JOHN HARRISON HAS A NEW ALBUM COMING OUT ON APRIL 1, 2016
JPHONO1 | TIME IN THE CHEVRON
I met John Harrison in 2011 in a dimly lit studio in Asheville, NC. John Harrison, who hales from Chapel Hill, was playing some music on the road with my older brother Matthew Long and a few other fellows. It’s not difficult to remember John Harrison and his bearded face and super kind eyes. My daughter Iva, who was 4 at the time, was with me that evening to see her Uncle Matthew play some music and was immediately smitten with John. If I recall correctly, Iva played drums for him for a few minutes when he did his sound check, and that basically sealed the deal for my daughter. She’s always been a rather impeccable judge of character.
I didn’t get much of an opportunity to talk to John that night because he was playing music, and when he wasn’t playing music, he was paying rapt attention to whoever was. That’s the thing about this guy. He’s not the guy who shows up to his own gigs and then disappears, He’s a supporter of all the folks he knows who play music. I feel like I know John because so many of my friends are friends with him, and they all love him. Just meeting him the one time was enough for me to understand why this is the case. And it follows that all of these amazing people that he plays music with and spends time with speak highly of him personally, artistically and musically.
For example, Boyce Collins, a dear mutual friend, said, "John is, at his essence, kind and inclusive, sort of like the ultimate band member/teammate. Always supportive of others doing their thing as long as it does no harm. He is very creative and appreciates creativity in all its forms."
We can speak about how great John’s music is (and it IS great), but I want you to know about the man behind the music. I want you to know about John. I want you to read this and buy his music and go see him play and introduce yourself afterwards and see what a good human and musician who’s doing things in the world is like in person.
I enlisted some of John’s friends and fellow musicians to talk a little bit about John because who better to help us get to know him better than the ones who love and respect him. I’d like you hear from them first, then we’ll get on to that interview!
I asked Matt McMichaels, Alex Maiolo and James O’Neill to tell me something that they think everyone should know about John Harrison that they probably don't know already.
This is what Matt said: “John is one of the few people I know who has developed an actual philosophy by which he lives his life. His approach to creativity, whether it is in his visual art or his music, is to “just do it and put it out in the world.” His goal with his creative pursuits is to get things done quickly and get them out into the world, rather than leaving things half-finished or waiting for them to be “perfect.” I have rarely met anyone who is so focused on seeing a project to completion, putting it out there, and moving on. That attitude is reflected in everything he does, from constantly playing shows to releasing several records per year to being in a rotating group of musical projects at all times. It’s really encouraging and inspiring to know an artist and musician who fully embraced the concept of treating creative output as a snapshot of the moment (which is how Bob Dylan claims to approach recording), rather than a labored-over project decades in the making.
I think people would be surprised to learn that John’s easygoing nature is as intentional as it is natural: he is someone who has decided to put his creative life at the center of his universe, and he purposely tries to keep himself open to anything that comes his way.
For example, a couple of years ago I said casually to him, “I have a couple of weeks off this summer without plans or kids, and wouldn’t it be a blast to just drive around the South drinking, hanging out and playing music?” The next thing I knew we were in a car driving around the Carolinas and Georgia playing clubs and record stores and living rooms. That’s just John. If you have an idea, he is willing to help make it a reality.
His approach to recording is the same. He had written some new songs last year, and within a matter of weeks he had put together a band (whose new record is the focus of your interview) and was at my little Trusty Woods studio out in the country recording some of the tracks that would end up on the album.”
This is what Alex said: “John may come across as this laid back guy who just kind of waltzes through life. In fact, he is one of the most focused and prompt people I've ever had the pleasure of working with in 30+ years of being involved in music.
I engineered a few songs for the latest JPhono1 record at my little studio, Seriously Adequate. He was never late to the sessions. That's rare. I spend a lot of time waiting around for people.
