April 08, 2009

John Harrison (North Elementary): The HCTF questionnaire

John Harrison
John Harrison playing the pedals

North Elementary start a tour promoting their long delayed album Not For Everyone, Just For You album, a hidden gem that is finally out in the open. Leader John Harrison kindly answered a few questions via email.

The Not For Everyone, Just For You album has been gathering dust on the shelves for years. Why was that?
"The first part of the delay was that we had recorded the record ourselves with money made from touring and music licensing - so we didn't really have a plan for releasing the record once it was done. We found a great home for the record within 8 months of mixing (Last Press Label out of London)… everything was set…… the contracts and that mess dealt with and everybody was happy. As the record was in the mastering process the label's founder became ill and had to seek medical attention in the US…. it became quite serious and in the end she decided to dissolve the label. She is fine now. We had to start all over again. We found Eskimo Kiss Records in Atlanta, GA to work out a great situation to finally get this record released. I've taken the view that it was released when it was ready. It was really beyond our control so - what could I really do."

North Elementary is a one-man band with additional joining and leaving as if they are hitching a ride from a musical roundabout. Where do you find them? And what come first: the arrangement of the musician doing his or her thing?
"I consider North Elementary a band - the way we write and record is really different from song to song and from incarnation to incarnation of the band - the longer a group of us is together the less complete of a song idea is brought to the band - I would love to have the same musicians together to long periods of time but it just hasn't worked out that way. No one has ever been "let go" they just move on for different reasons…. I've come to accept it and actually embrace it as a bit part of the North Elementaryway. From my point of view I get to play with lots of talented and inspiring artists…. so I'm into it…. and for the most part we are friends or they have been involved in projects I've enjoyed before they arrive in North Elementary. Living in Chapel Hill it's fairly easy to find like minded musicians wanting to play….it's really a wonderful magical place."
"Generally I bring a song or idea into practice or the studio mostly hashed out to varying degrees and we try different approaches with sounds/timing/arrangements - whatever we can dream up that keeps us interested in it. I 4-track so many songs and ideas by the time they are brought to the band I'm very open to input and styles of the other band members….every once in a while I'll want to "protect" a song but generally I'm ready to destroy what I made and flip it around on its head to see what we can shake out of it - this is a process I really enjoy - the communicating with other musicians on ideas - letting the song become bigger than anything I could possibly create on my own."

Most of the tracks are quite comfortable in the indie pop niche, with two notable exceptions. You Have A Heart has a lead guitar that might have been played by Dave Davies, and Ones In Love with a "German" electro beat (Kraftwerk, Propaganda). Did you feel you needed something else for those songs to make them work?
"Hmmm - well - I'm not sure really. With "You Have a Heart" it just makes sense to me - it's probably the most rock'n up tempo song on the record so a fairly straight ahead blues guitar type lead seemed to work…..it's just the first lead take we tracked and over time it never really bothered me so - it stayed. Live it's a bit quicker and the lead is a bit more meandering but generally all the solos are open to be played different each night."
""Ones in Love" was written in an odd way to begin with hence it sounding a bit different…..I started that song with a drum machine and an organ my sister brought to me from San Diego….I built the song around that idea and it seemed to really take on a life of its own in the studio. We tried a lot of different things - snare drum thru a fuzz pedal, banjo, electronic tom drums, guitars thru rotating speakers - it was fun and most of those things stayed on the recording."
"I feel we are a song oriented band - not really an album type band with a "sound"…I do the best I can sequencing the tracks to make an album have a nice feel - but we certainly tend to sound a bit different song to song - I think most music listeners can appreciate that it is not dumbed down - things can be different on the same album."

Are their more "lost" albums patiently waiting for release while you have moved on to new musical pastures.
"Umm - not really any albums - tracks here and there - certainly countless 4-track tapes in boxes in my house that I'd never release as North Elementary songs…..we are planning to go into the studio with Al at the beginning of fall so……hopefully we don't have to wait quite as long next time - but like I said earlier - so much of releasing a record is outta our control - I'm just trying to write and record the best songs I'm able to and have some fun."

Anything else? Fire at will.
"Go do something - make something - create - live - be in the moment - have a smile and enjoy the orange part of the day as the sun goes south - and/or - purchase our album at eskimokissrecords.com."

North Elementary: Not for Everyone, Just for You Live dates:
  • 04/09 Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY
  • 04/10 Pianos, Manhattan, NY
  • 04/17 Pinhook, Durham, NC (The Sames reunion show!)
  • 04/23 Local 506, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 04/24 Snug Harbor, Charlotte, NC
  • 04/25 The Star Bar, Atlanta, GA

» northelementary.com
» myspace.com/northelementary

HCTF review of Not for Everyone, Just for You.

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