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January 6, 2016


Acclaimed Southern pop auteur, dB’s collaborator and Big Star Third tour performer comes into his own on new album Up in the Air.

RALEIGH, N.C. — “The phrase Up in the Air struck me as being true of the climate in which this album was made,” Brett Harris says of the title of his second long-player. “I started recording it at a time when a lot of my peers were saying goodbye to their 20s and were witnessing their careers either take off or give way to a more conventional way of life. At the time, I wasn’t completely sure of how that was going to work itself out in my own life.”

Those existential dilemmas are addressed compellingly in the ten carefully crafted, personally charged original tunes that comprise Up in the Air, due out March 4, 2016 on Hit the Deck Recordings/ Redeye. Harris effortlessly taps into a time-honored pop vocabulary to create music that’s both infectiously catchy and deeply expressive. From the sunny, surging grooves of “End of the Rope” to the airy uplift of “Out of the Blue” to the intimate introspection of “High Times” to the bittersweet beauty of “Don’t Look Back,” Up in the Air makes a deeply compelling case for the North Carolina-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s vibrant melodic mastery, his vivid lyrical skills, his warmly evocative voice and his uncanny knack for inventive, ear-caressing arrangements.

Up in the Air validates the flood of critical praise that the artist has already received. In addition to receiving copious acclaim for his first album Man of Few Words as well as his trio of independently released EPs, Harris has also won notice for his work as a featured performer and core band member on the recent series of all-star concerts honoring Big Star’s classic Third album, with which he has performed on three continents, and as auxiliary guitarist-keyboardist on the historic 2012 reunion tour by power-pop progenitors the dB’s.

“The Big Star shows and the dB’s tour were amazing educational experiences,” Harris notes. “They were like going to grad school for rock ’n’ roll music.

While the latter two credits underline Harris’ collaborative talents, Up in the Air makes it clear that the artist is in his element when steering his own musical course. The new album’s predecessor Man of Few Words was featured in NPR’s “All Songs Considered: Second Stage” and Paste magazine’s “Best of What’s Next,” as well as making several year-end best-of lists and drawing comparisons to the likes of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson and Emitt Rhodes.

“Now that is a good f@#!ing album!,” Posies/Big Star member Ken Stringfellow said of Up in the Air, while Teenage Fanclub member and Big Star Third participant Norman Blake observed, “Great songs, great arrangements and great singing. What’s not to love?”

North Carolina’s Independent Weekly recently noted that Up in the Air “perfectly balances his musical interests — pop ease and gospel earnestness, soul gusto and country texture — into seamless syntheses that stick on first listen ... The material is artfully built and effortlessly rendered, wearing its cool within its craftsmanship.”

“I was just trying to write an honest record,” Harris states. “I don’t really write autobiographical songs, but I try to write honest songs. I think a great song should be like a mirror that everyone can hold up and see a part of themselves in.”

Up in the Air finds Harris collaborating with an assortment of players from the fertile North Carolina musical community in which he’s a prominent figure. Harris and producer Jeff Crawford (who also oversaw Man of Few Words) cut most of Up in the Air at Crawford’s home studio, Arbor Ridge, with additional recording done at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium and Chris Stamey’s Modern Recording.

Harris’ abiding passion for music-making runs deep, despite — or, perhaps, because of — the fact that he had relatively little exposure to music while growing up in a small town in Virginia.

“Where I grew up, we didn’t have college stations, so my early musical exposure was whatever was on Top 40 radio,” he explains. “But I was always drawn to music. We had most of the Beatles’ LPs in the house, but we didn’t have a turntable, so I had no way of listening to them. It wasn’t until ’95, when The Beatles Anthology came on television, when I was about 12, that I heard a lot of these songs for the first time, and that really turned my head around.

“I grew up in one of the northernmost regions of the Bible belt, so a lot of my introduction to playing music in front of people was in the context of church and youth camps, playing three-chord praise songs. That’s the only place I’d seen people play music, and a lot of my first forays into playing music in front of people were in that context. But I didn’t think about writing songs as a viable path until I was 18 or 19 years old, midway through college.”
Shortly after college, where Harris had joined an a capella vocal group and gained useful performing, arranging and recording experience, he and his new wife moved to Raleigh. Brett took up several day jobs, including one in a local church office, where he’d sneak out to write songs on the church piano. Meanwhile, he fell into the music scene that covers the North Carolina Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, which opened his ears to all manner of new musical possibilities.

“I started meeting people who were exposing me to this music that I didn’t know about, and for the first time in my life I was listening to these bands that I could actually go and find out about,” he recalls. “I started to develop as a writer, and that’s when I decided that if I’m gonna do this, then I need to play shows and make records.

“[...a friend who was a jazz guitarist] took me to lunch one day and said ‘If you’re gonna do this, you’ve got to jump in with both feet and get it all over you.’ I really took that to heart, and tried to soak up as much as I could. Through meeting other musicians and making connections and forming relationships, I got to meet a lot of people with whom I had some common musical ground, and that gave me the pathway to building musical relationships with people.”
Being surrounded by kindred musical spirits has been a source of inspiration for Harris, but he still feels a singular drive to write songs and make music on his own terms.

“I feel like Up in the Air is the closest I’ve come to finding my voice as a writer,” he states. “You always start out imitating your heroes, intentionally or not, and hopefully you get to a point where you start to sound like yourself. I think that my earlier records were a conscious attempt at writing in a certain vein; I think that now I’m more concerned with finding my own voice.

“I still feel like I’m chasing after that sound that’s in my head,” Harris concludes. “I think I got close to it with this record, and I think I’ll get even closer with the next one. Maybe I’ll never get there, and maybe that doesn’t matter. I just want to keep testing my limits and keep growing as a songwriter, as a player, and as a maker of records. I don’t know what the future holds, but I just want to stay open to wherever the creative instinct is gonna lead me.”

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Ann Powers on NPR's World Cafe included Brett Harris' "Out of the Blue" in the program's 2016 preview:



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