Really good songs7/16/2014
H.D. Harmsen is a lot of things. He’s a genuinely nice guy. A handsome devil. A snappy dresser. He’s also quite possibly the best local entertainer you haven’t seen.
Harmsen’s a musician who’s cut from the Chris Ford/Nate Logsdon/Maximum Ames bolt of cloth, but, in some ways, he’s a more focused version of the sound. He’s less prone to musical digression, and while some of his songs are lighthearted, he never skids into the realm of slapstick.
When he’s on stage, Harmsen is a captivating performer, and his stable of backing musicians are talented artists who’ve all been selected for their ability to handle the stylistic swings in Harmsen’s music.
“When I first started (debut album) ‘Papoose,’ I didn’t have a band at all,” he explained. “It was just who I could get to play instruments.
“It was difficult finding people,” he continued. “There’s a lot of different styles. Certain elements were easier to find, but some of it was very difficult. Like the drummer. I had to find a drummer who was comfortable playing rock songs but could also play more jazzy stuff as well.”
Now that he’s found the right component pieces, Harmsen regularly puts his musicians through their paces, sweeping his performances from straight rock, to a kind of ragtime-tinged indie sound, and into the jazzier fare.
“Papoose” was released in 2013 on Maximum Ames Records. It’s a clever, entertaining album, but one that jumps madly from theme to theme. Harmsen approached the album more as a series of vignettes rather than one cohesive story. It was a mode of writing that mimics the frenetic approach of Harmsen’s live shows: he’s firing quips at you, not reciting a monologue.
“I’m not a very good songwriter in those terms,” he said, talking about overarching themes. “I have respect for people who can do concept albums, but I’m basically just a selfish dude and kind of write each song about my feelings at the time.”
Now Harmsen is back to making new songs. Constantly challenging himself in new ways, he’s set a goal of writing 44 songs, from which he’ll select 11 for the final cut.
He doesn’t know when he’ll be done. But that doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t feel like I have a time line right now,” he concurred. “But I don’t want to go back in (to the studio) until I feel like ‘these are really good songs.’ ” CV