He came in with fully formed ideas, but when I felt it was appropriate - and only when - to assume a producer's role, he was always open to hearing what I had to say. Sometimes we would try the idea, sometimes we'd use it, sometimes we wouldn't, but it was always met with an open mind. There was never any tension, which says a lot, because people can be protective or precious about their art, and rightfully so. At the end of every day he would always, without fail, say thank you, and that it meant a lot to him that I treated his art with care and consideration. Often we would continue to hang out over dinner because we were having such a nice time. He would always book the next session immediately because he was concerned about momentum. When it's time to make a record, John likes to keep the energy going and avoid stagnation. I can not possibly express how professional I feel that attitude is.
I've known his closest friends for decades. Our social venn diagram resembles a single circle more than a figure 8, yet it's odd we only really got to know each other in the past three to four years, when he bought a drum kit from me, and I filled in on guitar, in Organos, which he also plays in. We went on to play in Prisms together, and we are currently in Lacy Jags. It is a joy to play music with him.
If I had to guess at how we became such good friends, so fast, it would be because John really likes people who do things. He respects action much more than just talk. He doesn't have much time for the latter. He's known to say "show me your output." Since we're both outputters: doers, makers; with our hands in many pots, some overlapping, some not, which keeps it interesting, I think we've found a kindred spirit in one another. Having John's respect means a lot, because though he's extremely nice to everyone, his respect is something you have to earn.
He's a truly kind and generous person. Polite, not only in his words, but in his actions, which is consistent with his opinion that talk is cheap. John's a renaissance man, determined, yet far from stubborn, and the complete embodiment of "a good dude."
And I adore the fact that he calls his wonderful wife, Heather, "Bug."
This is what James ONeill said: He's a secret sorcerer fighting the power of evil everywhere he goes.
And finally, I asked Alex to tell me about John's music. Alex said, "’John's Music’ can mean many things, because he's such a versatile musician. All of his bands are great. The simple fact that he can write songs for different projects, with different vibes, says a lot.
I'll focus on JPhono1 because I'm most familiar with that project. I usually shy away from Folk and Americana unless it's truly special. It's all been done to the point where the kindest thing I can call it is cliché. I admire people who push boundaries and build on the past, but these genres are usually hopelessly stuck in it.
When Led Zeppelin recorded III, they figured out how to respect the tradition they were mining, but also make something fresh. Take a song like "Friends," with it's eastern tinged strings. Then, a low, throbbing synth bass transitions it into the barn-burner, "Celebration Day." I'm sure John won't mind me saying Time In The Chevron is no Led Zeppelin III, but it's wonderful for a lot of the same reasons: it's ebullient and dark, it's simple and deep, it's innocent and full of sex. Only a strong mind can create music that continues to reveal itself over multiple listens; that seems straightforward... until you realize it isn't.
Hell, I recorded every single second of "Feedback Is Strange," did the overdubs, edited it, pre-mixed it. I probably heard it at least 100 times before it went off to final mixing and mastering. I lived with it for over a month. I never got the chance to hear it for the first time, with fresh ears, yet I still listen to that song for pleasure, as a fan, along with the songs I didn't track. I never hit the skip button, thinking "OK, don't need to hear THAT one ever again."
Now, on to our interview:
HERE ARE A FEW MUSIC QUESTIONS:
HI John Harrison! Do you prefer Jphono1 when we’re talking about your music?
JOHN: Hi Mary! I’ll answer to both and feel it's understandable when they are used interchangeably. The music and art I make is presented as Jphono1. Either way I feel like I’m the same person…..I just think Jphono1 is a more interesting word to look at and say.
Where did Jphono1 come from?
JOHN: It was my first email address name from the mid 90’s which I still have today…...although it’s a Gmail and not Hotmail anymore. So of course all the Johns were taken early on in email address naming and I needed something. I had an old mixer beside my PC at the time and it had the word "phono" on it for the headphone jack output. It looked and sounded cool to me so I added the J for John and the 1 as Jphono was already taken. I played a handful of shows and released a 4 track EP in the early 2000’s but then I didn’t release anything under that name for many, many years….until 2012 with “Living Is Easy”.
What are 5 songs/bands in your “Top 25 Most Played” folder on your iPod?
JOHN: I’m not around my iTunes at the moment but I’d guess the bands are Black Mountain, Steve Gunn, The Donkeys, Thurston Moore and Miles Davis. I’ve been hitting those guys up a bunch recently.
