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Posted June 5, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

The Harmed Brothers’ New Album Addresses Our Troubled Times

The Harmed Brothers
The Harmed Brothers

Because its two main songwriters, Ray Vietti and Alex Salcido, come from slightly different backgrounds, the Harmed Brothers’ songs regularly vacillate between introspective meditations on life and how to live it and narrative stories about characters struggling to come to terms with the world.

The group’s forthcoming effort, the alt-country-inspired Across the Waves, suggests those two impulses. 

The group cut the album on the site of Cincinnati’s historic Herzog Studios, a place where Hank Williams and Flatt & Scruggs once recorded. 

The album speaks particularly well to our troubled times.

The earth is running out of truth, Salcido proclaims in the album’s quasi-political satire, “Funnies,”  a story of about “an old man longing to see the world again through youthful eyes but alas settling for his favorite chair and the lighter parts of his morning paper.”

“Born A Rotten Egg” and “In a Staring Contest” focus on estranged families and nostalgia.

In a recent phone interview from his Cincinnati home, where he had just downed three cups of coffee, Salcido spoke about the album.

Were you supposed to be on the road this summer?
Our whole year got cancelled pretty much. It got benched, so we’ve had to adapt and try to overcome. We’ve just about reckoned with the fact that our year has been cancelled. In the stages of grief, I think we’re at acceptance. We’re making plans to do things for the rest of the year to feed ourselves and our own. 

Talk about your background. You grew up in Los Angeles?
I grew up in area called Pico Rivera that’s closer to Long Beach. I lived there for about 20 years and then moved to Oregon. 

What kind of music did you listen to?
It was a mix of everything. When I was a child, I listened to oldies and then in junior high, I started listening to big Dave Matthews Band, Jamiroquai and R.E.M. — stuff that made me uncool. 

How did you and Ray Vietti first meet?
After moving to Oregon, I was hanging out in this small town called Cottage Grove. It’s about 20 miles south of Eugene. Ray and a version of the Harmed Brothers showed up to play. They were pretty well-known in the area. They burst into my life and we started hanging out and playing songs together, and here we are ten years later. 

What are the similarities and differences between your songwriting styles? 
I try to employ dark humor in my writing. I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut guy. I have that old man gallows humor because I can. Ray is more open and up front. His lyrics are very personal, and he owns them. I guess I own my emotions, but they’re transferred into character and story and what not. I’m a little more guarded with how the songs come out, but I’m working on it. I’ve learned a lot from Ray.

You recorded your first album in 2010. What was the process of making that album like?
It was pretty fun. We went to our buddy’s house. He’s a wonderful musician and engineer. That was over the course of two or three days. It was just guitar and banjo, and we put little treatments on the tracks. It took less than a week.  It was a lot of fun.

How did the albums evolve in the latter part of the 2000s?
After that first record, we knew we wanted to keep building on that sound and have a full band behind it. We had had a big revolving door of players. Since the time of Better Days, we started writing to be a band. A lot of these songs can still be performed on guitar and banjo, and we still do that whenever the moment is appropriate, but we went through a lot of years of different players until we found the right people. That’s what this album represents. It’s the place where we are right now. We never tried to rush that sound. We knew each album would be a progressive improvement and evolution.  

Do you all live in Ludlow, KY?
Ray lives there and I’m right across the water in Cincinnati and our bassist lives in Nashville and our electric guitarist also lives in Ludlow. We’re all relatively close to one another. 

Did they relocate with you?
Once we started hanging out in the area, we became really close with the community. There are wonderful musicians and visual artists, and we eventually found the right players, and it’s been that way ever since.

What is the music scene like?
There’s a folk/country/songwriter crowd. There’s a lot of people who care a lot about words and the weight of words. There’s some really good songwriting happening. 

When the songs for Across the Waves started to come together, did you find a sense of optimism coming through the songs?
I think the songs came about once we realized that this community and environment was the best for us. We have a wonderful support systems and fan base and we felt like what we’re trying to do isn’t impossible. Once we found our footing here, we allowed ourselves to grow out of our old habits, and we got rid of the baggage. There had been this constant traveling and abuse of our bodies in the name of a good time and in the name of art. We found special people in our personal lives and settled down. It’s strange that we found peace in one of the most tumultuous times in modern history. We were figuring out to stay happy and cope with what is going on. It’s a lot of what this record is. It’s finding your happy place in the least happy place of all time, quite possibly. It’s about figuring out the acceptance of love and your own fate and that no matter what matters happens politically and spiritually, it’s going to be okay. It could be that things are going to be okay and fix themselves or it could be that it’s going to be okay in the sense that one day, we won’t have to deal with it. It’s a matter of surrendering to peace and trying to find those moments of peace. That shines on the record. Through the darker lyrical tones, we try to keep it fun and a little rock ’n’ roll. Like any good comedian would, you want to shine a light on the dark and make it palatable and have fun singing songs of doom. 

What was it like to record at Herzog Studios?
The space we played in is above the Herzog Music Store. Today it’s mostly an event space for music-related events. We have some good friends who work there. We just took our gear up and got our buddy from Colorado to come down. We recorded in about a week. We just came in everyday and did a full day and worked from there. The reason it sounds so good is because of all the ghosts. You feel a lot of hands on your shoulders. I can feel Hank [Williams] and Earl Scruggs guiding you along. It speaks to the wonderful community of artists we’ve become entangled with. We’ve done some amazing things there, and getting to do the record there ranks with the highest honors.  

The protagonist in “Skyline Over” is trying to remain hopeful in the face of despair. Did something in particular inspire that song?
I had the lyrics plotted out and I didn’t know the proper way to put them in a song. They’re pretty sad. I wanted to write something that was like a Tom Petty song and build some hope out of that. It’s like we want to try to find a way to have a good time in the face of all this despair. We need to make chicken salad about of chicken shit. I’ve been writing sad folk songs for so long, and I couldn’t do that anymore. I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and do some simple and powerful and fun. 

Ludlow inspired both “Picture Show” and “River Town.” Talk about that. 
Ray has fallen in love with a wonderful young woman, and I’ve met a wonderful person myself, and a lot of those songs is about surrendering to tenderness and not being afraid of it. “Picture Show” he wrote about a dream his fiancée had. He just put that to paper. It could all be an illusion, but if it is, we’re going to go through this illusion together. “River Town” is more written on this plain of existence. You’re a traveling musician and you‘ve found true love but you still have a job to do. You have to go out and work. It’s about having true love in your heart and leaving it and coming back. It’s about the ups and downs of being a traveling musician.  

“Time” makes such a great closing song for the album. Did you write it with the intent that it would bring the album to a close?
We just wrote it and let it speak for itself. Once it was complete and finished, we knew it was the one to bring it home. Ray recorded it on his phone and pieced it together from the lyrics a couple of days later. 

I like records like this that have a beginning, middle and end. 
It really feels like that. It’s crazy. With downloads and Spotify, the grasp on the full record is lost. One of my favorite things about this record is that it feels like there’s a story arc to it.

Hopefully, you get to play these songs live sometime soon. 
We played a few things beforehand when they were fleshed out. We played them some in 2019, but we were looking forward to share it with the country but things have happened. We just barely got our grasp on what’s happening now. We’re making the necessary lifestyle changes to survive and stay positive. 

Photo: Bri Long


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.