It’s a wet and windy day, the Wirral is suffering the aftershocks of Storm Eunice. Harris picks up my call after a dicey trip to Morrisons, composed demeanour at odds with the rattling windows and whistling winds on both ends.
‘It feels quite frustrating not being able to put music out all the time,’ she says. Harris has been making music for around 18 years, and in that time she’s cycled through multiple different styles. She started out with acoustic, folky stuff, before releasing a ‘visceral, angsty’ electric guitar album, Dig, in 2013. Harris’ last outing, 2019 EP Leaving Light, offered whimsical ballads inspired by such weighty topics as women in conflict zones.
Although she cites Esperanza Spalding, PJ Harvey, and Suzanne Vega as influences, her latest single Battledress more readily brings to mind the bouncy weirdness of Cate Le Bon. There is also a clear imprint of hours spent listening to jazz, admiring its flightiness and exuberance. ‘To get to a point where you feel very free and you feel like you can really allow your emotions to take flight in a live sense – that’s where I’d like to be as a performer. I still feel like I’m not there.’
Harris spent a large part of the pandemic developing her craft in the most committed way possible – she went back to school. Pursuing a postgraduate qualification at the Royal Northern College of Music last year allowed her to explore the limits of her craft. “I made some things in ways I wouldn’t normally, used my voice in more extreme ways. All of those things are great to go ‘here’s another boundary you could go to if you want.’”
She also learnt how to play the keyboard, allowing her a new way of writing music that encourages her to lean into her intuition. ”If I’m feeling a certain way, how am I going to express that?” In our conversation, authenticity and the struggle to do justice to emotions is a recurring theme. ‘There’s always going to be a part of you in there if you want to say something true.’
‘It can be quite difficult to do something very raw that’s obviously about yourself so I’ve skirted around it and done it metaphorically, using other ideas.’ The inspiration for Battledress started with thinking about her gran, who passed away a few years ago. ‘She was quite a stoical lady.’
‘I can be quite daydreamy when I’m walking around thinking about song ideas. I started thinking about when I used to ride horses as a kid, and stubborn ponies. Then I was kind of enjoying this daydream about animals turning the tables on humans. We trample over animals’ lives and habitats and use them, so I enjoyed the ideas of this turning of the tables.’
There’s a lot of places to daydream in Harris’ hometown of New Brighton, a seaside resort on the Wirral peninsula, boasting miles of scenic coastal paths and wild parkland. There’s also lots of places to sit, observe, think, a practice Harris took full advantage of during the stillness of several lockdowns. “If you’re patient enough it yields a lot of good things. You
start to gain an affection for the things you’re looking at, and that’s where the good stuff comes from.”
The new material is, unsurprisingly, free and headstrong. ‘It’s sat in the natural realm and looking at different resonances we have with the natural world and ways in which we find
solace from different species and different connections with the place you live.’ There’s something undoubtedly earthy and ecological, but also something cosmic about the way the sound twists and spins out of control.
Battledress is the first of three planned singles, aimed at getting back in the saddle. with the ultimate aim of releasing a full-length.