The guys of Harper Blynn brave the weather and sit down with Our Vinyl in Atlanta to talk about writing as one band, playing as two, and what it would be like to sing Halo while the crowd eats pork chops.
The guys are sitting around hot steaming bowls of Thai, and Pete scrambles to clear us a space, as if we were the special ones. After a few pleasantries, Sarab Singh, the drummer, wanders off, notoriously quiet in interviews.
Picking up a cup of udon, Pete begins by telling us about the apocalyptic weather that has been following them:
Our Vinyl (O): You guys had a power outage last time you were here…
Pete Harper-vocals, keys, guitar (P): The lights went out on stage. We were in Louisville last night … we were scheduled at six, and the whole thing was gonna end by ten thirty, and the city intervened for the first time in the history of the whole series … they were like “Everybody needs to be out by eight thirty.” They were pretty serious. As soon as it happens it’s total chaos. And we were like “Oh, man, now are people gonna come?” It was like 40 mile per hour winds so things kept blowing over, so it’s like this weather it’s so freaky. But we made it though.
O: Bad luck seems to be following you guys. Last time you were here in March, J couldn’t be with you because he was still recovering from his appendix removal. But most of the crowd didn’t notice, since the other band members were able to cover some of his parts. Obviously that’s an advantage, since you all do everything. Everyone sings, right?
O: A normal band might not have been able to go on without J.
P: Yeah, that is true.
Whynot- bass (W): Most bands, if their one lead singer can’t do it, well…
P: Yeah, and we’re in this weird situation where we can do it but it feels like we can only do have the songs. It’s very strange, but when we got down here we were like “well, should we still do this, cause we can’t play like half this music. Well, we’re here, so…”
O: You were still able to do a large section of your repertoire.
P: Yeah, well, we were able to do, you know, half of it (laughs). So, it was worth it.
J Blynn- vocals, guitars (J): well you know it’s just the point. If we’re there, just play the songs. If we think the songs are good enough for them to be out there for people to hear, just play them. They’ll be what they are, they’ll be a little different.
O: Last time you guys were here with the Damnwells. It was just Alex (Dezen) that was here, and you guys played with him as the Damnwells. How does that work?
P: We’ve done that with a few different bands. Like tonight with the Catapults. If we find artists we like, we can save on gas, everyone’s saving money. We’ve done that with the Cary Brothers, Greg Laswell. We just started doing it with Greg first and then it became sort of something that we do.
J: People started asking us to do it.
P: I guess we’ve been doing a good enough job at it. But it’s really fun. Sometimes it turns into a lot of work, depending on how long the night is, but it’s more fun to be playing music than not playing music. And we get to be in front of the fans of whatever other band we’re playing with.
J: And we’re lucky enough to do it with bands we really respect and enjoy, we like their music, they’re good friends.
P: And we insist upon all those things.
O: And you get exposed to different crowds, too.
P: Yeah. Sometimes very different crowds. You know, we’re not gonna do it if we don’t like their music, we’re not gonna do it if we don’t like the people themselves. Because you end up touring as one entity. My guess is we’ll do it more.
O: Word gets out, everybody knows everybody else…
J: We’re like The Band (Pete laughs. J wanders off into the other room, listening to the music upstairs.)
P: It’s been happening for a long time, just hasn’t happened a lot recently.
O: You guys make a big deal about the fact that you come from Brooklyn, but you’re not Brooklyn snobs.
P: Or that our music is somehow inaccessible. There’s plenty of music that comes from Brooklyn that we all really like that’s awesome and that’s accessible to anyone. But I think there is a bit of a stigma sometimes. Like we don’t want people to understand the art we are making. It’s the post-punk ethos.
O: The idea that if something becomes mainstream it’s no longer cool.
P: Right and we just don’t believe in any of that. We love some bands that are huge and some bands no one’s ever heard of, and it’ll probably always be that way. If you’re judging things based on success, there’s no way you’re always going to be right. Some great bands succeed and some terrible bands succeed.