Do you listen to any bands where the musicians are under 30? If so, who are they?
JOHN: Interesting question….I have not considered age at all when listening to music. But now I will…..YUCK, All Dogs…...hmmmm…….I guess I really don't very much as it took me five minutes to come up with two and I’m not even sure they are both mostly under thirty. I listen to WKNC 88.1 a bunch so I imagine many of those bands are under thirty.
What’s the first instrument you learned to play?
JOHN: The piano….not sure if I “learned to play it” but I played it all the time as there was always one around growing up. I took four or five lessons but I really didn’t understand it in that way. I related to it differently……..I would play by ear as best I could or must make up things I liked. I’ve not had much formal training in music at all…..I’m a self taught musician.
What’s your favorite instrument to play and why?
JOHN: Sort of a tough question as I like different ones for different reasons. If I had to pick one I’d say my acoustic guitar. I play it nearly every day. It’s a relaxing way for me to spend a few minutes or hours. I always feel good after playing it…..it sorta strips away time and everyday thoughts for a bit. I dunno…..you have to be doing something with your time and I enjoy spending my time playing guitar. Oh yeah….it helps me write songs from time to time.
Were you in a band in high school? If you were, tell me about the people in the band and what kind of music you played.
JOHN: I wouldn’t call it a band…we never had a name but some of my friends had instruments and we’d bang on them and take turns switching things up. We really didn’t have any desire to have a band that I recall. It was more of a hanging out and killing time situation. I did happen to realize I enjoyed playing the drums in high school and within one month of going to college I sold my baseball cards for my first set of drums.
Do you have a musical family?
JOHN: Sorta not really?….I mean….we did have a piano around but it's not like my mom or dad played it. My aunt would play it if she came to town. She also played the bass a bit (She would play the bass line from Pink Floyd’s “Money” every time I visited her in Atlanta.) My uncle apparently played guitar…..I saw the guitar once but never heard him play it. His son (my cousin) has played music in bands and once came to play in Chapel Hill at the Nightlight…..that was really cool (sorta noise rock with jazz and dub)….and probably the closest person in my family that I can relate to in terms of what I do but we are not close. My grandfather was a really good harmonica player and I have a few of his harmonicas that were left to me once he passed. As a kid he would make it sound like a train was coming with all the accompanying noises and whatnots coming out of it…..I liked that….. I feel like everyone that age that grew up in a coal mining town in Virginia probably could do that. A couple of Christmas’s ago my mom gave me an old black and white photo of two of my great uncles playing guitars at a radio station around a mic. That was very cool and I had no idea about them…..so I suppose it’s in my history.
Although she did not play my mom introduced me to Motown, James Brown and her favorite Elvis which was played at the house growing up as some of the first music I heard. My aunt snuck me into my first concert (Duran Duran) and gave me a box full Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin cassettes when I went to highschool. My grandmother loved musicals and I had an early attraction to those as well. She would sing those songs aloud around the house while cooking which made funny and weird to me out of context. So yeah….I guess I might have a musical family.
What do they think about your chosen path?
JOHN: To be honest I’m not really sure. It’s never really been discouraged or encouraged. I mean…they certainly put up with me playing music loudly at the house in high school. On breaks from college I’d set up my drums and play along to The Stone Roses and Beatles or whatever and they seemed to deal with that. I never really had a talk about it with them about any of that.…...it was just something I was going to do. They have come to a couple shows but I made sure they were sold out shows opening for bigger bands in fairly nice venues so perhaps that’s they way they think all the shows go.
At the end of the day my parents grew up with less opportunity and money than I grew up with. I was the first person in my family to graduate from a university (I barely beat out my mom who when to get her four year degree when I was in high school and later went to get her masters). I feel like my expectations from them sorta ended after I got a degree in a way. I would guess to them that meant the practical applications having a traditional means to generate income would be there for me. Honestly I think they just want me to be doing the things that bring me happiness and they can see that when I’m creating music and art.
Living in Chapel Hill, NC, you must feel inundated with new music and bands. Any good ones emerging right now you want to tell us about?
