Harrison is a rare jewel in the heart of the Toronto music scene. I can’t amp him up enough… just go explore his catalogue (and be sure to catch him live soon!). We reached him by phone on his porch in the Beaches and spoke about his great music taste, architecture, and overcoming performance anxiety.
AMBY: Where are you right now?
H: In the east end, on a porch, with a big field in front of me… and I’m smoking a cigarette, and drinking coffee.
AMBY: That’s so nice!
H: I love cigarettes. If they were food I would probably eat that.
AMBY: How long have you lived in the east end?
H: I’ve lived in the east end all of my life. I grew up in the lower Beaches area, and then I moved up to the upper Beaches area about five years ago.
AMBY: Do you remember when you started making music seriously?
H: Seventeen, I guess. I started making music I was about sixteen – but didn’t tell anyone then.
AMBY: Before that was it something you ever dreamed about doing?
H: Not at all, actually. I didn’t grow up being like, “I wanna be a musician!” It was just something that happened.
AMBY: The classic rock and roll story of you just “fell into it.”
H: Yea, I wanted to be a professional skateboarder or something. At one point I wanted to be an architect, too, but my math skills are just so, so bad that I don’t think that that could have ever happened.
AMBY: I feel you [laughs].
H: I also didn’t want to intern until I was like, 40… so I was like, “You know what? No that’s not gonna…” [laughs]
AMBY: Well, you can still do the George Costanza thing where your alter ego can be an architect.
H: [laughs] Exactly, yea! I just saw that episode like a week ago, actually.
AMBY: So skateboarding. Did you injure yourself, and that deterred you from trying to turn pro?
H: When I was in grade seven and eight, there was a guy named Zach, and he was just so good at skateboarding. I don’t think I was ever bad at skateboarding, but I was like, “This just won’t happen. I am not good enough at this!”
AMBY: Aw so he was so good that he discouraged you from pursuing it?
H: It was discouraging, but not in a bad way. It’s not like I went home and cried, but I just though, “Maybe I’ll try something else.” I think I sort of drifted through high school… not really caring very much about what I wanted to do. I didn’t have a “plan,” really, in high school. I just enjoyed hanging out with my friends.
AMBY: Have you ever run into that with someone in music? Someone that you thought was just “too good,” that before it inspires you, it makes you feel really discouraged?
H: The best thing about music is that, it was totally accepted that all of these different people were better than me. But that’s okay. As long as I like my own music, it just makes me want to do better and that’s all.
H: So with music it’s different. With skateboarding it was like, “No, fuck this.” [laughs].
AMBY: Is there a moment when you know you have something good in a song? Or do you feel like you have to get the opinion from someone’s ears that you trust?
H: No, I think I know when I’ve made a song that is good. When you have something on a loop that you listen to hundreds of times, and you still like the song you’re making, then that’s when I know it’s good. But if I get bored with it really quickly, I let it go.
AMBY: Do you believe in waiting for inspiration to come? Or do you personally need to put the time in, and then inspiration comes from there?
H: That’s a good question, because sometimes… there are times where I think, “Okay I need to wait it out…” and then there’re other times where you sort of find your own inspiration. And I feel like I’ve found a few ways to find inspiration quickly now.
AMBY: Can you share what they are?
H: Going for walks, of course… and listening to other music, too. But it’s mostly going for walks. And if I ever get the chance to be in a place that’s very nature-based like near ravines or waterfalls or things like that… that makes me feel very inspired to make music. I also really enjoy watching documentaries on music, because it makes me really inspired to make music and want to do better.
AMBY: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice for young producers or artists right now starting out?
H: I answer that question a lot and usually say the same thing. Watch YouTube videos. People say, “No I need to go pay four hundred dollars to find a teacher,” when there’s so much information on the Internet. You can just teach yourself anything. Another thing would be to take a day to learn a software – and of course it’s longer than a day – but take a day to learn the ropes. And learn as may instruments as you can, especially if you’re a producer, because you want to know how everything works.
AMBY: How many instruments do you play?
