Interview with Myke Harrison

- Aug 17, 2005 at 02:21PM
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Myke Harrison is an extremely talented Canadian musician currently residing in Toronto, Ontario. Having spent almost his entire life impressed in music, only as recently as 2004 did he release a debut solo project entitled "The Collected Apologies of Myke Harrison". Having, in the past, worked with numerous other bands, this recent solo disc came as somewhat of a surprise for fans of his music. PGA managed to catch up with Myke and question his recent change of musical direction, as well as his past musical endeavours and possible future ambitions.

Myke, in the past you have done a tremendous amount of work with several different bands. Can you give us the names and brief details of some of these groups?
Myke: The most enduring of my many bands was a group called Noisegate. We went through several name changes over our ten year run, like most bands do, but in whatever manifestation, it was usually with the same bunch of guys and we had a great time learning to write songs. When I was fifteen I played with a bunch of fogies in a bar band called Vertigo. It was a great learning experience. The most recent, and most successful, band I played in was a group called Thousand Foot Krutch (TFK). Their last album sold more than 200,000 copies.

Can you recount any one particularly funny, weird, or cool occurrence that came from the experience of having worked with several different groups?
Myke: It was such an unusual dynamic working with such poles-apart groups. Probably the weirdest thing was going from a very modest band like Noisegate, to this seeming super-group, TFK. My second show with them was in Ohio where they have a huge following. Right after we played the show, we were ushered offstage, given our towels and bottled water where we sat for almost two hours signing autographs for a line-up that went out the door. Talk about surreal; where are my green M&Ms! It wasn’t uncommon to play for crowds of 15,000 or more.

Since you have worked on numerous projects in the past, what was it that made you decide to venture off on your own and release a solo project, rather than once again teaming up with yet another group?
Myke: That was exactly it: I had always worked with so many musicians, and I learned so much that I wanted to apply it to my own music. While in Noisegate, I was the principal songwriter, but in Thousand Foot Krutch, I was nearer a musician-for-hire, so I wanted to do something that put me back in control of the music I make. I wanted to make music without any personal compromises and I thought a solo record would be the best way to do that. Having said that, I’m not averse to playing with a band in the future. In fact, I’d love to.

Your debut album, “The Collected Apologies of Myke Harrison” was released in 2004. Did it take you very long to write and prepare material for this disc?
Myke: I wrote these songs coming off tour with TFK, when I was very devoted to the idea of writing new material. I had many obstacles in my way (life is the biggest inspiration and yet the biggest obstruction to writing), but I wrote the songs in about two months.

In your experience, how was it writing and recording material by yourself, as opposed to with a group of guys?
Myke: There are advantages and drawbacks to both, I suppose. Working with a band is a great way to get input, and thus have a more eclectic and multilayered sound. Working alone is just so freeing: you’re able to make all the decisions yourself and with the exception of the producer (who was amazing, by the way), you’re completely responsible for the album’s direction. Although Apologies… didn’t turn out exactly as I wanted, I’m proud of it and I’m excited to write another album.

For that matter, did you have any help in the studio when recording this album? Or did you in fact play all or many of the instruments by yourself?
Myke: My producer Jeff Wardell (of Blue Box Studios in Barrie, ON) was incredible. He’s a bit of a musical maven, so his ideas were always welcome. He and I shared the drum-playing duties a bit, but otherwise you can blame me for all the playing on that album. It wasn’t an ego thing: I had some friends who were going to play on the record, but because of scheduling and other issues, it was all me. I had no problems getting my musical rocks off— what a blast!

Additionally, did you find that it took you longer than usual to record by yourself when compared to with a band? Or was it easier to be able to work within your own parameters and schedule?
Myke: There’s something to be said for a drummer who can do a whole song in one take, a la Steve Augustine of TFK fame, but besides that, working on your own can be really quick because you don’t have to quibble about the song direction. You have a very cohesive plan for each song in your head, and you don’t have to worry about communicating that to others. For that reason, I’ll probably end up doing the solo recording thing in the future. It’s so fast! In addition, you don’t have that party atmosphere with four or five guys goofing around. Some people enjoy that but I prefer a mic, a dark room and silence.

Have you managed to schedule any shows or tours at all in order to support your recent release? If not, do you have any plans to do so in the future?
Myke: Unfortunately, very few. I’m terrible at booking shows, but I’ll play wherever I can. I played a gig with some great musicians at the Reverb in Toronto, and I booked some smaller shows in Vaughan, Toronto and Barrie, but I’m hoping to ramp-up the bookings in the near future.

Your disc is entitled “The Collected Apologies of Myke Harrison.” Being such a nice and kind hearted person, what the heck do you have to apologise for?
Myke: I’m a Canadian, I apologize for everything! (I’m so sorry you rear-ended me, eh?) Actually, I got the concept (The Collected Apologies of…) from a Salmon Rushdie novel, and I immediately loved it. It’s so me! Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I say sorry for everything.

Whether the disc was in fact apologetic or not, what were some of the other general emotions and feelings that found their way onto this album?
Myke: The album was written in an emotionally turbulent time in my life, moments we all go through. That said, there are some happy moments on the record, some reflective moments, and some moments where I’m a defiant son-of-a-bitch. There’s a break-up song on there, a love song, a self-situating song and a song about a sad, incessantly self-deprecating loser (sorry).

