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Record of the Week

Melbourne singer-songwriter HARRIS takes us inside his debut EP ‘OK Kombucha’

We take you inside our favourite new albums with the artists who made them. We're sitting down with Melbourne singer-songwriter HARRIS to chat about his debut EP 'OK Kombucha'.

There is an enchanting warmth, charm, and vulnerability that flows throughout every undeniable moment of OK kombucha – the debut solo EP from Melbourne singer-songwriter HARRIS.

Clocking in at a little over 18 and a half beautiful minutes, if this is the first time you’re meeting Noah Harris, we promise he is going to leave a mighty fine first impression.

Drenched in emotion and tinged with the wonderful fuzz of nostalgia, HARRIS knows how to craft a melody that draws you in, but it is his word magic – the way he crafts a lyric and a hook that bends itself around you – that is one of the most undeniable sparks throughout OK kombucha.

The record sees HARRIS swimming through themes of mismatched relationships, hedonism, commitment (or lack thereof), and new beginnings – personal stories and intimate reflections dressed in moments of exuberant indie-rock, gentle folk, stirring (and sometimes haunting) synth, and more. 

As well as a wonderful collection of music, OK kombucha is also a project that symbolises the importance of HARRIS’ musical community – especially throughout what was a difficult 2020.

What you’ll find when you read the below interview, is that so much of this record came together alongside friends and family. In studio between lockdowns and sometimes online during them – with musician friends playing instruments and aiding production, partners, parents, and pets offering a creative hand too – all becoming a part of the record we get to enjoy today.

You may know Noah Harris as the lead vocalist of rock band Fan Girl, but here, with HARRIS on OK kombucha it is like meeting him anew.

Soaring falsettos you could get lost in for days, intelligently simple wordplay, and deeply personal songwriting that pulls right on your heartstrings but also manages to be undeniably enjoyable – OK kombucha feels equally like the work of both a well-weathered songwriter and the opening pages of a novel that is ready to take you on a very long journey.

OK Kombucha is my pop-inflected indie rock confessional debut EPI like to think it’s equally wistful and humorous, but maybe I’m the only one that finds it funny. The truths are dark, and so is the humour. It’s an EP about relationships, people, and pop-culture. I’m fascinated by people and their stories and what makes them tick. At uni I was originally majoring in psychology and then moved on to media and communication and creative writing – if that says anything. That being said, all the songs are very personal to me, I find it hard to write about things I don’t know about and I find it easiest to write about things that have actually happened to me.

Noah Harris on OK kombucha

To celebrate the release of HARRIS’ debut EP, we sat down with Noah Harris to take us on a deep dive through OK kombucha.

HARRIS ok kombucha record of the week
Image Credit: Frankie Napier

The Harris Story

From the beginning 

Noah Harris: “The ABBA gold record and an Elvis greatest hits record came into my life at around about the same time. I would have been in grade 1, so I guess six? I was obsessed. Eventually singing along to the CDs in the car began to not be enough for me. So I asked my parents if I could have guitar lessons so I could sing along to songs like ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ without being restricted by the backing tracks.

“Lucky my first guitar teacher Chris’ technique to teach me guitar was to teach me simplified versions of whatever song I wanted to learn. Then, almost as soon as I could play a few chords, I started writing songs. One of my first songs was called ‘Just A Movie’ and was about me watching Edward Scissorhands alone at a much too early age and being so scared that I couldn’t be alone by myself. Which may sound funny, but I had to go to a psychologist. It got a little out of hand. 

“Then I started a grunge band called Staircase in primary school. Staircase then briefly formed into a more indie rock outfit called The Antiks as I transitioned into high school. I played in Jazz bands and sang in choirs through high school. But my real love was my band The McQueens which we started in year 10 and then we ended up playing together until our early 20s. We were triple j Unearthed Finalists in 2011, released an EP called Return to Laughter along with lots of singles (I think there’s still stuff on Bandcamp!)

“Then Fan Girl started towards the end of The McQueens years, and that took up all my time. I would sporadically play solo shows over the years, but it wasn’t until Fan Girl took a year off after Jack’s passing that I released my first song ‘Perfume’ as HARRIS, that was in 2018. Then it took me another two years to release anything else. But here I am with an EP, and that’s how we got here.”

What you’ll hear

“Accessible indie rock music with thoughtful and cheeky lyrics, catchy melodies and lots of guitars.

“With HARRIS the initial songwriting is pretty unplanned and unconsidered. It’s just the music that I most naturally make. I’m rarely trying to go in a certain direction with HARRIS, it’s just good fun and cathartic. Hopefully it sounds like both and not just the latter. That being said, it’s great working with my band (Dom and Vince) and the producers I’ve worked with on this EP (Sam Swain, Vince McIntyre, Edvard Harkansson and Jimi Wyatt), because they’ve all challenged me a bit to push stuff out of my comfort zone.”