H: Well, I play the guitar and the piano. Right now I’m trying to learn the drums. I’m just bad at drums, but I’m pushing myself to get better. I want to learn how to play the trumpet – my friend lent me one – so I sort of spit into that every once in a while. I forgot how annoying the trumpet was. I played the trumpet in grade nine and ten.
AMBY: So you’ve had a bit of an intro on trumpet then [laughs].
H: Yea but I’m still shit at it [laughs]. But I’d say the most important one would be to learn piano, because everything you’re creating – especially on computers or laptops – everything is midi, or midi controlled. So if you know your way around a piano, you can turn that piano into any instrument through a laptop.
AMBY: What is a desert island record of yours?
H: It would probably just be Donuts by Dilla.
H: To keep me awake.
AMBY: Yes, all the sirens.
H: I could listen to Dilla just go on repeat all day.
AMBY: Is there anything you do in your spare time outside of music, but that still might inform your music?
H: I recently started reading again lately. Trying to finish a book a week.
AMBY: Oh that’s great!
H: Of course watching stuff, and not really caring about what I look like. I don’t think I could ever be someone who makes clothes or anything, but recently I’ve kind of gotten into the idea of tapering pants, cutting shirts and stuff like that. My hobbies are really just based on music, though. Practicing piano, or practicing guitar or drums. I know a lot of people that don’t know what they want to do yet, and that’s okay, because it takes time, but I think I was really lucky to find out that I just wanted to make music, so that’s my life.
AMBY: It’s a blessing and a curse.
H: Yea totally. But besides that I watch a lot of anime. Anime’s great to fall asleep to, because it’s always so beautiful with such nice backgrounds…
AMBY: It’s the art that you take away from it?
H: Yea the art is just insane, and it just makes me want to be in an anime. If everything looked that vibrant and gorgeous in real life, then I don’t even know [laughs].
AMBY: I just love their big beautiful eyes all the time.
AMBY: What was the first concert you ever saw?
H: I saw Onra who is one of my favourite artists on the planet, when I was fifteen at Supermarket in Kensington. He was the best. I love him. I was so star struck. I don’t think I’ll ever be that star struck again.
AMBY: Did that push you into music after that night?
H: I don’t think it pushed me into music, but his style and how into it he was, it made me want to become… like when I think back to it… at that time I hated playing live – it gave me so much anxiety. But now that I’m okay with it, thinking about that night makes me want to become a better live performer.
AMBY: When did you get over your performance anxiety? If you even would say you had it.
H: I had it… I had it really bad. I think after the third show, when my hands stopped shaking I was like, “This is okay.” Someone gave me great advice, and it was that “People don’t want to see you fail, they just want to have fun.” It seems simple, but that was probably some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.
AMBY: What’s the first CD you bought with your own money? Like early days of you…
H: I never really bought CDs. The first record I bought was You’re The One For Me, by D Train. It was like the first song I ever sampled, and one of the best funk songs, and the records is hung up and framed on my wall.
AMBY: Anything you’re listening to right now that you want to share?
H: Oh my… people have probably heard it, but it’s a house song called These Dreams by Chris Malinchak. He was really good at making house!
AMBY: What era?
H: I think 2012 – it’s not very old. But I’ve been listening to a lot of house a lot lately and soul.
AMBY: Your latest music video is a mini-movie for It’s Okay, I Promise. How did that come to be?
H: We applied for a MuchFACT grant and received it. They’ve been so good to me. Then my dude Scott Cudmore wrote the treatment and we both just loved it so much.
AMBY: I loved it, too.
H: Me too!
AMBY: Was it an all-day shoot?
H: It was! I drank a lot of coffee that day. It went really smoothly and everyone was really nice.
AMBY: What’s your summer look like for shows and touring?
H: I have this mini-tour with Ryan Hemsworth in May. I’m also playing TIME Festival in Toronto and have some live dates coming later in the year.
AMBY: Can’t wait to see you live and hear the new!
H: I’m glad you can’t wait.
Thank you Harrison, for giving us your answers!
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Interview by Rosemary Fairweather