fed peanuts to all weekend?
Andrew: There are two dog barks in the song as little easter eggs. Try and find them!
Vents: What’s the meaning in the song for you, and what do you hope listeners will get from it?
Andrew: I hope the song encourages listeners to think about the actions of those around them and their own. I hope the song can acts as a warning and reminder that we all need to be mindful of what we put out into the world.
Vents: Tell us about your most recent album, “Sins We Made,” which came out in April. What do you think is the common thread that holds all of the songs together?
Miranda: We were very careful with our songwriting on this album. We wanted to make sure each song held something of our values or articulated a hope or shone a light on a societal problem.
Vents: What do you feel are the high points on the album, and why do they stand out?
Miranda: I think the high point of the album was us understanding that we can use the entire sonic palette and writing with that in mind. At the heart are always our voices and main instruments, but we can be just that or we can layer and build and create the full sound we like to achieve live. We hear that we sound like a four-piece band live a lot.
Andrew: I feel the overall highlight is that what we did on this record we couldn’t of done without each other. It’s a huge step forward in our evolution as a band.
Vents: Tell us about the recording process. How did the album come together in the studio?
Andrew: We recorded the album in Toronto, Canada between two studios (Lincoln County Social Club, and my studio, The Cellar) over the course of a few months. We gave ourselves a good deal of time for experimentation and then made all the nitty-gritty decisions together. We wanted to make something new for ourselves and our audience.
Vents: How was it releasing and promoting an album during the pandemic?
Miranda: It was a real rollercoaster. We’d worked so hard on the songwriting, recording, and designing, and we set up a really great U.S. radio tour and a full U.K. album release tour, so it was a disappointment not to get to play it live. That said, we had such amazing support from fans all over the world who attended our virtual listening party, and that was a real boost.
Vents: What’s next for you?
Andrew: We are always writing and looking for exciting ways to get our music out there in this new world. There are lots of things coming. Go to www.harrowfair.ca to keep up with us!
Artist website: https://www.harrowfair.ca/