JOHN: Oh man….the question. I’m sure I’ll forget gobs of them but I gotta prop up Knurr and Spell, Horizontal Hold, Lacy Jags (full disclosure: I’m the drummer), SOON, Blanko Basnet, Sunnyslope(s), Le Weekend, Body Games, Canine Heart Sounds,…….More to come…...Always…..
I loved listening to your new album. You’ve got a great sound! Tell me about the process of making this new album Time In Chevron.
(PRIVATE STREAM THE ALBUM HERE)
JOHN: Thanks. Well…..I’ve never made an album like it before. The idea was to do less experimenting with the sonic aspects of making interesting things happen in the songs and try more experimenting with the actual songwriting and the expectations of the parts of the songs. Although I’ve written and recorded songs in different non traditional tunings I really committed to only playing them. For a couple of years all the guitars I had were tuned in such a way. Another unique aspect to making this album was based of of my obsession with the Steve Gunn album “Time Off”. I really got into the fact that most of the songs on that album would sit in this space between instrumental music and an actual song with lyrics, hooks and melodies. I love the idea and sometimes listen to improv instrumental music but at the end of the day I really love songs and I felt that a lot of the songs on “Time Off” possessed sort of a dual quality of both. Needless to say I started taking songs apart and putting them together in different ways. Singing less and not always in what might be expected places. Being patient with parts to the point of purposefully playing melodies in repetition for extended periods of time. Eventually after a while I felt like I was mining something new…...new to me at least. So this all took a while for me to really even begin writing the songs in such a way…..a good year or so. Once I had a handful of songs I decided I’d like to play them with a band. I asked my longtime friend John W Jaquiss to play drums. For a few months we just practiced as guitar and drums to figure out more parts of the songs. Pretty soon we were ready to record and I asked my friend Patrick O’neil to join us on bass.
I wanted to keep the recordings easy and effortless logistically so we recorded in Carrboro at Trusty Woods (Matt McMichaels) and Seriously Adequate Studios (Alex Maiolo) and mixed at Track and Field (Nick Petersen). In terms of the recording production I wanted to record it mostly live which we were able to do. The whole recording process had a really fun, easy and encouraging vibe to it throughout the whole process.
I also wanna mention Regina McCoy who has been a long time friend and graphic designer whom I’ve worked with for well over a decade. She really put together a great cover (she took the photo) and as much as I really want folks to listen to the music…...a lot of times the cover image is the first exposure someone will have to the album. Anyhoo….I’m lucky that Regina puts up with me at times….it’s the first time I’ve ever had my image on a record so…..it took me a while to get with that.
One thing that strikes me as pretty remarkable is the fact that you have lots of talented folks who play on your albums with you. Can you tell us about the ones who played with you on this album?
JOHN: I do feel fortunate that over the years I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by so many creative folks and they have said yes to playing and recording with me when I ask them. For “Time In The Chevron” the first person I asked was my longtime friend John W Jaquiss. He was the original North Elementary drummer but we hadn’t played together in six or seven years. He was into it and we started working on the songs together. It was really as if no time had passed with us playing together which was cool for me as I’d never experienced that. It was a nice comfortable way to shape the songs early on. Once we had most of the songs down I asked my pal Patrick O’Neill whom I’d done some touring with on drums for his band The Rogue Band Of Youth to join us on bass. Patrick is an amazing musician/songwriter and can play most any instrument. He plays bass, sings and plays percussion on the record. Although he is not on the recordings my friend Brad Porter has been joining us live on keys, percussion and vocals. Even though they are not “in the band” Matt McMichaels, Alex Maiolo and Nick Petersen really shaped a lot of what the final versions of these songs ended up being with engineering and mixing. I’m a very lucky to have these dudes in my life.
Tell me what you love the most about this album.
JOHN: I think it’s that it was all a new discovery for me. From exploring non traditional tunings and arrangements to getting to play with new musicians and forming the Jphono1 band. The record was a very communal effort from start to finish…..it could not have happened without the help of my friends. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the making of the album from everyone that was a part of that process. It was a really great vibe.
NOW FOR SOME NON-MUSIC QUESTIONS:
What does your ideal Saturday look like?
