How did you start?
Harriet Brown was born soon after graduating from college. I had been playing music with various people, but was feeling very stuck and uninspired from what I was doing musically. Harriet Brown came about as a way to start fresh and, for the first time, solo – it was a way for me to do whatever I wanted without any pressure or expectation. A means of exploration really.
Where are you based?
I am based in Los Angeles.
Please give an example of your music writing process?
It varies quite a bit from song to song. I always keep an ever-growing list on me with lyrical ideas and themes I’d maybe like to address in a song in the future. Sometimes it starts with a little hook I come up with on some synthesizer or my sequencer or a beat on a drum machine, which develops into a whole groove. Then I’ll try to bang out some sort of song structure, create other musical sections, and start toying around with melodies either in gibberish or some phrase that seemed to come naturally. Then when I’m feeling somewhat settled on a general direction for melodies and structure, I’ll look at my list of ideas and see if any of them work for the new material I’m trying to make. Sometimes there’s an idea on there that turns out to be perfect; other times none of them really work and I have to figure out a new idea, what the music is trying to communicate. Most of the time everything is just constantly being tweaked anyhow, too, though.
Other times I look at the list, zero in on a theme, write a few paragraphs about it or bang out some stanzas that come really naturally, without yet knowing any kind of melody, and then go on to make music around a few already written lyrics.
What are you working on right now?
First on my priority list at the moment is figuring out the new live solo set for my new album, as I’m leaving for tour with Nite Jewel and Geneva Jacuzzi in a month. Otherwise, I’m working on a couple collaborations, some remixes, as well as material for the next album, hopefully to come out next year, 2018. I’ve also been making a lot of music for these computer games my girlfriend has been making lately.
What is your gear setup?
That’s tough to answer! I have a lot of gear, mostly from the 80s / 90s. My favorite and most used pieces at the moment are my Kawai XD-5 Percussion Synthesizer and my Ensoniq Mirage. And I often, especially when starting off an idea, use my hardware sequencer, a Yamaha RM1x, to sequence and play everything, as I really love timing and feel of it. But I have a ton of other things that I use, too. I tend to gravitate to the gear that most people don’t like to touch – stuff that requires a lot of menu-diving, manual-reading and generally is thought to have terrible user interfaces, haha. But they always end up giving me sounds I wouldn’t have expected to arrive at. All this stuff is then usually run into various rack effects, compressors, EQs, etc, and then finally run into my interface and DAW. I’m not super big on plugins and things – my DAW is mainly used to record and arrange things.
For live, though I’m in the middle of a transition, my solo setup up til now consists of my hardware sequencer, which I then use to control a small Roland Sampler. The sequencer is also used to tempo-sync a drum machine – currently an RX5 (which I made a lot of Contact on) – and my looping pedal, which I loop guitar and vocals through.
What do you like to do outside of music and does it affect your music?
My favorite other thing to do aside from making music is traveling. Since I can’t really afford the time or money to go out of the country too often, I especially like going on camping trips. I love going out to the desert, especially in northern New Mexico, camping and getting a little weird out there. It’s the easiest way for me to feel a peaceful break from normal life without going too far, taking too much time or spending too much money. A lot of songs begin with trying to make myself feel a certain feeling that I felt when I was in a certain place.
I also love thrifting, tailoring my own clothes, and just figuring out my own fashion in general. I still need to learn how to make my own clothes from scratch, which I’ve been saying for years. But modifying my own clothes already gives me excitement. Not sure exactly how this affects the sound of my music, but I tend to get obsessed with things, and the obsession that I’ll put into working on a piece of clothing or getting an outfit right is very much related to the obsession I put into getting a song right.
How would you describe your music genre?
This is an even harder question! I guess maybe I would just call it “funk”? Whenever people ask, I always say it’s a “sort of weird funk and R&B, kinda psychedelic”. It’s also very influenced by fusion. A friend of mine just called it “Contemporary Funk”, which I kinda like, as its based on the notion that generally, especially back in the day, it was kinda always meant to be somewhat eccentric, far-reaching, weird, and of course, nasty.
Do you know any music theory?
I do – I graduated with a music degree from my university.
What are your plans for the future?
Have some collabs and a new album in the works, other than that just plan to keep doing what I’m doing!
How did you get into music?
I’ve been singing and playing music since I was a child. I grew up in a very Christian household, so I was always singing in kids’ choirs and later playing in church bands. I took piano lessons from a very young age, and eventually switched to guitar at the age of 12. I also participated in jazz band in high school, which is what I would say was a huge turning point for me, as I had a very interesting, weird, eccentric jazz band teacher. He had a 4-foot tesla coil custom-made for our jazz band for us to use in an original composition titled “Electrical Resonance Symphony”; in retrospect it was quite campy and a bit obvious, but as a teenager, it felt very cool to do something that seemed so experimental, heh.
That teacher is who originally introduced me to Charles Mingus, which I’d say is one of my favorite jazz artists, and whose music we played a lot in jazz band. I always took what I learned and did a lot of exploring on my own, would often go to the public library to check out a bunch of CDs (the max limit I think was 10), and then take them home, burn them to my computer and return them.
I eventually stumbled upon the Mingus song, “A Colloquial Dream”. I was 17. That song made me realize that I absolutely had to do music, that there was really nothing else I loved doing so much.
What are you listening to at the moment?
A few albums have been in very heavy rotation. Lately, Masahiro Sugaya’s Music From Alejo has been playing over and over, very relaxing. Also Chaka Khan’s album, Come 2 My House. This one’s from the 90s, produced by and written with Prince. It’s an amazing record showing Prince doing 90s, new age-tinged R&B and weird house, which works beautifully with Chaka’s amazing voice. My newest favorite vinyl find is an ECM record, Bass Desires by Marc Johnson. The record features Bill Frisell, who’s one of my favorite guitarists ever, playing guitar and synth guitar. Aside from that, been also listening to Kelis’s first two albums and a ton of Michael Franks, haha.
Who are your top 5 influences and icons?
Prince, Sade, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (counting that as one), Charles Mingus, Weather Report.
When are you playing next?
My next show is in San Francisco on July 7, with Nite Jewel and Geneva Jacuzzi – it’s the first show of our summer tour.