Harmony: “Popular Music Is A Commodified Flimsy Shell”

Boasting former members of The Nation Blue and Mclusky, Melbourne six-piece Harmony breathe rarefied air, musically speaking. But chatting to the band’s nucleus and primary songwriter, Tom Lyngcoln, you wouldn’t know it––he’s just trying to “stay the course” and do what comes naturally.

What’s come naturally to Tom, who recently caught up with Music Feeds via email, has seen the band embark on a string of acclaimed support dates with established garage-dwellers The Drones and release two celebrated, melancholic tomes of coarse, haunting balladry and elegiac melodies.

Their most recent askew take on good ol’-fashioned Aussie rock and roll is titled Carpetbombing. Ahead of the band’s tour in support of the album, we got Tom to tell us why Harmony go against the grain and how they can trace their roots back to the man who wrote Khe Sanh.

Music Feeds: How much do the members of Harmony bring in from former positions in other bands, particularly considering their impressive resumes?

Tom Lyngcoln: We have all been playing music a really long time so there is inevitable transfer from previous bands. The hardest thing for Harmony has been learning to scale back a bit and relax on stage. Jon, Alex and myself have all played in pretty raucous bands and that tends to be our default setting.

It’s taken years of playing live with Harmony to know when to chill out and just play your instrument instead of break things with it.

MF: What motivated titling the album Carpetbombing?

TL: It was the working title from the start. It’s about as heavy a concept as conceivable. It means a whole bunch of different and largely uninteresting things, but is basically the canvas for the record…a cluster of miserable pieces dropped from on high.

MF: What made you guys decide to essentially self-produce the album? Was the band trying to do something that would be difficult to get across to someone on the outside?

TL: Exactly. Describing sound is very difficult. People can nod and say they understand what you are going for, but rarely do people fully understand. The only option to capture the right level of fidelity for this band was to record it ourselves and mix it.

We were very fortunate to discover John Golden in the US who came to grips with it very quickly and mastered it in every sense of the word. That’s always the most terrifying part. I spent two years writing and recording this record and there is always that possibility that the last stage of the process can completely ruin the entire process.

Mastering is rarely done well and we were ecstatic to find the right guy for this particular job.

MF: You’ve said that forcing your wife to play the drums again was the genesis of the group, but how did the other members enter the fold? How do six people who happen to share such a unique vision come together?

TL: To be honest…complete fluke. I wrote a list of people I wanted to play music with from different circles with different influences and it came together like nothing ever. Everyone just followed me over the cliff and it’s an insanely tight ensemble. We could easily start a gang.

Watch: Harmony – Water Runs Cold

MF: You’ve also mentioned a desire to react against bands that are popular on the mainland as one of the motivations behind your style. Where do Harmony see themselves in the Melbourne or even Australian musical landscape?

TL: I do despise bands who chase styles and trends, but I am almost completely oblivious to those styles of music because by the time things get popular, all the initial sparks of life have been extinguished and generally what’s left is a commodified, flimsy shell.

My intention with music is to simply stay the course and do what comes naturally, irrespective of trend. If it’s good, people will like it. That’s not my concern though. It’s a compulsion to create, not to be popular. Harmony, like The Nation Blue, like The Ukeladies, like Remake Remodel, like McLusky, like Shooting at Unarmed Men and like Palm Springs, is a pretty sceneless entity.

There’s no social obligation to see the band based on scene politics. We are out there on our own and that’s kinda the way I like it. We are completely responsible for our own outcomes.

There are a few bands we would consider as peers — Spinning Rooms, Batpiss, Hoodlum Shouts, The Drones, Deep Heat, The Stevens — but those are relationships born of friendship more than a stylistic compatibility. We are tolerated!

MF: What did you guys take away from the tour with The Drones? Was there a particular experience where you or the other members of the band learnt something valuable?

TL: Yes, if you lose your phone before a show in Adelaide, don’t berate the crowd for the entirety of the set demanding its return, only to find it in your guitar case at the end of the night. Also, we learnt to not play with The Drones if you want to feel good about your own music. They are an epic force and good folk.

MF: How does a Harmony song develop? Does it begin with a guitar and vocal, with the backup arrangements added to fit a prepared skeleton, or does it vary?

TL: Harmony songs always build the same way. Guitar parts and then Alex [Kastaniotis, drummer] and I play them together for the first time while we record it. It might be the first time we play the song through together and that’s what you hear on the records.

For me it’s all about capturing the genesis of the song. By the time you’ve played it five times, it’s stale. I want to feel the tension and hear the humanity. From there, everyone else adds their parts and then I write the vocals last. Usually on holiday somewhere nice…where I can really turn on the bleakness.

MF: How did the album’s spoken word intro from Don Walker (Cold Chisel) come about?

TL: I had been wanting to record something with Don for years. I had always loved his music and see a strong lineage from what he has built a career on through to what Harmony are doing now. Don wrote most of the rules for our style of music and continues to produce incredible and substantial music.

I didn’t know Don, but given our digital age, no one can hide anymore. I tracked him down and sent him the idea and he had that piece already written and good to go. Like I said, Don works from a similar world view, or more so he is the creator of that world.

Watch: Harmony – Diminishing Returns

MF: Speaking of collaborators, what was the band trying to achieve by having other artists reinterpret all 15 tracks on the album?

TL: At the end of mixing the record, the songs needed some new life, as I was fatigued from hearing them so many times. So I decided to remake the record with other people performing the songs. If you are going to place so much faith in the album format like we do, you need to give people something different. I think two versions of the same album qualifies as different.

We love every one of those deconstructions and we couldn’t be more appreciative of the people involved.

MF: How did the process behind the reinterpretations go? Who decided which artists were selected and which would receive each song?

TL: I had pretty clear theories in that regard. I had gut instincts about how each song would sound and how that would work as a flowing album. There were some surprises, but I am a big enough fan of all the artists to know what was going to come back. No one disappointed.

Each artist was instructed to take the audio files and do what they wanted with them. They could focus on a single note or could recreate the whole thing faithfully. It’s pretty exciting to have your music performed by talented heads.

Harmony’s second album, ‘Carpetbombing’, is available now. See Harmony live on their upcoming ‘Carpetbombing’ tour — details below.

Harmony 2014 Carpetbombing Tour Dates

Thursday, 3rd April 2014

Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane

Tix: Via Oztix

w/Gentle Ben, Per Purpose

Friday, 4th April 2014

GoodGod Small Club, Sydney

Tix: Via GoodGod Small Club

w/Day Ravies, Angie

Saturday, 5th April 2014

The Phoenix, Canberra

Tix: On The Door

w/Hoodlum Shouts, Sex Noises

Saturday, 12th April 2014

The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart

Tix: Via Oztix

w/Native Cats, Naked

Saturday, 26th April 2014

Howler, Melbourne

Tix: Via Howler

w/Deaf Wish, Tyrannamen, Laura Imbruglia, BJ Morriszonkle, Very Special Secret Guest

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