Review Fix chats with singer and composer Alexis Harte who discusses their new single, “The Night of My Death,” off their new EP. with a background in TV and film composition as well as commercial tunes, Harte has quite an eclectic resume.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Alexis Harte: True Story: There was a funky old electric guitar and Memphis amp in our attic (one of my mom’s hippy friends left it there). I dug it out one day and tried to play “Get off of my Cloud” by the Rolling Stones. Failed, but was intrigued enough to keep at it!
Review Fix: What are your influences?
Harte: I listened to so much stuff growing up. My mom was a big fan of 70s folks and pop, so people John Prine, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Carole King, etc was often on the stereo, and that definitely crept in. But what probably had the biggest impact was British Invasion (the usual suspects: Beatles, Stones, Zep, Who, Kinks etc), Hendrix, then later West African pop (folks like Baaba Mal, Habib Koite, Oliver Mtukudze), and Brazilian Tropicalistas (Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze and more), and fingerstyle guitar going back to Mississippi John Hurt , who was always high on my list. I got very into flamenco guitar for a while as well.
Review Fix: What is your stand-out track on this EP? How was it written?
Harte: “The Night of My Death” is a song I’ve been trying to write for years. It was actually inspired by what I describe in the first verse, though luckily I stepped out of the way at the last minute. “The Night of My Death” freezes the moment of death for the length of a song, in order to explore the final steps we might take to give our lives closure. It’s also a musical nod to one of my favorite short stories “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce.
Review Fix: What makes your brand of music special?
Harte: Not sure… I think that one is better left for listeners!
Review Fix: How does writing music for TV and Film help you in this type of work?
Harte: Really good question. Being a composer by day means facing tough deadlines, which has helped my studio workflow and production chops, and I think has allowed me to take some risks in the studio that I might not have done otherwise. It has also really helped me figure out and commit to arrangement ideas pretty quickly. On the other hand, writing for TV and film is always done in service to the picture. Writing my own songs means taking the reins completely, so I need to get myself out of the scoring mentality and figure out what I want to say!
Review Fix: Why do you think people should enjoy it?
Harte: Hmmm, I really did take a lot of care with these songs and some of the arrangements and concepts are pretty ambitious for three-minute pop songs, so I hope listeners have a fun ride with that. Mainly, I had a great time working on these and I hope some part of that rubs off on listeners.
Review Fix: How do you want your music to affect people?
Harte: I hope that people can enjoy on different levels. Ideally, a listener would stop what they are doing and sit down and listen top-to-tail on a really good system, but I realize not everyone will do that.
Lyrically this is an important record for me. I wrote the song “The Night of My Death” to help me confront one of my most favorite anxieties: kicking the bucket unexpectedly. But I wanted to do it in a calm, non-hysterical way, with the absence of violence. If you knew the moment of your death and could freeze it (just before the truck hit you, etc.), what would you do with your last evening? The song is about gently broaching the subject of death, mainly to see how we prioritize our lives.
If this song helps others do that, I’d be very pleased.
Review Fix: What makes this album different from your previous work?
Harte: Well in some ways, it’s pretty similar. I closely worked with Jon Evans (Tori Amos/G-Love), the same producer who has joined me on several previous albums. I’d say Briefcase is more of a deepening and widening of my past sound. I think I’ve covered an album’s worth of themes, tones, and moods in the space of five songs. I’ve never liked adding filler songs, but since this was an EP, I was very intent on making every song standout and clamor for the listener’s attention. Whether I achieved that or not, who knows! I just wanted it to be a very satisfying and diverse ride for 16 minutes.
I did not really sit down and write these songs sequentially. Thematically and lyrically, they were sculpted pretty slowly and more like microphones left on in five different rooms of my house, 24/7 over the winter, catching the conversations, arguments, jokes, hand-wringing, rough-housing, etc. The “songwriting” was more about editing this live feed down to the typical song format, with verses and choruses as needed. The songs are kind of three-minute mini-plays from scenes taken from my life over the last year.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2018?
Harte: Mainly, I’ll be working on the score for a cool animated kids series through starting in the Fall which is going to keep me busy. But as often happens when I’m deep in a scoring job, I start to spin off song ideas for my own stuff. I like the idea of releasing fewer songs more often. I may even just release singles for awhile!
Review Fix: What’s next?
Harte: I’m off for a three-week road/camping trip with my family through the Southwest desert! (Utah, New Mexico, Colorado). It’s our Wally World.