Brooklyn's The Harrow expound upon their nü-industrial self-titled with deep chill visuals on their upcoming single "Axis" for German indie label aufnahme + widergabe. Rising to the scale of a minimalist-tech-tectonic super group, the collected performers of DJ Frank Deserto, New Orleans' DJ Vanessa Irena, and multi-instrumentalist offerings from Barrett Hiatt and Greg Fasolino's compound their rich resumes into notes that mark the waning cold that comes with the season's spin of transitions.
"Axis" is high on concept and minimal on mix, with everything carefully designated to a sharpened, direct point of delivery. Every one of Barrett's synths, Greg's chords, Frank's choice drum algorithms, and Vanessa's blizzard-burying expressions strike in time and turn. The "cold as ice" journal poetry of incompatible attractions lead to the snow-blanketed gardens of forests and the all-encompassing mouth entrance toward the icy sea. Communicated needs and unconditional acts of love work to break the spells from the blinding billows of snow to the broken pebbles that line the shore.
Conveying the weight of environments, feelings, and situations, The Harrow's combined chemistry comes from the artists' extensive backlog of contributions of influence. The sum of a song like "Axis" comes from the united alliances of Vanessa's Newton Radio programming, Frank's work with Revel Hotel, Dream Affair, The Funeral Crashers, touring with The Chameleons in 2010, Barrett busying himself remixing Nine Inch Nails, work with Automelodi and Eleven Pond, to Greg's guitar work in Bell Hollow, The Naked and Dead, and so on. Placing the old and new romantic props according to the band's intended arrangements, The Harrow synthesizes technologies to translate their mood-based industrial systems of methodologies in full.
In celebration of the video and upcoming single "Axis", Barret, Frank, Greg, and Vanessa joined us for a full 360 discussion on their sounds and snowy sights.
How do you all feel that The Harrow has evolved from "Violets" to the ice cold dualities of "Axis"?
Frank: The Harrow initially evolved out of a solo project I started in 2008, my first effort being an unreleased remix of a song by Bell Hollow, Greg's former band. By 2013, I was coming down from a year-long break from music, and was inspired to start playing again after my grandmother's death. I felt it was finally time to put myself fully into a project I felt comfortable with, exploring the sounds and ideas I'd always wanted to but made compromises on in the past. "Violets" stemmed from an early demo session with an old bandmate and a different singer, and interest quickly developed to the point where I was asked to put together some tracks without even having a working band or a full-time vocalist. Once Greg, Barrett, and Vanessa came on board, the band evolved from a series of lo-fi post-punk demos to incorporate everyone's tastes and talents, and we feel every song we've written since has been better than the last.
Greg: I was also on a long musical hiatus when Frank and Barrett approached me to work with them, but from the first listen to "Violets," I had a strong feeling that I could contribute something interesting to the project, a feeling that intensified after we added Vanessa and began to write as an ensemble. "Axis" for me represented the first full blooming of our disparate and complimentary talents and interests, woven together into something singular. And for what it's worth. while "Axis" does indeed have a cold luster, I feel there's also a luminous and melodic warmth to it as well.
Barrett: It has been a fun ride seeing this band grow in such a manner. I recall the first time we got in a room to rehearse for our first show. Up to that point, we had been writing bits and pieces to songs separately or in pairs and putting them together via email. I was not sure what type of chemistry we would have playing together in the same space, and it turned out great. I had also never played live synth before, so it was something new for me to step out from behind a drum kit. As a band, you never want to get bored playing the same style, so for us to have so many varied interests that we are all open to, I feel that the creative well won't run dry any time soon.
What other singles, EPs do you all have up your sleeves?
Vanessa: We are currently working on a full-length album, with a video in the works for one of the finished tracks. We are also planning a digital 7" with one original track and one cover that we've been working on and having a lot of fun with.
Frank: We've also re-recorded "Violets" with Greg on guitar and Vanessa on vocals for a compilation due out any day now on Peter Out Records.
Barrett: Are ukeleles still in?
As a group that taps into that human/machine continuum, how do you all bridge the divide between the electronic the natural, and organic?