O: Some bands you look at and say I can’t believe they make that much money.
J: Yeah and others you look at and say I can’t believe they’re not famous…
O: That you’re paying five bucks to go see.
P: And that has always been how things are, and to think that there’s any rhyme or reason to that.. It’s ridiculous.
O: I know you guys played as Pete and J before Harper Blynn, and that some of those songs made it onto the Harper Blynn Album, Loneliest Generation. Specifically, It May Be Late. Any others?
P: That whole record was a Pete and J record.
J: Pretty much, yeah.
P: And we changed the name before it came out basically. We knew we were gonna head in a direction where it wouldn’t make sense to be called Pete and J, so we preempted it by just, you know..
J: The newer songs on the record, the ones we wrote right before, 25 Years and The Doubt, those were like the first Harper Blynn songs.
P: That was enough to make us realize whatever the whole entity was, was not yet carrying us through. So, I think we drifted in that direction. The next record that we’re working on is gonna be the kind of record where if you heard that record and heard that the band was called Pete and J it wouldn’t make any sense because it’s just sonically so far from the idea of two people. It’s so much more. At least that’s what we felt was gonna happen, and I think it has.
O: So comparing Loneliest Generation to the new self-titled album, do you feel like the changes come from you now playing as more of a quartet, or are there other things involved, such as growth from the road?
J: I think it’s all those things but I think it’s mostly the first thing you said, which is that we’re a band now, there’s four of us. And I think A, when you’re writing with that in mind, there’s just different stuff to think about, and I think also specially when it comes down to arranging the songs and making them into something we present to the audience that you’re trusting your music with more people, you know. You’re trusting your music with a guy like Sarab, who’s an amazing drummer, and a guy like Whynot who likes to make like wailing noises on his bass with effects and stuff. So it’s like all those things can shape the sound. I think it’s been really fun and I think like for Pete and I we’re slowly like letting go more and more, or giving more responsibility to those guys to just do what they want, you know, because that’s what makes a band a band. A great song where Sarab does his thing, and Pete does his thing…
P: Everyone in the band has a very individual sound. And you know we have so little recorded music I guess, like an album and a half, that there’s not that much, you can’t see the trajectory of it yet, like some bands that have been out for a long time, where Sarab has a sound, and if you come see our band, he sounds like a very particular drummer, and the same with Whynot, where they’re making these very distinctive choices that are making their way into what our band sounds like and I think it’s just as much about that as it is the song. If you look at the way that someone like Ben Gibbard approaches Death Cab for Cutie- there are a lot of examples where you watch what you see is the skeleton of something and the end product is so far from that, that you can’t believe that it ever would have started in that format. We are pushing ourselves and one another to get to that place, so that we’re approaching every song saying “This is what I wrote, but it doesn’t have to sound anything like this.”
J: And that was like with 25 Years, that was like the folksiest of folk songs.
O: I think I saw a video of you playing it with just a guitar, and it was so stripped down…
J: It was, right? It’s like a weird Bob Dylany kind of song
P: Cause the lyrics are that, sort of.
J: The lyrics have that vibe, but I think we were just like “we’ve got a band now, so what else can we do with it?” And that tripped something, where the possibilities of what we could do with these songs were like, endless.
P: Like, why do we hold on so tightly to the idea of songwriting?
O: Loneliest Generation reads like a sampling of what you are capable of…
P: Yeah, sort of here’s what we can do now we have just um…go do something (laughs). And we’re coming more and more towards what feels like…
J: Like a real record.
P: Like a record where we can express a full range of emotions without having to deal with a full range of musical styles.
Below are some clips of the some of the bands’ more colorful responses to our questions
O: I have to ask, do you play Halo (the band’s famous Beyoncé cover) at every show?
O: Obviously, if the YouTube videos tracking your tours across country are any proof, hilarity follows you guys everywhere you go. There is a story about an elderly drunk who bought all your records…
Interview done by Nicole Banister