Interview: Heidi Harris

An interview with the chameleon of music herself.

Heidi is a self-taught musician and vocalist exploring the genre of “New Weird America”. She's been called a “chameleon” when it comes to the number of instruments she may play in a single performance, and she manages to combine it all into an orchestrated experience you would never guess was one person if you had your eyes closed.

Heidi can play tons of instruments, including piano, clarinet, harmonica, guitar, ukulele, melodica, synthesizer, theremin, and various sound makers. She used many of these sounds as well as her songwriting as a former member of the chamber folk trio Cutleri, and continues to do so in Knife Thrower’s Assistance, an eclectic musical collective based in NYC. However Heidi’s first “instrument” was her own voice, and she took part in operettas and musicals, which play a part in her quality and range of voice.

She attended the Institute of Audio Research in New York City, focusing on the process of recording and producing, and went on to record several self-released albums in her home studio, Suki Sound. Her work has been reviewed by labels and blogs all over the globe, and she's been recognized as a unique and profilic artist. I stumbled upon her music about a year ago, and have had the pleasure of interviewing her before the release of her new EP.

- How come you stumbled upon creating music?

I think it might have been that my sisters took an interest in piano and clarinet as they were growing up. They were a few years older than I so it must have inspired me somehow!

- Have you ever attended lessons or are you self-taught?

I took piano lessons as a young girl, up until maybe 9 years old. I continued with chorus and band (playing the clarinet) and other state chorus festivals thru school and I remember driving out of the town I grew up in, Wolfeboro NH to take vocal lessons for about a year. To be honest, I never really took to “lessons”. I’m stubborn that way I guess but mostly I just enjoy learning things myself with music, how it should be approached or could be approached.

- Which is your earliest musical memory?

Probably birds!

- Growing up, what were your hopes and dreams?
I just always wanted to be someone who creates music and art. I don’t think I ever really fixed myself on one idea but I always knew whatever I set out to do,  it must be creative and sound itself or music, is one of the most important details for me to work with.

- Your songs have loads of different sounds. What  are your influences and what are you inspired by?

I’m inspired by this moment right now, hahaha!! … seriously, there’s some seagulls outside my window and they’re talking… moments like this. I can hear very slight cars and a beep in the hallway downstairs… a garage door shutting… I put so much sound into my recordings because its wonderful! Sometimes a recording with just a clean piano and maybe some strings or just a vocal can be so moving and such beautiful “art”... but also capturing a song along with all the noise and living art happening at the same time with it, thats also a treat I think.

- Do you record your music at home or in a studio? Do you play all the different instruments yourself? What do you use and how does the process go?

I have a home studio, I call it Sukisound… I actually just made a facebook page for it: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sukisound-Studio/744803298869823

I just recently also recorded at a wonderful studio in NYC called “M&I Recordings” here’s the link: http://www.mirecordingstudios.com/

My home studio recordings (which are mostly what I do) have a lot of me in them. I really enjoy picking up different instruments and creating all the sounds myself, however I also really love playing my songs with other artists. I’ve found that when doing this, playing with other musicians, its best to have someone else “pushing the buttons” in the studio. I like to have full range to concentrate on being part of the group. I do really love recording and mixing and playing on my own and when I get into that zone I feel like a mad scientist or something, I love it.

- Having said that, was it easy to get where you are today or did you find lots of bumps in the road? Were there moments of self doubt or instances when you simply didn’t feel good enough?

Oh sure, the decision to be a creative person is one that comes at a bumpy price! It’s always worth it tho, and the lessons can be amazing if you remain open to them.

- What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

I started my serious music listening life with “oldies” actually… I remember listening to the oldies station on the radio…. and then also recording the radio shows and listening to them in high speed for some reason, like the oldies in chipmunk land. This amused me.

- And now, what do you listen to? The same things as you record or are you secretly a One Direction fan? Who are your favourite musicians?

Oh my gosh. The favorite musician question is SO difficult. I will list some, but please know the list for real is long!…

Hanne Hukkelberg
Porya Hatami
Luc Ferrari
Dark Dark Dark
Peggy Sue
Josephine Foster
Molly Drake
Julia Holter
Dirty Three
Zoe Keating

- Your new album ‘Strange Folklore’ is coming out soon. What is it inspired by and what was the process of creating it like?

It's loosely based on old folklore, or tales being the source of things we all hold onto and don't know why. For instance, the umbrella was considered "bad luck" on a ship a long time ago... people really got into this and my favorite, the black cat. Things like this, they start from who knows where but seriously affect us or at least one’s day!... I was applying that thought to my own life, thinking about what happens to me or my friends because of things we just hold onto and don't really understand. I know thats sort of broad and maybe not clear, but my work is never too specific so thats something I was thinking about while weaving the songs together. Its also just an emotional album and I guess based on a sort of team work concept with the group I was working with (Knife Thrower’s Assistance) but whatever you get out of it is just as valid to me.

The process for this album was about a two year deal. I picked these particular songs of mine, developed them on my own for a bit and then decided to find other musicians who wanted to share them with me for a while: “Knife Thrower’s Assistance”. The practices would sometimes be up to 10 people and we played a few live shows with all members and we plan to do a couple more big shows but the recordings are a simplified version of these practices and the songs that I put into the project. You can learn more about our project as a whole here: http://knifethrowersassistance.wordpress.com/

- Growing up, have you ever found music as a kind of escape from the rest of the world?
I still do, everyday.

-Which would you say is your greatest achievement yet?
Knife Thrower’s Assistance.

-Finally, what advice would you give to budding artists who would like to create music like you do, but don’t really know where to start?

I’d say go to audio school! Learning to capture sound on my own was the best thing I ever did for myself.

Thank you!

Heidi's EP “Strange Folklore” with Knife Thrower’s Assistance will be available Dec. 8th here:  http://heidiharris.bandcamp.com/
Get it while it's fresh!


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