Greg: Honestly I don't think there's really much of a divide; as you noted, it's a blurred continuum. Stringed instruments and the human voice give you different textures than electronic tones and beats, but the skilled combination of those differing elements can enhance and expand a song's palette. I also don't see it as something unnatural. As a musician, I've been listening to and absorbing the work of artists that seamlessly blend organic and synthetic sounds for decades now, whether it's Bowie, Kate Bush, Massive Attack, Bjork, Dead Can Dance, Radiohead, etc.
Vanessa: I feel like that line is becoming more and more blurred every day in our culture in general, but that's another discussion. Electronic drums and synths have always been my bread and butter, as well as all things cold and harsh (I was primarily a synth player and programmer before this band.) That said, there's often no substitute for real instruments and we have no interest in being a laptop band. Greg is an amazing guitar player and I think his playing style in particular brings a warmth that envelops each track and is integral to our sound.
Frank: While the idea of man vs. machine is forever appealing to me, I tend to err on the side of the human experience. I prefer to look at electronics as a tool for human expression and not a mask to hide behind.
How did the split with La Fete Triste come about for aufnahme+wiedergabe?
Frank: When I sent out instrumental demos for "Violets" and "Milk and Honey" from our self-titled EP, two labels were interested in putting out something immediately. We decided to release our debut EP on cassette with the frustratingly defunct Function Operate label to issue something stateside and then follow up with the split 7'' as our next project. I'm glad things worked out the way they did, as I love everything aufnahme+wiedergabe are doing.
Barrett: We are thrilled to be on the label. Philipp who runs itl has been great and we couldn't be happier being paired with La Fete Triste. The attention to detail that Philipp, Gabriel, and Julia put into each physical release is something that we as music fans absolutely adore.
How have the works of Kafka affected your music, and perhaps much of today's music at large?
Vanessa: Kafka has always been one of my favorite writers and Frank's as well. Frank and I have very similar tastes and sensibilities, and that is especially evident in our lyric writing (it's had to tell who wrote what). I think what draws me to Kafka in particular is that his work deals largely with the ways in which people react to the absurd, in other words, his work is a study of the human condition in the face of adversity, and I think that is something anyone can relate to. Suffering and change are both constant and universal experiences. Being a person is really fucking hard and we're all just trying to live.
Frank: I am very drawn to the idea of embracing and exploring my shadow side, and many of The Harrow's early lyrics are based off a series of nightmares and regrets, often run through the Burroughs cut-up technique. Others are literary allusions, as I've always been drawn to literature as a heavy source of inspiration. The band's name is plucked directly from my favorite Kafka story and in general, I feel his work is the perfect blend of surrealism and dread that gets under my skin and inspires me greatly.
What was it like making the video for "Axis", in the midst of a full on snowstorm?"
Barrett: The video as it is now, came about unintentionally. I originally had a very different treatment planned, one that I will keep in my back pocket for a later video perhaps, but we had originally agreed to meet out on Long Island where I had a location available to do some indoor shooting. I had a plan laid out in my head, and when the day finally came, we got hit with the first big snowstorm of the season. I thought the opportunity was too good to pass up and it took very little effort to convince the band to get out into the wild and give it a shot. So the whole video was very spur of the moment. I knew of a great spot on the north shore of the island where the forest meets the sea and couldn't imagine a prettier place to shoot. It was completely deserted, as you would expect, and we had had a great time doing it. I do believe my fingers are still thawing though.
Greg: Speaking of Kafka, it made me think for the first time in my musical career that I could cheerfully endure some bodily pain in the service of art. It also reinforced the value of spontaneity; of discarding a preplanned but perhaps less exciting idea and committing to something spur-of-the-moment, taking a gift from nature and using that elemental intensity to transcend the mundane.
Vanessa: By the end of the day we were all pretty miserable, myself especially, since I was coat-less for part of the filming. That said, we always manage to have a good time and laugh about everything, which definitely helps. We're all good friends.
Frank: The walk back to the car was especially brutal, since the beach took a toll on our extremities and chilled us to the bone. On the way back, everything was still peaceful and serene, the snow covering our tracks from the trek down to the beach. We kept catching glimpses of deer bounding through the woods as if they were some mystical, silent creatures. We were hoping to film them as well, but we couldn't get close enough without scaring them.
The Harrow's single "Axis" will be available on a split 7" with La Fete Triste May 18 from the German imprint, aufnahme+wiedergab.