SONG PREMIERE: Kyp Harness – “Talking To Myself”
As someone who Ron Sexsmith has called “my favourite songwriter,” it’s a little astounding that more people aren’t familiar with Kyp Harness’ work. But that could change with the Toronto native’s 14th album — simply self-titled — that’s out on Oct. 19 through kypharness.net. We’re proud to offer an exclusive preview with the track “Talking To Myself,” that features Harness’ trademark bittersweet observations of modern life.
To record the album, Harness booked an all-day session at Toronto’s Revolution Recording, where things unfolded in an old school fashion with his combo consisting of the renowned pianist Tania Gill, along with bassist Mike Smith and drummer Sean Lancaric. “I’ve played with Tania Gill for two years now, and this musical collaboration is at the heart of the album,” Harness says. “I don’t really have a ‘writing process’ anymore. The process of life somehow makes the songs happen—the bad ones I forget, and the good ones I remember. They run through the filter of my consciousness and anything that makes my soul shudder, recoil or collapse is generally a good song.”
On top of “Talking To Myself,” songs such as “Angel Mine” and “Insomniac Lullaby” are sure to have an immediate effect on listeners, but it’s on “Hard Life,” “The Sea Monster” and “Jungle Out There” that Harness unflinchingly illuminates the dysfunction at the heart of our society. “Those songs generally tell the story pretty good,” Harness says with typical understatement. “The world’s breaking up, the signs and labels don’t apply anymore, the old meanings are scattering, and you have to constantly seize new languages in order to survive. There’s a lyric in ‘Jungle Out There’ that maybe sums it up best: ‘The ship’s listing sideways / The order’s going down / It never was that good to me anyway / Don’t know if I should laugh or frown.’”
It’s hard to discount the weight of experience on Harness’ current work, but his worldview hasn’t changed that drastically since he released his debut album, Nowhere Fast, in 1991. Back then he was part a unique community of Toronto songwriters that included Sexsmith, Bob Snider and Bob Wiseman (soon to leave Blue Rodeo) whose approach foreshadowed today’s “alt-folk” scene. Harness was (and continues to be) perhaps its most prolific member, with a string of albums from 1992’s God’s Footstool, to 1998’s pop-flavoured Houdini In Reverse, to 2002’s epic collaboration with The Dinner Is Ruined, The Floating World, consistently demonstrating his musical versatility.
However, at this point Harness tends to find inspiration in non-musical art forms, and when discussing the songs on the new album he points to Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Picasso’s blue period, Soutine’s rabbit paintings, and even Laurel and Hardy as sources of what he describes as the sucker-punch of life’s hard reality he hopes to convey in his own work—followed by bittersweet tears that are a mourning and a celebration at the same time. That’s also apparent in his other work as an author, including his second novel, The Abandoned, due out in October 2018 through Nightwood Editions.
“I started to play music to get the songs out of my head and into the air,” Harness says. “As I refined it, my enthusiasms led me to new disciplines, sometimes yelling out and trying to get to a new intimacy. To play music live excites me and is one of the only things that seems real, so I do it whether for a big audience or on a lonely outpost where no one hears. The essence hasn’t changed. I can’t define that essence, but I do think these songs are as close as they can be to it—right now.”