This is the second and final part of my interview with Harmony James, an Australian singer-songwriter who can’t seem to help making new fans every time she plays somewhere or releases a new album. Harmony’s second album, Handfuls of Sky, was released earlier this year and I spoke to her not long after its launch during the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Part I of this interview can be read here.
Would you consider writing songs for other people?
Absolutely, I’m assigned to a publishing company now and they know that I write a lot of songs and that I don’t necessarily record them all, and we’re certainly going to look at whether someone else lends a voice to them. And I write songs that are fun and then I think, ‘I don’t want to own that, I don’t want to actually stand up and say that out loud as me’, so it might be nice if someone else does.
I was wondering about the publishing company deal and that’s obviously a big benefit, that they can take your songs and put them with other people.
Exactly, and they’ve got contacts all over the world, so I expect them to stand and deliver at some stage!
I noticed on your forward schedule that you’re doing a lot of supports for Troy Cassar-Daley and then you’re headlining your own gigs sometimes at the same venues. Will you be doing those headline gigs as a band or are you on your own?
With a band. People don’t often get to see Harmony James with a band, because when I do the support stuff it’s been [with a] guitar, so it would be nice to be able to just sneak out and do a few ‘pow’ moments.
It worked very well at Tamworth, and watching your band actually made me realise that country music, at least in Australia, is really inclusive of all ages and it was just great seeing Dan Conway playing with Jeff McCormack and there was Glen Hannah and Steve Fearnley, your drummer, in that gig and I just thought it’s really about who wants to play with who, not what age anyone is.
Exactly. It was funny backstage, actually, because Jeff was saying, ‘I remember when I was the young fellow in the room and now I’m the oldest guy here’. And then we had Dan who is, I guess, practically a kid when you look at those musos, but I think it’s really important that the industry also lets some of those new kids come through because at some point we’re going to need them.
I was talking to another performer in her early 20s and she said how she’d been embraced by the audiences and people who didn’t know her, and I think country does allow that to happen. It seems to be a bit easier to get a start with audiences and I don’t know if you found that at Tamworth in particular, in the past?
I think Tamworth is a unique place because when you’re in your establishment phase it would be hard to assemble a whole lot of paying people to come to your gigs, but you’ve got a better chance at Tamworth because at least you’ve already got a town full of people who know they probably like your kind of music, so if you’re going to put on a gig that’s where you go.
Just back to your songwriting. Not everyone’s like that – there are a lot of people who perform other people’s songs – and it’s quite a personal thing to perform your own songs but the motivations are possibly also different. With you in particular, listening to your songs, it feels like you’ve got a real drive to tell the stories that are in the songs, and I was wondering if that’s something that’s been with you for a really long time and if, in fact, you do have that drive?
It’s a funny thing because when I’m writing songs it’s just almost probably my own personal venting. I love music and I’m ruminating on whatever it is that’s going on in my head at the time, and a song happens and I just write. I’m never thinking at the time, ‘Do the fans need this and will they sing it back to me?’ Anything like that, I’m just writing. And then sometimes they just sit with you and you think, ‘I think this is a keeper’. And so you start to have what ends up looking like a batch of songs that might be an album, and all of a sudden you’re on this slippery slope and you’re recording it and it’s all down in hard copy and then you kind of go, ‘Hey, this was written in the privacy of my own room about my thoughts and things, and now I’m just going to broadcast them and I can never take that back.’ It’s really odd, because when I’m writing that’s not the intention but then I just kind of go ahead and do it anyway.
And also you’re in good hands with your producer/manager because that seems to be a really good combination, you and Herm Kovac. How did you find him in the first place – given that you were running that project yourself, you could have picked any producer?
Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t know a whole lot, it was back in 2006 when I was thinking – initially I was literally thinking, ‘I’m just going to record a single’, and I had a couple of people I’d been aware of their work or what they’d been up to over the years and sort of thought maybe I should just get in touch with them and see what they thought, and Herm was one of them. I’m trying to remember how I was aware of him. You know what? I was aware of him because I knew he’d produced – it was all on the strength of one song, it’s a song called ‘Stay’ that Grant Richardson recorded, and I remember when I first heard that song on the radio I just thought, ‘Wow, that sounds world class’. And so it was pretty much that one song that I’d heard that made me put Herm on the shortlist, and he was just one of the more courteous people who actually got back to me in a timely fashion and all those types of things, so I was quite lucky that he just had some good business practice going on and I ended up going ahead with him.
Well, I’m sure the people who didn’t get back to you are probably kicking themselves now. I would be, if I were them! But it has been a good combination, obviously. He really understands where to put your voice in the mix, for example, because you do have a strong voice but you could also be overpowered by the instruments with the wrong mix.
Exactly. He’s been quite a gem, to be honest, to find and work with. He’s very passionate about the music and he’ll crow to anyone who’ll listen about it because he believes in it as well, so I’ve had a few wins there.
So in the way of things in country music, are you now going to take up the banjo?
Personally, I would have to find a whole other lifetime worth of time to fit in any instruments. My big plan, one of these years, is to actually become proficient on the guitar.
I think that’s a bit harsh, you seemed fairly proficient when I saw you play.
You know how they say, in a room full of guitars, I’m a pretty good welder.
Except at that Tamworth gig a couple of weeks ago when I think there was one song you sang that you took your guitar off and you said you felt it wasn’t quite right, so even if you don’t think you’re good on the guitar you’re clearly attached to it.
Yeah, yeah. I think it’s like this little security blanket, isn’t it?
It is. So I think my time is about to be up, but I don’t think I’ve got any more questions left anyway!
There you go, perfect. Look, you couldn’t have planned it better.
That’s right. But congratulations on the album, you’re an amazing country music performer and we’re very lucky to have you in Australia, I think.
Thank you. I appreciate your time, listening to my record.
Harmony James is touring with Troy Cassar-Daley and then on her own. Go to www.harmonyjames.com for details. Handfuls of Sky is out now through Warner.