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Something Bigger Than Yourself : A Conversation With Robert Harrison

By John Hubner

Fort Wayne Reader


Somewhere between Fort Wayne and South Bend on Highway 30 sits a town called Columbia City. Within Columbia City's city limits a kid named Robert Harrison spent his formative years writing concertos on the recorder, bringing his acoustic guitar with him wherever he went, and honing his skills as a songwriter. He may not have written any concertos (or anything for that matter) on the recorder, but he did work on songwriting.

Robert Harrison is no longer a kid(barely), and his songwriting has bloomed. If you've seen his ďCozy Couch SessionĒ (check Youtube) or have seen him play a live show you know this to be the case. Harrison plays earnest, heart-on-sleeve folksy tunes that tend to stick in your head long after they've ended. He's part of a blossoming DIY music scene in both Fort Wayne and Ohio that includes folks like Ryan Kerr, Pink Balloon Band, Forget The Tiger, and many more that will play pretty much any show anywhere, as long as they're ears that want to hear it. Robert is getting ready to promote his newest album, a full-band EP titled Now I Know. He took a few minutes during a tour to answer a few questions.

J. Hubner: So let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

Robert Harrison: I spent the first chunk of my life growing up in various towns in northern Ohio, the last one being Parma which is right outside of Cleveland. However, the majority of what I would call growing as a person occurred in Columbia City. It is where I attended middle school and high school.

Hubner: At what age did you start to have an interest in music?

Harrison: Itís tough to pinpoint when I started getting into music. I have always enjoyed listening to just about every genre through the years, but I have never been able to throw out artists names confidently. I hate to say it now because there is so much good music out there thatís not played on the radio, but there was a time where I would exclusively download radio singles that I heard and just make mixes of those. It wasnít until I started actually playing music that I began to listen to albums start to finish and break away from mainstream radio. I can even recall borrowing a burnt Brand New - Your Favorite Weapon CD from a friend back in high school and just listening to it constantly without even realizing that ďBrand NewĒ didnít mean my friend just burnt this new CD and that ďYour Favorite WeaponĒ didnít mean that it was his favorite CD. But I guess being ignorant in that way was good for me because I wasnít listening to a band just because they were popular. I was listening to these bands because I genuinely liked what they were doing.

Hubner: Besides Brand New, who were some early musical influences?

Harrison: Because I had an acoustic guitar in the early 2000ís I was pretty much guaranteed to fall in the Jack Johnson-John Mayer musical influence crowd and if you listen to my first release Hope Donít Float you can really tell. After I wrote that album and started playing out the biggest influences for me became the local musicians in the area. Their influences coupled with my personal experiences have been driving my sound lately and Iím getting further and further from the standard acoustic singer/songwriter style with each new album.

Hubner: You said you had an acoustic guitar in the early 2000s. When did you start playing? Were you in any high school bands?

Harrison: I was never in any high school bands. Having never learned how to read sheet music I resorted to the ever useful YouTube to guide my clumsy hands around my guitar in hopes of making a noise that wouldnít scare people away. Because I was learning primarily off the internet, the only songs I could play were covers. I had dabbled with guitar off and on since the 7th grade when my friend sold me this all black Rogue acoustic guitar for $15. The action was so high on the neck that even now Iím convinced that I wouldnít have been able to play it properly. I continued to learn and play on that guitar for some time until one Christmas I received the guitar I use now, an acoustic Yamaha. So I have this cool new guitar that I can finally strum actual chords on, but I was still learning and playing covers. I got good enough at playing covers that I felt other people might want to listen in. And yes, for a short period of time I became that guy who brings his guitar to parties. I almost cringe at the thought of it now, but regardless of how terrible or unwanted it probably was, it really helped me to gain confidence and develop my guitar playing abilities. This went on for the last two years of high school until my freshman year of college when my dear friend Mike invited me out to a local show at a pizza joint in downtown Fort Wayne. Without name dropping, Iíll just say that I wasnít old enough to grab a pint at the time, but I did snag a slice ;) and find a place upstairs to listen in on what these musicians were saying. The raw honesty of the musicians and how they were able to express themselves in their songs just blew me away. And if you would have told me that a year later I would be doing the exact same thing in the exact same place with some of the same musicians I wouldnít have believed you. Inspired, I went home and started writing that night.

