Brandon Aguilar

Bold & Brazen Folk Rock: Jaimee Harris’ Expertise

It will only take these 10 songs for you to fall in love with Jaimee Harris. We’re sure of it.

Boomerang Town is out now, and as Jaimee Harris’ third LP, you can really hear her delivering. It is her strongest vocal performance to date and surely the one with the cleanest rhythm section and visual component. (The rhythmic flow and eye-catching creativity of the album is largely due to her handpicking co-creators and working with suitable collaborators, increasing the already evident musicianship.) This new album of hers is a slice of homegrown Americana paradise, so we recommend turning your attention to that after reading the following conversation with Harris herself.

How are you gearing up for the thrill of your sophomore album, Boomerang Town, being out in the world?

It’s been really interesting, to be honest with you. I’m really excited about it, to share my music in this way, because I’ve been making music ever since I was a kid, but it took me a long time to put out my first record. I had been playing and writing songs for about 14 years before I came out with my first record. Now, this is the first time I’ve really done it by putting songs on the radio and with a team, and it’s really exciting. 

I’m also learning that it’s a little bit vulnerable. I’m trying just to take it one day at a time and see how it comes and just let the songs do what they’re going to do and not put too much pressure on it. You just hope that you’ve done the best that you can to guide them and that they’ll go out into the world and do great things. That’s where I’m at with it and I’m really excited and thrilled with the opportunity to play some live shows with this song cycle. I’ve had the great fortune of opening for my partner Mary Gauthier for a few years, but mostly I’ve been playing 30 minutes, and so I’ve been learning in real time how to structure a longer set and how that looks for these songs. It’s been really fun to experiment with that.

I can imagine that building the perfect setlist to try and maybe convert new fans while enjoying the company of old fans can be tough. It – this – is a really big moment for your career.

When I first started playing, I played in a duo with my dad and then I was in duos and trios. When I was in Austin, I had a band that started as a three-piece band that grew into like an eight-piece band on some occasions, so the majority of performing I’ve done hasn’t been solo until recently. I feel like the whole troubadour thing is a completely different skill set than leading a band. I have learned to work just as hard on the pieces in-between the songs as I have the songs themselves – something I started learning about five years ago out with Mary. […] I had never really thought about that before, because with a band you need to be extremely careful about which songs you talk in front of as it creates a whole vibe musically. Not having that, those dynamics, in that way has really helped me grow as a writer because I realized like, “Oh, these songs have to be completely rock solid,” which, of course, is always the goal, but I think it’s more revealing when you’re just alone on stage with an acoustic guitar.

Another thing that I’m excited to explore that has been shockingly vulnerable to me with the song cycle is how I started realizing when I started playing alone and solo more, I should say that as a female songwriter, I want to be taken seriously. I’ve steered away from really singing my ass off and belting and doing a lot of things that I can do with my voice that I enjoy singing. I sing with a rock band every once in a while, and even in some cases when I sing with Mary, I get to use my voice in this way as a background singer that I wouldn’t put in my own songs because I don’t want to be known as a singer – a ‘chick singer’ particularly. I want to be known as a songwriter, so I started realizing when I was alone on stage that with an acoustic guitar, my voice is one of the tools that I have to work with. I have written in some bigger vocal moments for myself, I think partially because one of the ways I grew up was learning how to sing in the church. When you learn how to sing in the church, of course it’s about being of service, which is still very central to what I do and how I approach the art form of songwriting and performing. It’s not really about you, it’s about the people that are here to be brought to a certain experience. For me, I’ve really internalized that, and that means you don’t show off, you kind of make yourself smaller. I’m learning, “Oh, wait, this is entertainment! I have a thing that I can use, which is my voice. I should use it!” [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s typical for that to be a vulnerable thing, to go, “Here’s my voice,” but I found that to be an interesting bridge across.

I can definitely understand that. Having listened closely to your songwriting and understanding it more through our conversation, I think there’s an elegancy in the way that you write, in the fact that you can kind of play up the intimacy and the personality in these songs, as well as in the stories that you’re telling. I think this album personifies that in a new way, letting your voice do the talking – or, singing, in a way.

Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

You’re welcome. I’ve been listening to the record a lot and I know that there is this really stunning series of music videos playing into it, as well. The visual element has kind of thrown caution to the wind when it comes to releasing songs and creating a landscape of what an album can be… or maybe should be. I’m a bit curious – with all you’ve done thus far and coming into this record, why did you want to have such a heavy visual component to a good handful of these songs and the narratives that you’re putting out and have already put out?

