Sean Harrasser is the West Coast’s best kept secret. He’s been releasing recordings of great songs for over two decades via bands such as the Vertels, Harvester, and Dearest, Crown. While there is a small and enthusiastic legion of “Harrasser Heads,” most of the releases have generated little notice. Even Harvester’s 1996 DGC release, Me Climb Mountain, seemed to have been shrouded in the same secrecy as one would expect for a CIA interrogation site in Romania.
While Harvester is close to finishing and releasing their first album in years, Harrasser has also just completed perhaps his most ambitious project to date. Under his solo persona, The Envelope Peasant, he gives the world the double-disc Next Year Will Be Beautiful, on Lather Records. Sample some of the songs at his My Space site.
Deal me the numbers, man. How many songs? How many different studios? How many years in the making? How many gray hairs?
28 songs. Really. Adam Goldman (Brotheregg, Class M Planets) is the recording engine that drove this project, with generous recording, production and mixing contributions from Dustin Hamman (Run On Sentence), Johnny Keener (Yoyodyne) and Todd Steinberg (Harvester, Killed By Bears). It is the truth to say that without the generous (read: gratis) hours that they put into this recording, it would not have happened. There were several others who made smaller technical contributions as well. I think I counted in the neighborhood of 18 people that contributed musical parts, and I can’t even begin to describe the many others in my life who have given and sacrificed so much of their time and energy for this to happen.
I know this sounds possibly histrionic, but it truly was an emotionally taxing creation for me, for people working with me, and the dear people that have had to live with me. The oldest track on the record dates from 2004, before I had relocated to Northern California.
It sounds like you could use a nap. The time span of making this album involved major changes in your life. Can we assume that those changes are a big part of the album’s narrative?
These changes are the narrative of the album. This is a very personal and mostly autobiographical recording; a sort of audio journal. Like a traditional written journal, it has no advance planning or a priori knowledge of the storyline; it unfolds as life unfolds. I had no idea when I began this record that it would sound, feel or look like this. I had no idea that this would be the story, or that it would have a storyline at all. It is by no means a perfect recording, but everything on here, including the faults and quirks, are necessary.
Is there anything that distinguishes this group of songs from those you’ve written in previous bands?
Well, I actually think that the style has definitely expanded to include some additional style considerations and influences. I like the confluence of traditional and electric instruments, and I have expanded my palette since I was a younger man. I listen to much more material that isn’t just indie rock. It is also less silly and self-deprecating than Harvester from a delivery perspective. But the heart of what I do as a songwriter and performer remains largely intact. I love lyrics, melody and emotion. Oh, and I still love singing about geology, geography and plants.
Also of note, there are a few songs that were recorded with Dearest, Crown that ended up hanging around as an integral part of my live sets. As such, they were recorded in the manner to which their morphology brought them. I imagine that could happen again in the future. I should probably put “I’ll Be Okay” on the next Envelope Peasant record, since I have recorded it with every band I have ever been in!
Your songwriting has its foundation in 60s folk like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and 80s/90s indie rock like the Verlains, Thin White Rope, and Guided by Voices. Have there been any bands/songwriters that have influenced you in recent years?
Actually, the bulk of what I have been listening to recently is music that was created by my friends, and bands I know and have played with. In a way, this has always been at the heart of my creative inspiration, motivation and admiration.
I was looking through the CD holder in my car, and the discs, amazingly enough were actually all in the above-mentioned category! There was Trail Ninety, Killed By Bears, Run On Sentence, Zach Zeller, Black Heart Moon, Lookyloos, Kelly Bauman, Rock Creek Jug Band, David Dyas, Nick Jaina, Jeb Draper, Horse Feathers, Barbara Manning, Class M Planets, Erin Lizardo – and get this – San Kazakgascar!
If you are looking for something that people might have actually heard of more broadly, I have been enamored with Magnetic Fields, The Long Winters, The Decemberists, Regina Spektor and Blitzen Trapper recently. Though I still listen to ‘Murmur’ and ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ as much as I ever did.
What is your favorite song on the album and why?
I know this is not the answer you are looking for, and I’m truly not trying to be coy, but because this whole album is a story told over the course of years, it is difficult for me to make that distinction. Not only are there a wide array of moods, but they exist in context of one-another. It’s like having a favorite cell type in your body; they really are all significant and serve different roles that cannot be compared, except to say that they all inform the overarching creation.
None of which is to say that they aren’t capable of being enjoyed on their own, or that they are all equal in quality. It’s just that it is fluid. If it helps to have your question not go unrequited, I have been listening back to “You In Moonlight” quite a bit. It is very sparse and recently that has been helping me emotionally.
Actually, that’s exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. You’re big into wilderness trail running. Are there song ideas bouncing around when you are on these runs?
I can be loquacious, frequently annoying and it seems my brain and life are constantly going at speeds that hurt my head. Then of course there is our misplaced fight-or-flight instinct we fondly call “stress”. Wilderness is my introspection and my meditation. What is beautiful about wilderness is that you are in immediate concert with the elements; life simply nourishes itself directly or indirectly with the sun’s energy, replicates itself, and dies; hot is hot and cold is cold. When the sun goes down, it’s dark. This is the world as is once was, and – in my view – as it should be. This is where I am most open and receptive to the musical conduit. A good percentage of the songs on the record were discovered while I was alone in the wilderness.
When and where are you giving your next adventure trail running talk?
You know, it’s funny. Last year I attempted to run the High Sierra Trail, and weather, a heel injury and a general case of nerves ended my voyage early. I did several presentations on that particular errand into the high country. This year, I finally succeeded in completing that 120 mile out-and-back journey through the heart of the southern Sierra Nevada, and I have yet to schedule a talk. Maybe adventure writing is more compelling when something goes wrong.
Bad news sells. How much of an emotional rollercoaster was Germany’s run in this last summer’s World Cup?
Germany has advanced to at least the quarterfinals in every World Cup in which they participated, and so despite the pre-South Africa expectations of youth and inexperience equaling a humble showing, I never doubted their ability to go deep into the tournament. Who knows, were it not for the absence of Thomas Müller in the semifinals, they might have earned another star on their kit! And as a default, the World Cup always takes 1-2 years off of my life expectancy. Wanna play soccer in my garden sometime? Oh yeah, you like baseball. Go Giants!
We could create an amazing new hybrid sport. You kick a soccer ball to me and I’ll swing a Louisville Slugger and drive it through your kitchen window for a homegoal.
Who is your main stuffed animal right now? Any word on where Nate might be?
I have been traveling with three Peruvian anteaters (of the genus Tamandua) as of late. They go by the names Wolfgang, Reinhold and Anastasia. They are accomplished trail runners, avid concert-goers and very much inspired by Nate the Chinese Pocket Giraffe.
Nate was last seen in late 2009. It was at Djemaa el Fna market in Marrakesh, reenacting episodes of “The Wire” in Arabic. Someone tried to get him to come home, but he yelled “Shut Up!” jumped on a scooter and took off. There is rumor he will be attending the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.