Taking a break from his myriad minimal tech personas, Francis Harris, a.k.a. Adultnapper a.k.a. Lightbluemover a.k.a. one half of Frank n’ Tony, is starting out 2012 by not only launching a new imprint, dubbed Scissor & Thread, with Shawn Schwartz owner and curator of the almost-legendary Halcyon records in Brooklyn, but also by releasing a personal record under his own, personal, name. A softer, and as he describes it, “quieter” turn from his firmer, more aggressive alter egos, Harris’ “Leland” is not only fraught with, as Urb found out, intricate cinematic and literary qualities, but is a tribute to the life and memory of Harris’ father. Revealed brilliantly by the voice of Danish vocalist and former FM Einheit collaborator Gry Bagøien, the story of Leland is intimate, comforting, and surprisingly uplifting in the end. We spoke to Harris in order to find out exactly how it is that he arrived at the end of his new album’s journey.
The beats on “Living Lips” and the overarching compositions on “Lost Found” are very evocative of the “house” sound, while the rest of the various elements of the record seem to pay homage to a much more freestyle, minimal electronic sound that’s been popular over the last ten or so years. Was it important to juxtapose the structures of those two methods of composing or just something that occurred naturally?
The whole album, in general, kind of occurred naturally. The thing, for me, that remained consistent in terms of the concept and what I was hearing, what I wanted was not basing the album upon music that was composed in a computer based upon real compositions and focusing more on real recording techniques, and trying to do something that was out of the box but had a consistent mood.
The mood and composition is sort of similar. It goes everywhere from house to free jazz, to old Aphex Twin kind of stuff, but with more of a 4/4 beat. I guess, its a confluence of a lot of influences in my own musical career, but it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t like I was gonna sit down and try to make something…I wasn’t even sitting down to make a requiem per se, it’s just kind of like my emotional state-of-mind at that particular moment in time.
When I started the album, I’d started thinking about doing an album and then my father passed away and I guess that’s just kind of where my head was.
The process of recording it and getting it right was a very long and arduous process because we mixed everything on an analog desk and we took a really time getting everything exactly right. So the album took about a year to fully make.
So it was a very interesting experience for me, very educational. It kind of makes me not be able to turn back at this point and just wanna take care of doing everything. I’d rather release much less records and not really put just anything out unless it has a bit of that magic touch to it.
Do you mean by “mixing on a desk” kind of like what Soulwax does, where they don’t actually allow ProTools to memorize what their various mix volumes are, like they actually set all those presets on the desk and mentally memorize what they are incase one of the faders gets bumped, etc.
Yeah, well this was 100% analog. My concept behind the album is I really wanted the album to be soft. I didn’t want to make an album that was tailored for Beatport listeners. I wanted to make an album for people who really appreciate dynamic and recording. So, we mixed the record on the desk, completely analog, at a very low volume, because we just wanted to hear every little sound to see how much clarity we could get out of each one of the instruments, and the sound, and try to do something completely different.
So the first thing that hit me about the record is that the lyrics, while seeming very much dedicated to a loss, the loss of the strong male figure in your life, the vocals are incredibly feminine, more than just in the sense that a woman is chosen to perform them. Her vocalizations are particularly high and breathy and loose and girlie really. What is it about the female voice, you think that, helps you emphasize the masculine loss being evoked?
I felt like the nature of the record itself, even though its a requiem for my father…I still only heard a female voice not a male voice, because my father was always very quiet and reserved. He was a very sweet man who always took the high road to things, so the thought of a requiem for him wouldn’t be something that was overtly male, cause he wasn’t. I mean, he was male in the sense that he took care of his family and took care of his business. But, I never viewed “my father” as being like a “brutishly male” thing and Billie Holiday is definitely one of my favorite singers and when I thought of something like a more jazzy vibe, I thought of (Gry’s) vocals.
Every single one of her songs has a little bit of this sad vibe to it, in a good way, you know? I’m kind of a sucker for melancholic jazz music and immediately when I heard (Gry’s vocal style) I just knew that that was what I wanted.
You don’t hear a lot of male vocalists that are sad. The only “sad” male vocalist that I absolutely love is probably Will Oldham and The Palace Brothers, Bonnie Price Billy or something like that. I love old blue-grass, folky kind of stuff but that’s not really what I was going for. So it kind of made sense when I heard her vocal cause it immediately kind of “popped”.
My last question is, aside from the major theme of losing your father, what are the core influences that shaped the vision for this record? Was it art of some kind, film as there are a very cinematic elements seemingly present? You mentioned (prior to the interview) being politically enthused, interested in counter culture. Are there also fragments of those interests that you brought forth on Leland and how?
Sure, definitely. I’m a huge Hertzog fan. I love the soundtracks…all those old Hertzog films. Also, actually, as a matter of fact, one of the conversations that I had when we were first recording the record, when I was talking to Emile the cello player, he wanted a point of reference and I just gave him all the soundtracks of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, all the soundtracks they did for Assassination of Jesse James, The Proposition, and The Road. So yeah, that’s a huge influence in the music, for sure. Well, Nick Cave is an influence in every aspect of my life.
That’s really interesting. I’m a huge Nick Cave fan but I didn’t catch that!
Oh yeah, I love Nick Cave. I worship Nick Cave. Basically, The Birthday Party is my favorite band ever probably. Yeah, for sure and I love Nick Cave/Warren Ellis stuff because I love the combo of the two.
I always prefer a soundtrack that’s a lot more minimal and effective. That’s one of my biggest complaints with movies these days, like that movie Inception I had to walk out of it in a half an hour. Seriously, I cannot stand that guy who does the soundtrack to those movies. I can barely barely take it. I don’t need to be force fed my emotions at all times, you know?
But, yeah, I would definitely say there’s a cinematic aspect to it and film is a big part of it. Literature has a huge impact in the way I write. There’s a lot of references, literary references, to a lot of the songs that I write. I’m always reading something and its making me think about the story and a lot of the music is based upon that.
So the music has a literary feel for you?
Absolutely. Well, there’s a narrative feel to the music, for sure.
So you would say the album is a story? It has a point of departure…
Well absolutely. I mean, if you actually listen to the order of the songs I think its that way. I think when it finishes with “Leland” the final song, its a little bit of a bittersweet, uplifting moment, probably the only really uplifting moment in the album and the two songs before that those are definitely the true requiem songs of the album.
Every aspect of the album has a specific point of reference, or I could talk about each one of the songs and they actually have a real basis and event or a time in my life where I think about my father or my family for sure.
So yeah, there is definitely a narrative feel to all the music I do.
At the time (Harris was making the album), I was reading Vertigo and Immigrants by Sebald and you know, everything with Sebald is about memory and loss and how we trick ourselves into thinking certain things about our past as we’re trying to think back. Music’s a huge part of that. His language is very lyrical and musical to me when I read it. So, he was definitely a big influence when I was writing the album.
“Leland” is out via Scissor & Thread on February 28th and you can click away at the following link to imbibe the splendor of Matthew Herbert’s remix of the album’s first single Lostfound.