As with what seems like an infinite number of musicians, you have a day job which helps to pay the bills until your music takes off. How do you manage to balance work, a social life, and more importantly (in this case) music? Do you still get enough time to play and practice the guitar?
Myke: The best strategy: subtract the social life completely. Well, not completely. The day job definitely impinges on my time as a songwriter but at the same time, it provides me with ample inspiration for the songs I do write. Case in point: the song 10 & Milverton was inspired by a location I frequent at work. There’s always a balancing act, a slow tapered undertaking where you reduce your day job and step up your musical efforts. In this scenario one of three things can happen: your music can taper off and die; you can reach some form of musical symmetry where you balance your job and your passion in some meaningful way or you can reach an awkward point where music is taking too much time for you to keep the day job, but you’re not quite making the money you need to survive. That’s the classic make-or-break moment for artists, but I’m not there yet.

Myke, rumour has it that you are a serious guitar aficionado. For how long have you been playing, what was it that drew you to the guitar in the first place, and what kind of axes do you enjoy wailing away on?
Myke: I love guitar! I’ve had an unhealthy obsession for 14 years and it grows more, not less, with time. I took piano lessons when I was young and even though I loved that, I begged my Mom for guitar lessons. We weren’t able to afford it for years, but one day she asked me to help with the groceries and I went outside and there it was: my first guitar. After that, it’s the old music cliché: I practiced in my room morning, noon and night.

As for the guitars I love wailing on, I love good ones. I love guitars with a lot of character, you know, those no-name, beaten-up guitars with holes in them. Sometimes those pawn shop gems are the best to find. I was in California recently and I played a weird Martin Electric—one of two or so that they make—and it just sounded awesome. I used to dig swankier, ornamental guitars like PRS, but I bought one and it failed me in a big way on the road, so I’m back to guitars with character. Mostly I play my Tele and it’s the amps I dig. Oh, don’t get me started on amps....

Do you have any guitar-playing idols; people whose abilities you aspire to possibly obtain?
Myke: Oh hell yeah: Jon Brion all the way. I’m a huge fan of the defunct California band Jellyfish and all its spin-offs and Jon Brion is the best of all these. He’s a super-producer, a solo musician extraordinaire and a guitar genius. He’s a musical savant. I saw his weekly show in Hollywood and it blew my mind! The man’s a musical encyclopaedia. I honestly believe he knows how to play every piece of recorded music known to man. You may know his movie work; he scored Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love and has produced everyone worth producing. I could go on for, oh, about five days talking about how awesome he is. In the guitar department, I also really dig this player Sean Tubbs- a studio guy. Paul McCartney’s guitarist, Rusty Anderson, is phenomenal as is John Mayer, guitar-wise. Also, he’s more of a pianist than a guitarist, but Ben Folds should be elected Mayor of the world. So there.

You seem to love guitars as well as guitar-related equipment. Is this true? Do you enjoy shopping around and testing different guitars and products? Other than the guitar, what instruments, if any, do you play?
Myke: I love trying any and all instruments. My CV says guitarist, but really I’m a musician looking for great new sounds. Weird instruments like Theremins, Mellotrons and Chamberlins fascinate me and I spend every free moment I can tracking down these musical aberrations. Officially I play guitar, bass, drums and piano (in that order), though I schlep my way shamefully through all of them, except maybe guitar.

Can you offer any advice for other musicians, either novice or experienced, who are looking for a new guitar or equipment?
Myke: Yes. Expensive doesn’t mean good; popular doesn’t mean good; pretty doesn’t mean good. In fact, if you’re a musician on a budget, there are so many ways to get awesome gear for so cheap. I have a friend who’s had this little Fender Champ tube amp for years and it’s awesome. But he wanted the big, glassy tones of a Marshall amp, so he went out and bought one. It costs several times the price of his little Fender, but the sad thing is, that little amp blows the big one out of the water. Probably the most important concept to throw out the door when looking for an amp is this: bigger is better. It’s not. In fact, it’s rarely the case. Small tube Fender amps can sound great and if you need that ballsy, glassy tone, Mesa has some small amps that can do that very well. You don’t need to spend a fortune; you just need patience and persistence. It helps to have friends who know what they’re talking about, too.

What would you ultimately love to achieve with your music? Moreover, what does the future (both near and far) conceivably hold for Myke Harrison and his phenomenal musical abilities?
Myke: Ultimately, I would love to achieve this with my music: to be able to play music and nothing else. That’s not to say I want to make a fortune, or even a modest amount, it just means I’d love to be able to spend more time fashioning my little songs. It’s so fun. Beyond that, I’d love to keep pursuing that tingling feeling you get when you’ve created something good, and strive to one day—oh-please-let-it-be-so—write something great. Possibly something half as good as a Jon Brion song. Now I’ve gone too far. The near future has me moving to L.A. I’ll be heading there in the autumn to pursue some interests, but also to be closer to the bustling L.A. music community. There’s so much I still have yet to learn and I look forward to learning. I’m a slave to my musical impulses, to be sure.  [ END ]
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