Interview By Thomas Pizzola | Photo By Photo by Daley Hake
The gestation period for Houston-born, Los Angeles-based alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Hawk Harris’ Bloodshot Records debut, Love & the Dark, was fraught with tragedy. His mom passed away due to complications related to alcoholism. His father went bankrupt after being sued by the King of Morocco. His sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and gave birth to a premature son with cerebral palsy. Plus, he had his own issues and vices to deal with.
That’s quite a bit to handle, even for a country performer.
However, instead of shying away from the darkness, he channeled all that chaos into Love & the Dark, which is one of the most promising roots music debuts in quite a while. Below, he shares his thoughts on the tragic events of the past few years, how they informed his debut album, and his reasons for creating music in the first place.
Harris is definitely one to watch.
After doing indie rock and punk, what made you decide to go country? What drew you to this form of music?
Country music is, by no means, foreign to me. I grew up in Houston, and country music was some of the first music I heard. I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music, so hopping around doesn’t feel odd. It just happened to be that when I started writing songs, they came out country, so I went with what was natural.
There were a lot of traumatic situations going on with your family during the writing of Love & the Dark. How did these situations influence and affect you? How did they affect the album?
It’s been an arduous and incredible few years. The album would not have existed without them. A lot of the songs on this record, almost all of them, are a catharsis for me. They represent the darkest moments and the greatest triumphs of a tough few years.
In addition, you were having some personal issues of your own. How did these affect the creation of the album?
It’s hard to say, because I feel like I’ve always got personal issues going on. In my experience, life is a series of problems—you’re either going into one, you’re in one, or you’re coming out of one. I think the challenge for me is making sure that I’m processing well and not flogging myself with unhealthy and harmful coping mechanisms. Songwriting helps me process, so there’s always going to be a lot of my personal issues in the songs I write.
The lyrics on the album are very heartfelt and personal. Was this the approach you were going for? Were you afraid you would be putting too much of yourself out there?
I don’t know that I had an approach in mind when I was writing. It’s just what came out. Like I said before, songwriting helps me process the events in my life, so sometimes, yeah, that means I put too much out there. Fortunately, I have my wife around to tell me when I’m oversharing. I shudder to think of what I’d tell the world about myself if I didn’t have her around.
Was making Love & the Dark therapeutic for you? Did it help you get through the tough times you were experiencing?
I think making anything is cathartic. It’s staring straight into the chaos the world throws your way and saying, “You know what, fuck it. I’m gonna organize this stuff into something beautiful.” I think that’s all any artist is doing when they create: finding order in this chaos we call home, so that we don’t descend into madness.
Let’s switch it up a bit and talk about how the record sounds. Your music is rooted in country, but it also has traces of other forms of music in it. Do you think it’s important to add new sounds to this venerable genre? What do you enjoy most about creating this hybrid sound?
I’m not out here trying to change country music. I think it’s just fine the way Hank and George did it. As a songwriter, all I have is my perspective, and my perspective is informed by a lot of different genres. That being the case, a mishmash of various musical ideas is what comes out of me most of the time.
That said, respecting a genre’s roots and traditions, regardless of what genre it is, is very important to me. I won’t use a genre of music if I don’t understand its roots. It’s a personal policy. For example, I love the way gamelan music [from Indonesia] sounds, but I don’t know the mechanisms, tendencies, or traditions of that kind of music, and furthermore, I don’t personally know anyone who plays it. A lot of times when you dabble in a style of music you don’t understand very well, you end up creating a caricature. That’s the last thing I want to do.
In general, what do you enjoy most about creating music?
It forces you to be present, to put the phone down, and to have hilarious and horrifying conversations with your demons.
What are your plans for touring? Do you tour with a full band or do you fly solo? What approach do you prefer?
I tour with a full band, and I’ll always prefer that. I like being around people and playing music with my friends. A solo tour sounds lonely. We’re heading out on Sept. 7 and will be playing shows until the middle part of November, so we’ve got a long stretch coming up. I’m looking forward to playing these songs live to a bunch of new people. Hopefully they don’t hate them.