Brett Harris Talks About Proposing to His Wife in a Song and Why He Tours With a Set of Running Shoes

March 15, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

My touring vehicle has been a 2005 Honda Accord. After this last solo run it has 207,876 miles on it and is going strong *touches wood*. I’ve only had to do regularly scheduled maintenance things to it and buy tires. Lots of tires. I’d love to see it get to 300K, but now that I am taking my band on the road more and having to rent vehicles to do so, the more I am eyeing minivans.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

About 6 years ago my wife and I went vegetarian. At first I thought it would be really difficult to eat healthy on the road, but I find that there are so many great options now than ever before. Typically I am only going out for 10 -14 days, so I’ll pack a small cooler and stop at grocery stores to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. I also take my running shoes and clothes with me everywhere I go and try to get in at least 3-5 miles each morning. Sometimes that means hotel treadmills but I love experiencing different cities on foot.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I’m really bad about changing my strings. I prefer them to have some age on them, and ever since I started playing more finger style guitar (two years ago) I find I don’t really go through strings like I used to. I maybe spend $10 a year on strings.

Where do you rehearse?

I don’t have a dedicated rehearsal space. I live in a townhouse, so I can only use my basement to rehearse between 10am and 6pm before I start exhausting the goodwill of my neighbors. Fortunately, my bandmates and I have access to multiple great spots that we can use whenever we need to get together and run through things.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

One of the first good songs I wrote was a song I played for my wife when I proposed. It was the first time I told her I loved her. I was so nervous about popping the question that I don’t remember any of the words. I think she still has my lyric sheet somewhere around the house, but I’d probably be too critical of my writing to read them now.

Describe your first gig.

My first gig was in a small coffee shop in Apex, NC, opening up for a singer-songwriter friend. I come from a church music background and had sung in front of some pretty big crowds, including a solo at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, but performing my own songs for a crowd had me more nervous than I had ever been before. I still have a ton of nervous energy before shows, but have learned to channel it and to keep my knees from hitting together uncontrollably.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

Traveling musicians have long been in a precarious position when it comes to day jobs. It seems like now more than ever you have to be on the road to make money as a musician, yet to be able to stay on the road, you have to be releasing a steady stream of content, which costs money to produce. It can be really difficult to find a part time job that is flexible enough to allow you to cultivate a music career. I’m so thankful that over the last year and a half I have been able to work at the Let There Be Rock School in Durham, teaching voice, guitar, keys, and drums to kids ranging from 5-18. It’s been an incredibly enriching experience to see a spark catch with these kids, and they are getting really, really good. I wish something like this had been around when I was their age!

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Since I was 18, the only jobs I have had outside of a few part time stock room jobs have been music related. I feel like now I am able to generate income more for my own work, which is great. I don’t have to play quite so many 4 hour cover gigs in smoky bars where no one is really listening. At the rate the business is changing it’s impossible to know what to expect down the road, but my hope is that I’ll have a stable enough music income that will allow me to take some artistic chances and also give back to this community that has meant so much to me.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

That the most important thing is to make sure you have fun doing it. I got really bogged down for a while by feeling like I had to learn everything there was to learn, both on the artistic and the business side of things. I thought I had to work harder than everybody else, and while it’s true that you have to work as hard as you can, the music business is not a meritocracy. You can have all the ability in the world and work non-stop, and at the end of the day it can come down to timing. I may have an unhealthy obsession with stories of bands and artists that produced some of the most beautiful work and yet never enjoyed “success.”  I’ve learned that success is embracing the fact that you get to make art for a living. If this isn’t the most fun thing you could possibly doing, you should find something else to do. It was a hard road back to finding that sheer joy that led me to make music in the first place, and I don’t want to ever lose that perspective again. Joy is infectious. People can pick up on negativity in an instant an nobody wants to be around that. I’m having fun writing and performing again and want to share that feeling with everyone.

Brett Harris is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Durham, NC. In 2010 his debut LP Man of Few Words was featured by Paste Magazine’s “Best of What’s Next”, NPR’s “All Songs Considered: Second Stage”, and made several “Best of” lists, drawing comparisons to the work of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, and Emitt Rhodes. Additionally, Brett has participated as a core band member in live performances of Big Star’s Third, playing throughout the US in addition to the UK, Spain, and Australia. He has also served as a touring member of Jangle Pop progenitors The dB’s.

Up in the Air, his latest recording, was released on March 4, 2016.   The album finds Harris effortlessly tapping 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.

Connect with Harris online and on the road.