Some impact is always expected to be delayed. When an artist drops a track, sometimes the flow of the song doesn’t do justice to the time it was released in. Choose the right moment & it strikes like lightning. That is exactly what E.W Harris did with this single, Bad Ghosts.
In search for a genre
1) Your tracks sway between genres in an effortless way that’s difficult for many. Does this come naturally to you?
Ha, Thanks! I wish! The only part of it I think that comes naturally is that (for things I don’t really get aka most of my song subjects) I try and cook up a thought experiment to try and get some answers.
The premise for this one (and all the others in this era of my songwriting) is that, all of the stories are told from the perspective of characters in a post apocalyptic future. This kind of dodges the genre question in that all kind of cultural influences are salvaged from the wreckage of civilization. In this situation, “folk“ type storytelling, synthesizers, and odd time rock passages are not any weirder than people living in what used to be a bank or farming in an abandoned lot.
It can be kind of difficult at times (especially in the studio with the clock ticking) to constantly question genre expectations for the sake of some arbitrary premise I made up, but I personally think it’s a thrilling way to make music and (hopefully) to engage collaborators and listeners alike in a new way.
Perfecting quality sound
2) Bad Ghost, your single has great fidelity and production. Are you an audiophile and what’s your process in track mixing?
Guilty as charged. Well, sort of, I myself am a kind of Lo-fi/lo-rent audiophile. I’ll save you the essay here but I often work as a producer & engineer and I LOVE talking about the emotive potential of various fidelities of sound. The producers for this track (namely Kia Eshghi & Chris Butler) though, both definitely fit the the more “classical” description of an audiophile.
Newtown Recorders here in Brooklyn, NY is an amazing space to work in. It is that perfect fusion of tradition, tech, and magic, that accounts for ones both audiophillic and experimental needs. It makes sense too that they would be audiophiles, as they both produced, engineered, and mixed every aspect of Bad Ghost there with a level of care and delicacy that I most times couldn’t even distinguish until it was just magically more awesome than I thought possible. That said, how exactly they mixed it is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I do know that it was an intensive process involving some unholy alchemy of digital and analog techniques, and that I really love how it came out lol.
New tracks reflecting change post the pandemic aren’t new. Every artist has something to say in their own way about how change has affected them. Bad Ghosts is a prophetic return of the prodigal child, a flux of energies that apparently seemed missing now that you hear this track. E.W Harris has vocals that are as mesmerizing as ever, the incentive different with backup vocals with phasing, drums, and outstanding production.
Trying new themes
3) Have you induced new styles in your musical journey post pandemic? What are the themes you like to usually touch upon?
I have indeed! The February Album Writing Month (FAWM) was a huge boon to me this last year. For those of you who don’t know about it it’s a nonprofit forum-type community that pops up each February with an aim to encourage people to write and share songs. It’s amazing. Basically, my challenge to myself was to write each of the 14 songs on a different instrument/musical device, and to keep the subject matter firmly rooted in the Rocket City Universe (the post-apocalyptic alternate reality I mentioned earlier).
There were tunes on banjo, ukulele, various toy keyboards, a few different old samplers, and even a speak & spell. I found that by keeping the themes somewhat consistent, the “interfaces” of the musical devices led me to some wildly different places. In some instances I couldn’t play well and had to focus on what I could make an instrument do. In some, I could create intricate counterpoint, and some even lent themselves to dance-type numbers.
It was very eye opening. It was also very interesting to refine the themes a little bit and to start to process things like loss and isolation through the lens of some of the characters I had already created. To be honest, as bad as the pandemic was for me personally and professionally, it definitely moved me to a new place artistically.
A new approach
4) Why did you decide to recreate the track Bad Ghost from your 2016 album with quite a different approach?
Good question! It has long been a fan favorite in live performance so there are two reasons really. The first is that I was never fully satisfied with my production work on the 2016 version, and in recent years I have moved further and further away from the straight “acoustica” of the record Mimetic Desire.
This being the case, when Kia & Chris were toying around with the idea of forming Hanging Dilettante (the co-imprint of Hanging Moon Records & Greedy Dilettante Records) I pitched them Bad Ghost as a potential project. They both liked the song and the rest is history. For my part I definitely think the new one is the superior version for sooooo many reasons.
5) If you had to make an album with only 3 instruments, you seem to be a polymath in using them, which are the 3 you would choose & why?
Ha! I’ve been waiting for this question all my life. Assuming that voice doesn’t count and that I had to play them all myself, I would have to choose (grudgingly) acoustic guitar, the Teenage Engineering OP-1, and a cello. Acoustic guitar because it’s the polyphonic instrument I am most comfortable composing on and it inhabits this interesting place between rhythm and harmony that is very useful. The cello because I love it. My skills are very rudimentary, but even at my level the deep voice-like sound of the cello more than makes up for the scritch-scratch of the acoustic guitar.
he OP-1 is my ace in the hole. It’s a very powerful synth, composition engine, and sampler all in a little toy-like package. To use all of its functions would kind of be cheating, but if I wanted to just play by the rules I’d be playing Hayden or something .
The lyrics fall on you a little differently now, a little more complete and surreal because of the experience. It echoes sentiment, synths playfully whistling through the track with snare rolls building to the bridge & a surprising instrumental section- which must be heard more than once to understand & appreciate the layers.
The theme of dystopia
6) In your Spotify bio, you say you’ve been called a dystopian romantic? What do you think about this near dystopian crusade we experienced and its effect on music & musicians?
I think it has been particularly rough on artists generally, but musicians in particular. It’s a very social art form, and some types (punk rock, dance music, and basically all new/experimental music) absolutely rely on live performance and community to exist in a meaningful way. Pop music as it exists right now (and all of its various descendants familiar and estranged) relies on the sweaty nightclub, dingy rock venues, the late nights, and close spaces not just to connect with listeners and to make money but to absorb influences from one another.
While those individuals may survive as artists there are no guarantees that their spheres will. That in itself is cause for alarm. As to my favorite title (lol) I think one reason I’ve been called a dystopian romantic in the past is that I believe fundamentally that it is in these situations of duress that we begin to realize, if only dimly, what is meaningful and important in our lives.
What is poverty if one has only been rich? What is love and what is friendship untested and untried? Do we cease to think, to feel and to dream when the trappings of our world and ourselves collapse around us? I don’t think so. Sure it gets harder, but it seems reasonable to suspect that that which emerges from the rubble is changed but not gone. I think, for those of us who survived, can’t help but have tasted at least little bit of this.
7) What’s next in store for fans of E.W Harris?
I am delighted to announce that we are back in the studio yet again, and have a few things on the burner. On the song front there is a new version of my song Hammerhands rapidly nearing completion as well as a tune (co-written with Nathan Williams) called Post-Orbital Closure from Hanging Dilettante.
There’s also the album Homunculus IV (currently available as a limited edition EP on ewharris.bandcamp.com) due out in its completed form Spring 2022. On the media front we’ve been working with musician/animator Takuma Matsui on a variety of video projects and I am in the midst of developing a mixed media RadioACTV streaming program for Twitch.
This track was featured in his 2016 album Mimetic Desire. Now don’t get me wrong, the track felt complete however it was, it was minimal & poetic. The 2021 version is a whole new ballgame in terms of sound, effects & the reflection of the time it has been released in. The song narrates the same story but the moral makes sense now, given the predicament we are in.