HARRIS – Sunbake Cemetery (Official Video)

Inside the Ok Kombucha creative process

“I actually recorded all the songs separately in different places at different times. Due to Melbourne lockdowns, it was definitely often a work at the speed of opportunity scenario, but I like to think that the songs all sound really cohesive despite this. In my head they live as a collective of songs, if that makes sense. They are siblings! 

“I wrote nearly all of the songs in the front room of a house I was living in Carlton.

“‘Sheena Is A Bush Doofer’, ‘Post Madonna’ and ‘Sunbake Cemetery’ were all recorded with Sam Swain (Rat!Hammock, Obscura Hail) mostly at his studio Sunset Pig in Collingwood, and I think each song was probably tracked three months apart. However, we did track some bits and pieces, like piano and backing vocals at my house and at my studio Taste Police, which I share with Vince from Fan Girl and Dom and Tom from Rat!Hammock

“I tracked nearly all of ‘Happy Birthday, Nice Haircut’ alone at my house, and sat with it for quite a while. It was the first song I started on the EP, and to be honest it was a bit of a problem child. Problem children, you love them to bits, but you end up spending a lot of time with them in the Principal’s office. So I took it to my friend Jimi Wyatt (Alex Gow, Wu-Tang Clan, Justin Bieber) at Ginger Studios and he helped me track some real drums and massage the ideas a bit more. Then I connected with the talented Edvard Hakansson (Osaka and Mimi Gilbert), who eventually mixed it, added his edge and nailed my dream vision for the song. 

“‘Satellites’ was produced by Vince McIntyre (Fan Girl, primetime, 711) and I. I had a hazy and ambitious vision for it and knew that Vince was the only person who I trusted to help me capture it. We tracked it all at my house and at Taste Police

“Performer credits for the EP are: Vince McIntyre and Dom Buckham played drums and bass, respectively, on every song on the EP except ‘Happy Birthday, Nice Haircut’. Albert Salt played strings on ‘Sunbake Cemetery’ and ‘Satellites’. Jimi Wyatt played drums on ‘Happy Birthday, Nice Haircut’. And I did pretty much everything else. The whole EP was mastered by Adam Dempsey (Angie McMahon, Josh Cashman). 

“The plan was always to create a video clip for each song on the EP. The videos for ‘Sheena Is A Bush Doofer’ and ‘Post Madonna’ were both made during stage four lockdowns in Melbourne, so they were all shot by me and my girlfriend Emma, and were edited by Harry Anderson. That was a very fun and bizarre experience. It was really interesting and freeing working with such (literal) restrictions. The videos for ‘Sunbake Cemetery’ and ‘Satellites’ have been made with director Frankie Napier and her director of photography Lucy Campbell. We were able to go a bit ham with those ones. And the video for ‘Happy Birthday, Nice Haircut’ is in the works. But boy, do I have an idea for it. 

“My mum Karina Harris actually drew the artwork for the EP cover, which features me and my Australian Shepard Keiko sitting in my bathroom.”

From Fan Girl to solo boy

“The creative processes for Fan Girl and Harris are completely different. On the first Fan Girl record, Vince and Jack wrote all the music and beats, and I came in at the end and wrote the vocal melodies and lyrics. Vince writes all the music and I write the lyrics and melodies still, but it’s still a very collaborative process within that set up.

“Without Jack, we had to find a way to work together without him. It was really hard, and to be honest, it still is hard. Luke, the other member of Fan Girl, has an amazing ear and is invaluable to have in the studio when we are writing. The Fan Girl creative process involves a lot of pushing each other and reworking things to make them the best they possibly could be and we are often trying to achieve something.

“At times it almost had a competitive-like nature. Because I’m adding to something that Vince has made or is in the middle of making, to me the process often feels a lot like problem solving. Lots of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what works best. For example, we will often write several chorus melodies for songs, and then one by one kill our darlings until we find the best idea.

“In contrast, the creative process for HARRIS always starts with me. It’s a pretty classic singer-songwriter process I assume. The songs often come from a melody that I will stumble upon while mucking around on the piano or on the guitar. Then I’ll input lyrics that fit with the phonetics of the melody I’ve been singing.

“My notes folder on the phone is filled to the brim with words and phrases that I find interesting (most of it is ridiculous). So it’s initially a pretty natural and confessional process. The collaboration comes later on in the HARRIS process, either when I’m playing the songs live with Vince and Dom, or when I start recording them with whoever is recording the song. By then the majority of the foundations are there, it’s more the dimensions, colour and directions of production that is added. 

“I really enjoy how different the creative processes are between those two projects, because it makes it really obvious what a HARRIS song is and what a Fan Girl song is. Not just because they have very different vibes and directions, but because I have to be in two very different headspace to write for them. I don’t think it would work any other way.”

