Alexis Harte Bio
Alexis Harte – vocals, acoustic guitar
"It's a big red sun, itching to explode, to take us all in a fiery fold, to take us all back home," Alexis Harte crows on "Mayflies," the opening track of Big Red Sun, his new album for 2009. This vision of an imperiled world–played out in images of environmental and urban decay–is a backdrop for the album's exploration of relationships as fragile but ultimately powerful sources of solace. Written during the waning months of the Bush era, Big Red Sun is a canvas for the darker colors of Harte's palette.
But with musical roots extending into acoustic folk, bluesy Americana, and even electrified Afro-pop, Harte's songwriting has never been monochromatic. His songs are powered by an examination of everyday moments, in which his sharply drawn details loom larger than life. It's a cinematic effect that recently landed Harte a co-publishing deal with Lionsgate Entertainment. "Something pretty was all I hoped to find in these darkening days, in a drop of water, a spider's eyes, the frame of your brown hair, they lock it way in galleries, but I see it everywhere" Harte sings on "Pot of Rainbow," a song he wrote for his wife. Listeners itching for substance in today's crowded field of singer-songwriters will find in Big Red Sun not just pretty songs, but a home for some of our most pressing questions on how to live soulfully in the 21st century, and how life's transience makes it matter that much more.
Big Red Sun is the fourth full-length release in Harte's discography, which has consistently won critical acclaim as well as a loyal following in and beyond Harte's native Bay Area. Performing Songwriter magazine shortlisted his 2001 debut album, Junebug, among the top 12 independent releases in its June issue that year, and Acoustic Guitar magazine named Sunlight Loping (2003) an Editors' Top Choice. Harte's 2006 release, Tumbling, became a mainstay on the acoustic program of San Francisco's KFOG radio. Consistent with the credentials of these earlier works, Big Red Sun brings together a bright constellation of local and international talent. Harte created the album's rich arrangements with the help of 16 other musicians, including his longtime drummer Aaron Brinkerhoff, bassist Randy Weaver, keys/accordian Marc Mowrey and top-shelf session players like Jon Evans (Tori Amos), Dawn Ricahrdson (4 non-blondes), Julie Wolf (Ani DiFranco, Bruce Cockburn), and Tom Ayres (Persephone's Bees).
Alexis Harte's Background
The story of Harte's musical development is rife with such watershed moments. Diverse melodies filled his childhood home in Berkeley: downstairs, his mother played Carole King, Cat Stevens, and classical; upstairs, his older brother spun rock, funk, and soul. In the attic was a handmade electric guitar and Memphis amp that Harte claimed, determined to become a masterful guitarist. Influenced by Jimi Hendrix's predilection for conviction over convention (especially in Electric Ladyland), Harte melded his electric-guitar prowess with his acoustic storytelling sensibilities. After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in ecology and environmental science, Harte combined the tributaries of his intellectual and musical education in a three-year stint as an ecologist in Brazil, where his songwriting absorbed the flora and fauna of Brazilian street music. These observations became the fodder for his recording debut, Junebug.
If Junebug (mostly solo and acoustic) is akin to a writer's first story collection, Sunlight Loping has the confidence of an epic poem, with the band as chorus. The songs tell of people hovering between hero and antihero, searching for valor in an age of computers, office chairs, and get-rich-quick schemes. Amid the potential for alienation in urban living, Harte's songs make room for parrots that escape zoo cages, and blown kisses meandering through weeds. And if the course of life's "little blue river" is smooth only in imagination, songs like Puddle of Stars pay homage to the working stiff's hope for a better day. This hope spans Harte's songs, and peaks in the well-placed harmonic, like the gleam in a storyteller's eye as he reveals the resonance in a passing moment.
Drawing on inspiration from ecology and literature (he particularly cites John Hershey's Hiroshima, which personalizes the effect of the atomic bomb by spotlighting five of that city's residents), Harte traces the connections between the specific and the general. But he also strives to synthesize connection within each listener. Without being moralistic, he says, "I hope to show people a little bit of brilliance in their own lives, to make their lives feel a little more worth living." In this deliberate, joyful manner, can a good song go a little way toward healing society? With a grin and a sparkle in his eye, Harte replies, "Ants can move mountains if there are enough of them."
Alexis has been fortunate in attracting these superb musicians to his project:
Brinkerhoff’s earliest drumming memories involve a chilling tale of backing up a greasy guitar player, who shared a home with his grandmother and a live gorilla. Even after this introduction to the music business, Brinkerhoff persevered to perfect his drumming and vocal skills. During the early 90’s he played in the folksy/pop band Happy Going Nowhere who, despite their name, made a reasonable splash in the San Francisco music scene. Brinkerhoff currently plays the hell out of a self-designed "vertical" drum set (a.k.a. Sputnik) that never fails to amuse fellow musicians and crowds.
A veteran of the Los Angeles music scene, Weaver has performed and recorded with various southern California-based artists including, the Bullet Boys, Josey Cotton, Bob Haag (Sparks) and Blood Red Roses. After moving north in 1999, he was introduced to Harte by mutual friend, songwriter Deborah Pardes. Weaver had worked with Pardes on the Songs Inspired By Literature (SIBL) Benefit CD project, serving as a board member and judge for the international songwriting competition. In an effort to continue the "vertical band" theme, Weaver now plays a Clevinger electric up-right bass.
Mowrey played his first professional show at the Hightstown Bowling Lanes, located just off Exit 8 on the New Jersey turnpike. Even the thunderous sound of struck pins and drunken bowlers was no match for the voluminous cacophony that issued forth from Mowrey's fledging musical enterprise. It was a harbinger of things to come. After that, while never quite becoming famous in his own right, Mowrey went on to play with people who've played with people. Along the way, he learned piano, organ, guitar, mandolin and, in his most recent leap towards virtuosity and wide-spread acclaim, accordion.