Harlem Laughs About Its Genre Tags
Often, a musician's personality mirrors that of their chosen sound. Take a couple of examples: Quiet folkies tend to be sensitive and soft-spoken; peace-loving, trippy jam band members share a mellow soul and herbal-scented flow with the prolonged solos they so fluidly unfurl upon their twirling and euphoric admirers.
So there's a comforting sense of appropriateness when the boys of Harlem, Matador Records' latest fuzzy, lo-fi rollout, aren't in a big hurry to show you their critical and calculating sides.
In fact, when looking merely at the surface of the trio's overall presentation—from their band bio to their snotty lyrics—it'd be easy to assume that nary a serious, let alone thoughtful or sensitive, element exists within the group.
Harlem performs Saturday, May 15, at City Tavern
Consisting of Michael Coomer, aka "Coomers," Curtis O'Mara and bass player Jose Boyer, who all met in Nashville a couple of years ago and now reside in Austin, Harlem go to great but natural lengths to display their deft comic timing and scathing senses of what they feel is funny. During a recent conversation with O'Mara and Coomer while Harlem were in Canada and the northern U.S. touring to support their second album, the energetic and abrasive Hippies, the guys unveiled a couple of things that actually pull them from the path of no resistance and into the crosshairs of people who simply don't get what it is they do.
It takes a bit of time to get to the core of what can get under the skin of Harlem. Consider, for instance, the fact that the band once considered the moniker "Christianity" for its name. Or don't: O'Mara, who found enjoyment and influence in the raucous, filthy punk of The Germs growing up, shares writing, singing, drumming and guitar duties with Coomer and declares that the garage-rock label that his band is often saddled with by members of the media is "kind of shallow." When asked what term he would prefer to be associated with the work of his group, O'Mara admits that the band has given it some thought: "We like to call it gay disco grunge magic," he says while laughing, but not admitting to the self-appointed label being anything less than serious.
Soon, the phone is handed to Coomer, O'Mara's partner in grime. After a bit of discussion regarding a rap project that may or may not be a reality, Coomer also begins to reveal a practical perspective that isn't readily apparent at other times. When prodded to shed some light on what might be in store for the band's sonic future, Coomer is careful not to reveal too much.
"I have no idea what we're going to do with the next record," he says. "We've been writing stuff, but we're not giving ourselves some big deadline because we learned the songs for this album by playing them in shows. Now, we're trying to write for records, so it's different."
While the challenging pressure of writing new music for a future record can be daunting, being a new act on a perennially buzzed-about label with some serious promotional muscle and indie-cred can give a musician plenty of reason to smile.
"Life has been fucking cake since we've been on Matador," Coomer says—with more than a small amount of understandable joy as he chuckles at the mere thought of having it so good.
Just as O'Mara did earlier, Coomer bristles a tad when asked to answer the critics who seek to paint his band's gritty, lo-fi bombast into a corner of the rock 'n' roll garage.
"I don't know how to make things sound differently," he says. "I'm just glad that people do find some diversity within the album."
Ultimately, while Hippies could've stood to lose a couple of its 16 tracks, the album works well as a ballsy, frenetic record that simply hopes to kick a little ass in lieu of being all things to all people.
After grasping Harlem's concept of rocking out simply and honestly, it's easy to indulge Coomer when he wants to take another philosophical shot at Harlem's haters.
"If you think that all songs with guitar, bass, drums and vocals sound the same," he says, "then you're absolutely right."
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