Down memory lane

“Ohh that’s a hard one [to pick a favourite memory]. Perhaps it was when we tracked bass and drums for ‘Post Madonna’. We were at Taste Police right as the really long lockdown ended in Melbourne. Well, as soon as it was legal for us to be in the same room together.

“It was just Sam Swain, Dom, Vince and I. It felt very special to be able to make music in the same room as my friends again, I remember all of a sudden realising that. That felt like a really important day. Sam may have had his new puppy Pocket with him too. Actually, Pocket was also at my house when we were tracking piano for ‘Sunbake Cemetery’ and you can actually hear her making noises at the very end of the track if you listen closely.”

HARRIS – Post Madonna (Official Video)

Tell us the story

“It’s pop music, so I guess I use the vessel of relationships and the human condition and connection as themes. But I think that pop culture is perhaps a more substantial theme throughout the EP.

“There’s lot of references to film and music throughout OK Kombucha. Even in the EP’s name, which is me trying to be funny and self-deprecating while referencing the Radiohead album. I won’t point out all of the easter eggs! 

“My girlfriend is a scientist, and she’s often telling me about really interesting things about the medical world and the environment. And while I really love hearing about them, she once teased me that she can tell what really interests me, because I only ever tell her stuff about people or art. Of course, she’s exaggerating, but there’s some truth to that.”

Audience Takeaway

“I hope listeners dance in parts, laugh in others and perhaps feel a ‘just dipping your toes in the pool amount’ of wistfulness.

“I hope that they also take away some pleasure, perhaps something specific to ruminate on and then some sense of escapism from it. That’s what I strive to takeaway from a body of music that I am listening to.

“I also hope there’s a melody or line that gets stuck in their head. But they’re not entirely sure which song the melody is from, so they have to listen to the whole EP again, to get it out. Thanks for the streams :)”

Say it in a sentence

OK Kombucha is…“Songs that would have been on The OC if it were still on TV today. RIP Marissa Cooper.”

For the love of music

“Music has been the most consistent joy in my life. In my opinion, I don’t think there’s a bigger high than when you are creating.

“I’m a big words guy. I actually studied creative writing and poetry at university. But I think words combined with music has always been the thing that really got me going. There’s something really mystical about sounds and how they fit together and affect, especially when in combination with words.

“I also love the social aspect of making music. My brothers love to play video games socially with their friends and my parents and my girlfriend like to play team sports with their friends in their free time. But me and my friends, we like to make music together.”

Meet Noah Harris’ dog Keiko
– also featured on the EP cover

Kicking goals

“Achievement wise, selling out my first headline show since the pandemic was a really nice feeling! The singles from the EP getting national radio play and Spotify playlisting was a big achievement for me too.

“Being played on radio is always a really special and surreal feeling, and getting songs playlisted meant that people from around the world who my music wouldn’t usually reach got to hear it and connect with it, which is a bizarre and such nice feeling.

“I guess my highlight is having the opportunity to create and help shape everything else around the music. The artwork, the videos and the team etc.”

Overcoming struggle town

“I’m sounding like a broken record but the Melbourne lockdowns definitely created many challenges to the recording process.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty amazing to have so much down time to write and be creative. but it made it pretty difficult to work on the EP when I couldn’t be in the same room as people like Sam and Vince when we were in the process of working on songs. There would have been hundreds of messages back and forth about mixes.

“In my experience, it’s more productive to be physically together when mixing or recording music with other people. You’re more instinctual and present. When you have too much time and space to sit on things it can hinder them. I think eventually it all works out, and you get to the same place, but it slows down the process.

“Vince and I did a few early zoom mixing sessions while working on ‘Satellites’, which was interesting and sometimes productive, but my favourite aspects of that song definitely came out when we were in the same room together.”

HARRIS – Sheena Is A Bush Doofer (Official Video)

Essential Listening

HARRIS – Satellites 

“We had a lot of fun recording foley noises and layering them throughout this track. There’s the sound of trains taking off that we then blended with eerie violin harmonic scratchy sounds, then some sounds of glass smashing and even a robot woman’s train announcements as the train is pulling into North Melbourne Station. But my favourite foley that we recorded is the chattering crowd texture in the second verse, which is actually heaps of stacked layers of my girlfriend reading passages from the children’s book Le Petit Prince.”

HARRIS – Sunbake Cemetery

“Sam Swain and I initially put the UK garage beat in the bridge of the song as a joke, sort of a jumping the shark placeholder type thing. But then we fell in love with it. Once we placed Albert’s strings over the beat, it really legitimised it for us. So that’s a good lesson. Be silly.”

HARRIS – Post Madonna

“Sam Swain and I watched a video of how producer Jack Antonoff records Lana Del Rey’s backing vocals. Where he gets her to basically ad lib stuff and be as free and silly as possible. Then he cuts them up and layers them really low in the mix. So there’s a wall of me being silly layered in this song.”

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