I kind of stumbled into it organically. Once the record started coming together, I knew that there were certain songs that I wanted to have a music video made for. I know that being an independent artist, it gives some people more material to work with. I also have been keeping my eye on what’s going on with social media and how we’re moving to a more video friendly format. I’m always looking for ways where one plus one equals three and you can take a video and use it as a teaser, use it as a visualizer on stage. You could just do so much with video content. I was also very aware that I don’t have a lot of video content, even though I’ve been out there for a while. I knew that I wanted to work with a brother and sister team that I’ve worked with before. They go by the Lenz twins, Sloane and Felix Lenz. They’re based in Austin and Felix makes this incredible hand lettering. Sloane is a costume designer and they both have this really interesting kind of left field glam rock eye. I knew I wanted to make a lyric video, but to have it be a little bit different, so I had this idea of using Felix’s handwriting so it wasn’t just regular text. They came up with the idea and I wanted it to be projected on a screen. They came up with the idea of having Felix wear a television as his head and to be this character in the video, which I thought was really interesting. 

I also wanted to work again with an animator I’ve worked with in the past named Benjamin Violet. He created a video for the song called “Fall (Devin’s Song).” What he did with it was just extraordinary. Those videos are not out yet.

I knew that I wanted to work with a couple named Anana Kay and Irakli Gabriel for “The Fair and Dark Haired Lad” because I’d seen some videos they made and I just knew that their vision would really match up with this. 

Once I had hired all three of those artists and more, the way I like to work with, whether it’s a band member or a graphic designer or a videographer is that I tell them, “Hey, here’s a very, very, very loose idea. Ultimately, I write songs. I don’t make videos. I like what you do. I think you’re the expert in the subject. My encouragement is for you just to follow a story that you think would be powerful in a way that could be told visually, and I want you to make a video that you’re proud to share.” And they say, “Really?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” So all of the video folks have really run with that in a cool way. Once I had hired all three of them, too, I realized, “Oh, I didn’t do this on purpose, but all of these videographers are also songwriters.” I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be really cool to have a video made for every song and for every person involved to be a songwriter?” One of the ways that I came to that was that there’s a woman, a friend of mine named Seela, an incredible songwriter and backing vocalist. Seela could do anything. She became an animator – a video animator – several years ago. She did a visual release for her record where she made all of the videos for her own songs. She did some of the visual artwork for the acoustic record I put out. I asked her if she would make a video for me and she said yes!

Basically, I love collaborating with other artists. The way that we made this record was still pretty much in the thick of the lockdown phase of the pandemic, so it was pretty much just me and the producer who played a lot of the instruments on the record. We’ve had a couple friends contribute, but I realized that if I added a visual component, it would give me an opportunity to collaborate with other artists and songwriters and musicians that I really love. It really fed that. In addition to creating this beautiful artwork that went so far beyond what I thought was possible for these songs, having songwriters make the videos has been extraordinary because they have their own strong sense of story. Seeing how they’re interpreting them visually has just blown my mind. It’s really, really incredible to see how other people hear and interpret these songs.

To be a lyricist, a singer, an artist, a cartoonist, an animator, a writer, a novelist – it’s all about the ability to tell a story and put a cohesive package out in the world. It must be fun for these collaborators to cater to both themselves and the story they want to tell, but also cater to the fans, the listeners, the readers, the people who are absorbing the material, and anyone who may want to know what happens next. It’s an interesting, sensory-involved phenomenon.

My experience has been that if I do my job and I follow the songs and do what they’re asking of me, they always reveal more and more over time. […] There are two songs that really stick out to me – one is called “Snow White Knuckles,” which is a song I wrote in early sobriety that has allowed me to move in spaces that are really important to me. It opened the door for me to go into different treatment centers and into correctional facilities and perform those songs for people who are incarcerated, people who are in recovery, people who are maybe in an alternative program. There’s a place in Tulsa that I love called Women in Recovery. I didn’t know this, but apparently Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any state in the country, and a lot of those incarcerations are due to non-violent drug and alcohol offenses. I was just in Montgomery and went to The Legacy Museum and apparently Alabama incarcerates the most men in the country – also for non-violent drug and alcohol related offenses. This place in Tulsa is an alternative to women who are facing convictions and sentencing for non-violent drug and alcohol related crimes. They give them 12 step recovery meetings. There’s therapy, child and educational resources, housing resources. I could be here for hours telling you about all the incredible stuff that they’ve done. Because of that song, it’s given me an opportunity to go in there and to be of service that way and to share those songs with the women, which helps me feel less alone. I think they feel less alone, too. I had no idea what or  where that song was going to take me when I wrote it nine years ago. 

On the other side of that, there’s a song I have called “Missing Someone,” which is on this record. It’s a song that I wrote in the early stages of my romantic relationship with my partner. I thought, “Oh, this is like a little love song. This is pretty fun, very lighthearted.” Well, when you take a song like that about longing and missing someone that you love and you present that in the environment of playing for the women incarcerated in Gatesville, which is the prison about 30 minutes outside of where I grew up, it takes on a whole other meaning. It goes way deeper than I would’ve ever imagined when I was writing it. You never know what songs are going to do and where they’re going to take you. It really blows my mind.