Hubner: How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated? Who are some artists that inform the songs you write?

Harrison: Iím not quite sure I have found my sound yet. If I had to toss out a reputable name to what Iím doing now Iíd say that my vocals are hard-hitting like rock master Dave Grohl and my song writing is closer to folk and story telling than anything.

Hubner: What's your songwriting process like? Do you come up with a melody or chord progression first, then add lyrics? Or is it the other way around? Half and half, maybe?
Harrison: Itís a constant back and forth for me. Sometimes Iíll write a catchy tune and want to throw lyrics on it, other times Iíll have lyrics that need some sort of sound to go along with. I didnít have a working stereo in my car for the longest time so I had plenty of moments to think quietly while driving places. If I thought of a catchy tune or some interesting lyrics I would just sing or hum them into my phone and revisit them later when I had time. Thatís how a large portion of this newest album ĎNow I Knowí was written.

J. Hubner: Speaking the new album Now I Know, let's talk about your albums. You put out your first record Hope Don't Float in 2012. Last year was Limits, and now Now I Know. Do you enjoy the recording process or do you consider it a necessary evil?

Harrison: The recording process for me has been different with each album. As I got more into the making of music I began to collect more equipment. Hope Donít Float was originally recorded directly into the speakers of my computer. Limits was recorded partially in my basement and partially at DBB studios. Now I Know (which is full band) was recorded in an attic in Warsaw. The recording process itself is exciting as it is tedious. Excluding DBB, not having a proper place to record can really gum up the works if your neighbor decides to mow their lawn or there is a friendly dog talking to other friendly dogs in the area OR if the local radio station is somehow playing through your amplifier and you have no idea why. Besides those minor annoyances, the recording process is truly rewarding, you start off with an idea and get to watch it come to life before you. So I wouldnít say the recording process is something I long for, but it is important to put just as much time and effort into it as anything else so that people know when Iím not playing out live I am still hard at work developing something they can enjoy over and over again.

Hubner: How was the experience working with Robert Lugo at DBB Studios? He seems to do good work.

Harrison: Recording with Robert Lugo was and is awesome. His musical background and expertise are some of the things that made Limits such a success. He has a lot of pride in what he does and it really shows not only in the final products, but in the late nights and personal touches he adds. Heís easily the best in the area at what he does and those are a few reasons for that.

Hubner: You're currently on the road. Where are you playing in the near future?

Harrison: I havenít made any plans to play when I get back from tour, but I am always looking to play out. Anyone who is interested in what I am up to can follow or Ďlikeí my facebook page at facebook.com/robertharrisonmusic or if interested in booking, feel free to email me at robertharrisonbooking@gmail.com.

Hubner: So any dates on when the new EP will be available?
Harrison: I didnít have an official release show for the EP and it isnít available online, but it will certainly be more accessible in the future. Itís a full-band album so I want it to be played that way for the release.

Hubner: What are your plans for the rest of 2015? Anything in the works for 2016?

Harrison: For the rest of 2015 I plan to take it easy. As the holiday months come up and the weather worsens it becomes hard to get out and play shows. However, it does become easier to write and record music so maybe there will be some new jams for 2016!? I start up school again August 2016 so before that I plan on touring and playing as much as possible. Wishful thinking, but letís hope this winter is light and short.

Hubner: Anything else before I let you get back to napping on the couch?

Harrison: Over the past decade or so Fort Wayne has been making some really great strides towards downtown improvement and community involvement. As the city grows and gains momentum I hope that the local music scene will follow. It doesnít matter if youíre young or old, if youíre thinking about starting a band stop thinking and start doing. Find out where the local shows are, talk to people, be respectful and help the Fort Wayne music scene live on. Be proud of your city and be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Keep an eye out for Mr. Harrison, and keep up with live dates, album releases and the like at facebook.com/robertharrisonmusic. You want Robert to play your living room? Then email him at robertharrisonbooking@gmail.com.

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