STRING SLAPPING, SWEET AS HONEY, BRINGING THE FLAVOR OF OREGON TO PAPPY & HARRIET’S THURSDAY, MARCH 6TH
by Robin Linn
Founded in Missouri by Ray Vietti, The Harmed Brothers didn’t fully blossom into the beautiful unit they are today until Ray met up with musical soul mate Alex Salcido in Eugene, Oregon. If it was fate that brought them together, it seems to be their love for creating their very own sound that keeps them that way. THB blends the discipline of bluegrass with the looseness and freedom of rock and roll by combining the intricate stringed sounds of banjo, guitar, upright bass together with keyboards and drums. Their live show is energetic and inspired. Sweet layered harmonies singing their hearts, the band crisscrosses America winning fans and making friends, one town at a time. The interplay between Ray (guitar) and Alex (banjo and keys) is exciting to watch. They take their recorded ideas and bravely expand them in the live setting. The band also features Troy Broat (upright bass) and drummer Ben Kilmer, providing a fiery and dynamic rhythm section. Additionally, THB is known to include guest artists, part of their nationwide music family, depending on where they are when they perform the magic. They have been cited as having created a similar dynamic fueled by many of Americana stalwart Uncle Tupelo’s early offerings to the Americana music movement. As the band has progressed, they have strengthened and crafted their own musical voice, making them refreshing and truly unique unto themselves.
They are far from jaded, but rather wide-eyed and grateful for the travel, the fans and the freedom to create their own musical visions before welcoming audiences. Their latest record Better Days reveals tender emotion, well-crafted ideas, and fine musicianship. Last summer I caught THB at P&H and was both engaged and moved. . An evening with The Harmed Brothers can transport the listener to the woodsy haven of Oregon almost instantaneously. I have never been to Oregon (YET), but feel as if I can almost taste the sweet air and smell the forest while listening to their last two records, Better Days and All The Lies You Wanna Hear. The band is taking off for the road now and on March 6th they will perform a free show in the high desert at Pappy & Harriet’s. I asked The Harmed Brothers a few questions so they might share with us their insightful approach to creating and performing.
RL: Tell us about some of the high and low points of traveling about as you do?
THB: There is a great high that comes from jumping in the van and getting out there to do what you love with your friends and meeting back up with all sorts of wonderful people state to state. Knowing that you’re living on your our terms. The harsh realities of van breakdowns, monetary uncertainty and loneliness among other things can weigh heavy on a person in a traveling band. However, being able to do what we love makes up for those hurdles. It all makes us stronger and better people.
RL: How long has this lineup been firmly in place?
THB: We have more of a bullpen than a lineup. The Harmed Brothers at its core are the two of us, and we have a terrific bullpen full of friends across the country that’ll join us here and there. It just so happens that the great friends and musicians we bring out with us sometimes can’t be there for everything. Some have loved ones and families and responsibilities back home, some just end up not being cut out for road life. We’ve taken on a lot of different skins throughout the years. That’s kind of where the name “The Harmed Family Roadshow” originated; less of a lineup, more of a big family.
RL: How many records have you recorded together now?
THB: Better Days is our third record together. Our first record, All The Lies You Wanna Hear, was independently released in 2010. Our second record, Come Morning, was released in 2012.
RL: Do you find you are expanding your musical concepts as you play together longer?
THB: We like to work off each other’s material whenever we can. When we began writing for the album Better Days, we showed each other what we’d been working on that season we’d spent away from each other, usually off tour. We found that we’d been writing towards the same subjects – Mending, acceptance, letting go. Vices, death, what have you. From there, we were able to build upon those ideas and concepts. If we weren’t writing songs together, one of us would write a response to the other’s song, or find something that would bring you back to those ideas full circle. That’s how “Love Song For The Assumed” became something of a companion piece to Better Days. We’ve come a long way from it being a band being split down the middle between songwriters. We’re in a good place where things feel less like an Alex song, or a Ray song, but more like Harmed Brothers songs. As for musically expanding as a full outfit, it’s a matter of slow and steady winning the race. Every album, we’ll want to incorporate a new element and not wear it out. Our first record was an acoustic record, the second one brought in the full band element and the third sharpened that, while incorporating more keys and vocals. It’s been very rewarding to be able to slowly and steadily build our sound, not letting our minds run too far away from us, which can easily happen.
RL: What well do you draw upon for lyrical content?
THB: Experience, wonder, road-lag, life on the road. The ideas of home and comfort, what they are, what they used to be, whether those things be in a structure or a person.
RL: I often feel that the environment one writes and creates in can affect the music greatly. It’s sort of environmental. If you create and live in the desert, there is certain mood or aura to the music that it produces. How do you feel Oregon has influenced your sound?
THB: There’s a great deal of Oregon in our first record. The aura of All The Lies… was a foresty, woodsy one because it was simply guitar, banjo, vocals and percussion. The cover is a drawing of a wounded bird soaring over green fields next to a giant tree stump and an ax driven into it. That record has Oregon written all over it musically and aesthetically. It was recorded in the tiny little forest town of Cottage Grove, Oregon where we met. Come Morning was the Oregon/Midwest/North Carolina record. That record in its own right was that “Oregon band” getting into a vehicle, getting out of the forest and on to the road, towards town, towards the big cities. And they brought their friends with them. The cover for that was the dawn’s early light shining up through the hills, a lot of hope in that with a lot of work to be done. Better Days is a travelogue. It covers numerous places we’ve been to and lived in, as well as places we’ve yet to experience but want to. You go through the big city, up the river, through the valleys and the sound is slightly bigger. Like that band finally reached the big city. The story isn’t over but they reached the lights and traffic and the noise. The cover even gives you that feeling; a man on a couch yawning in front of a large dreamlike city-scape. Very surreal. We’ve been steadily working and creating in so many different environments, some in very short amounts of time so Oregon hasn’t really tainted what we do. It’s as part of us as is every home we’ve ever had. One place can’t taint your sound or your art unless you allow it to.
RL: What does 2014 hold for The Harmed Brothers?
THB: Lots of touring, lots of traveling, festivals galore. We’ve been working on new material and we’re sure a lot of that will be fleshed out along the road. March kicks off our first full tour of the year. Last year was pretty hectic and trying but incredibly fulfilling. We intend to visit a lot of places we haven’t been before, to make new friends and gain new experiences.
“Unlike the unmussed fashion-grass coming from the Mumfords of the world, there’s something rusty and raw in the Harmed Brothers’ songs, something hungry and a little wild-eyed.” – Portland Mercury
“Melding indie rock fervor with the intricate fretwork of bluegrass, the band steer their way through both genres without slowing and manage to come out on the other side with something unique and wholly their own.” – Beats Per Minute
“For fans of modern folk-inspired indie rock alike, this record will not disappoint.” – The Aquarian
“Fans of Uncle Tupelo and Avett Brothers, pull up a chair and sit a spell.” – The Big Takeover
“Grab a glass of warm cider and settle in; this album is an instant love.” Performer Magazine
“The fact that The Harmed Brothers haven’t achieved the popularity of, say, The Avett Brothers or The Lumineers remains as baffling as it is frustrating.” – Country Standard Time
THB performing the title track from the latest record, Better Days:
The Harmed Brothers website:
Find them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/TheHarmedBrothers
photos by Chad Lanning