Harris Radio tomorrow celebrates nine years of playing "Intelligent Music for Intelligent Minds." Jeremiah Birnbaum of the Ramblers is in town to perform, and he also took time to ask Pete Harris a bit about Harris Radio, Indie Sounds, and the music scenes in Austin and NYC.
Indie Sounds: So, you're celebrating your 9th Anniversary of Harris Radio with a massive musical birthday blowout at Momo's in Austin this Wednesday. How did Harris Radio come to be?
Pete Harris: I was getting seriously into the live music scene in New York City in 2002 and I came across an internet radio streaming service called Live365. It looked easy enough to do, and it was pretty cheap, so I just started it on a whim, because I wanted to play music from the many acts I was seeing live around town. Over-air radio in the city just played the usual crap. Mike Bloomberg had named his radio station after himself, so I decided to do the same. It went live at the end of July that year.
The first playlist included music from my good friends Chris Brown and Kate Fenner. Meeting them - Kate was a bartender at my after-work local - was fundamental to me getting out to see live music in the first place during 2000. Coming originally from Toronto, they also introduced me to many of their fellow musical countrymen, which is why I have always played quite a bit of Canadian music.
Also on that first show were some songs from a quirky singer I'd just seen open a show at the Frying Pan. She had an audience of 10, five of whom were in my crowd, and no one knew her. But I liked her music, and bought her CD. Her name: Regina Spektor.
After a few years, it had become apparent that the podcast phenomenon was taking off, and Live365 was getting harder to access, and expensive, and all those bad things. So Harris Radio became a podcast early in 2009 and I think that format works pretty well.
IS: Why Momo's? Why these bands in particular?
Pete: When I moved here, I quickly discovered the gem that is Momo's. In many ways it reminds me of my local NYC hang - Rockwood Music Hall. Both are run by people who give a shit, and both have great sound and consistently good music. But also, both places are real community hangs for local musicians, who go there to socialise and listen to others.
The bands tomorrow? I just like them. There will be different styles of music throughout the night. Little Brave is a recent regular there, but the other acts are pretty new to the venue. Drew Smith of course rules the place when he plays there with his band The Lonely Choir, but it will be the first time that his All The Elements rock band side project will grace the stage.
IS: While still a mainstay of New York's music scene with your insightful reportage and support of local music (and oft-hauntings of Rockwood!), you've definitely made an impact in Austin, where you now primarily hang your hat and also support the local scene. What prompted the change of location?
Pete: I was in NYC for nearly 16 years, and had a lot of great times there. But as I got older, the concept of a change of living environment began to grow on me, with the caveat that the live music scene had to be really good wherever I went.
I had been to Austin a few times for SXSW, and late in 2008 I also came here for my work, to attend a big supercomputing conference. On that work trip, I stayed a few extra days, and took in a lot of new places and bands, thanks in large part to a guy (oddly) named Ihor Gowda, who knows everyone in these parts. In particular, I got to see Alejandro Escovedo at Antone's. There is now no other band in the world that I would rather see live.
IS: How would you contrast the two towns?
Pete: Firstly, Austin isn't like the rest of Texas, it's nice! Despite being the state capital, it has liberal leanings, great culture (aside from world class music), technology, cool bars, nice restaurants, lakes, greenery, wierd-ness. And F1 racing from 2012 - I'm pretty excited about that. I tend to think of Austin as a small version of NYC. There's lots going on, lots of change, lots of buzz. But it is definitely quieter and more mellow. Perfect for an old man like myself, who likes hot weather!
The music scene in both places is deep and rich and varied, and both places have strong communities that help to make the music happen. I still get back to NYC a fair bit. I stay around the corner from the Rockwood, and Kendall is usually the first to see me after I arrive!
IS: Will we ever see Indie Sounds in print form again?
Pete: Nope. And Indie Sounds online won't last forever. Nor will Harris Radio. Nothing should. Apart from me, but that's not gonna happen, either. Bugger.
IS: The last few years, you've put on some pretty special SXSW showcases. What (or whom) can we expect from Indie Sounds in 2012?
Pete: Oh Lord, I've no idea. A month before SXSW this year, I had no showcase booked, as none of the venues I was interested in were clear about their plans. Then it all happened in a rush. In the end, I put on four shows. I suspect I'll be doing something next year, but I won't be thinking about it much for a couple of months. A mix of NYC and Austin music will likely be the format again - and I guess I am taking submissions now!
One thing I would say, though, to any act looking to come to SXSW, is that the unofficial side of the festival is just incredibly good and worthwhile attending in its own right. If you don't get selected for an official showcase then do not lose a moment's sleep. Come down anyway and find some unofficial shows, or create one! There are music opportunities everywhere - this year even at a dentist's office!
IS: One last question: How do you feel about houseguests?
Pete: Oh, they are most welcome. Bring Marmite and a coat hanger, the latter to open the security gate late at night. And when you travel here from NYC, don't do it entirely by train - only an NLX would do that!