JOHN: Firstly it would be spending time with my wife Heather. Going on a hike or tubing. Watching a Tarheel basketball game. Playing some music. Traveling. Hanging with my dog Parker. Screen printing some art out in the shed. Smoking the hookah and listening to some music. Perhaps re-watching “Cool Hand Luke” again.
You’re an artist too, aren’t you? Tell me about your work.
JOHN: Yes….I create mixed media art with a large focus on screen printing. I have also shown collages, paintings and photos. Mostly I screenprint. Although i’m looking to paint a bit more again…..we’ll see.
What’s your favorite medium?
JOHN: Probably screenprinting…..it’s an involved process but is really still exciting for me when I make a print. Pulling up the screen and seeing the image on the paper for the first time. I also like how when you create multiple prints that are similar each one is still slightly unique as I hand pull these and don’t register them properly all the time. I rarely measure things…..I usually eyeball them and hope for the best.
I want to know about that pipe. Is there a story behind it? What kind of tobacco is in it?
JOHN: I’ve smoked a pipe since college off and on. For the past ten years or so I’ve smoked more regularly which is two to three times a week. That particular pipe was a gift from my wife a few holidays ago. In the pipe world it’s a pretty nice pipe…...not the best but far from the worst. In the pipe community it's strongly encouraged to have a dedicated pipe to a type of tobacco for curing the pipe over time. Mixing tobaccos in the same pipe over time can cause reactions to the pipe that make it tasteless and bitter no matter the type of tobacco that is in it. There are ways to fix even that but we’ll save that for another time. So…...I smoke a Black Cavendish blend called Carolina blend that I get from JR’s Cigars in Burlington. I seem to be going by there (often times to play a show) about once every two months in the very least to restock.
Tell something fabulous about your wife Heather Wasser!
JOHN: She is the absolute best person I have ever known. I'm lucky to have her in my life…..she really brings out the best in me. She has her PHD in nutrition and is a faculty member in the nutrition department at UNC. She is a great cook and has awesome taste in music and art. She probably turns me on to newer bands more than anyone else I’m around. Super good dancer and has the best laugh/snort. Really…...she is the best.
How’d you guys meet?
JOHN: I was working in the nutrition department at UNC and she walked into my office for some reason and well….she had a pink stripe in her hair, a short jean skirt and some crazy tall furry caveman style looking boots. Needless to so I had to talk to this person…..and I did and my life is better for it.
When’s the last time you shaved that beard?
JOHN: I’ve mostly always had a beard since my mid twenties but I’ll shave it or cut it very short every two to three years…..basically starting a new beard. I did keep it clean shaven for the early part of 2015. I bought razors and everything. It was fun and scary to see my face for a while.
What’s one of your favorite memories of my brother Matthew Long?
JOHN: So many. I love this guy only slightly less than my wife. We share a birthday so we’ve spent many of those together in both Carrboro and NYC playing shows with our respective bands on that day. I guess my favorite moment is a solo tour we did down south for ten days about four years ago. It was a grand adventure riding around in a car together listening to Uhh Yeah Dude podcasts. That was a magical week.
If you had to cook a full course meal for your favorite people in the whole world, what would you make?
JOHN: Everything would be grilled.
If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
JOHN: Probably Japan. I’ve never been and it seems like a different planet to me. Anytime I go to a museum I wanna see the asian art section. It's my favorite.
What’s your favorite Chapel Hill restaurant at the moment?
JOHN: Lately it’s been The Meatball Shoppe…..but I gotta give props to Med Deli, Akai Hanna and Aidan’s Pizza as they really are the most consistent favorite spots for me over the years. ACME rules and The Lantern is my favorite spot if it’s time to really do it up right.
Lastly, tell me one thing about yourself that most people would be surprised to know about you.
JOHN: I received a scholarship to run cross country in college.
APRIL 8, 2016 - Dual album release show with Some Army
Chapel Hill NC - Cats Cradle Back Room
"Time in the Chevron" album release show! - w/ Some Army and No Eyes
APRIL , 2016
Bourgie Nights - w/ Some Army and Sean Thomas Gerard
APRIL 15/16, 2016 - Phuzz Phest
Winston Salem, NC