A TRACK BY TRACK GUIDE TO HOPEFULS BY THE HARRIETS
Hopefuls is the keenly awaited debut long player from Leeds four-piece, The Harriets. As regular readers will know, I first encountered The Harriets when they entered the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition last year and I chose the band as one of just three acts I could put through to the longlist. I am especially pleased that Hopefuls finally lands tomorrow as it is the culmination of a great deal of hard work and self-endeavour by frontmen Daniel Parker-Smith (guitar,vocals) and Ben Schrodel (bass, vocals), who have written and produced the nine tracks that form Hopefuls, performed with the adept support of Jess Womack on keys and Ryan Bailey on drums.
Ben took some time out to give us an exclusive rundown on the individual songs on the album that I hope you will be hearing a great more of over the coming months.
As we were waiting to soundcheck at a gig at Belgrave Music Hall (Leeds) in early 2018, we sat down to do some writing, just the two of us in the corner of the empty venue, with unamplified guitar and bass. Dan showed me a riff he had and I played along. I remember going from the root E up to the F# - the movement you hear when the band all come in on the recording and we were both like - 'that's it! Cut to a few months later and Dan has the whole thing down except the chorus, which we got sorted in a writing session. The lyrics are pretty much all Dan's. 'Cafe Disco' itself is a reference to the US version of the sitcom, The Office.
Trip to the Moon
This was written almost entirely on lunch breaks at work (there's a piano upstairs). The title is taken from the 1902 Méliès film. It's a bit of a counterpart to “Cafe Disco” thematically, except focusing more on vintage cinema - the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds is fairly explicitly referenced. It was my first go at writing a proper string arrangement, following all the compositional rules you're supposed to. Dan contributed a really nice harmony and that crazy slide guitar in the bridge. The little piano melody after the title is sung is a Jess invention.
This was written around the time we were getting into a lot of Jonathan Rado-produced American acts - the Lemon Twigs, whom we saw twice that year, chief among them. Dan wanted to write a 'pure pop' tune somewhat in their style, with vocals that traded off each other, and had all of that down for the verse. I improvised some bass over the instrumental demo and hit on a bassline that Dan liked, which became the first line of vocal melody in the chorus. Recording it, Jess got a really nice piano part down. I think we listened to “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon and Garfunkel to try to get the punchiness of the horns.
Have Fun In Your Workplace
This is actually quite an old piece for which I made an experimental/lo-fi demo for my Soundcloud in 2012 or so. The original piece was built up from scratch from a percussion line created by thumping a book and shaking a tin of rice, and had some cut-up vocal samples from David Bowie interviews in it (for some reason)! Dan and I translated it into Harriets format - all the melodies, lyrics, main guitar line, bassline and the rhythm are the exact same, just 'bandified.' The only new thing is the 'jam' section in the middle, which I was initially quite opposed to but got talked round by Dan and Ryan - can't imagine the song without it now!
[Here's a great live version!]
Rules for Travelling
Originally this began as a slow, ballad-like, 'nice chords' thing, much akin to how it starts out on the recording. I was listening to a lot of Steely Dan at the time and liked how they would write cryptic songs about losers and criminals which were cynical but with a measure of pathos. When I first played it for Dan he sat down at the drumkit and brought it to life by playing twice as fast, turning it into a straight-ahead fast rock song with my hands flying over the keys. Suddenly it seemed obvious this was a song about speed, escape, leaving things behind - a bank robber/getaway driver song.
This one is all Dan. For a long time, it was just a piano part and a title. Then the lyrics developed - it's about growing up and moving to the city and everything that comes with that, yet yearning for a simpler life. I really like certain lines - “He wrote a lot of his songs with an American accent in mind.” We thought about really arranging it up but in the end just kept it quite stripped down and 'band’, like how we've done it live. Notably it's also probably the only Harriets song we've ever done without a vocal harmony included!
An old song of Dan's that we recycled and polished up when we needed a final track for the album. We'd actually made a demo together back in 2015 but Dan rewrote some of the lyrics, substituted some more choice chords and, for the arrangement, wanted a Monkees/Wrecking Crew/Phil Spector '60s 'California Sound' thing going on, where you've got a fun, slightly twee love song with a big epic arrangement. We sat down and worked out all the string and horn arrangements together at the keyboard, taking inspiration from arrangements on Neil Diamond and Righteous Brothers records.
Fall Out of Grace
This is cobbled together from sections of a long poem I wrote in a pub when I was home for Christmas, near the church I used to sing in as a teenager. The music was deliberately Tom Petty-influenced and an 'arena' piece; I deliberately wanted to write something 'big' that we could close with live. I don't think it varies too much from my original demo musically but Dan, Ryan and Jess all sprinkled their customary magic dust on it.
The Boy You Knew
Just a short, simple acoustic closer - the 'coda' to the album if you like. I had the song and didn't know what to do with it, so Dan suggested we just record it as it was and try and get something really hushed and intimate to round things off. I think we got it in one take - we might have done two or three but the first 'test run' was the one we were happiest with in the end.
Hopefuls is out on Friday 24 July, available to stream, digitally download or physically own on CD or vinyl.
Photography by Kevin England