Bristol is a hub for new musical talent, and Sounds of Harlowe are a local gem that deserve your utmost attention. This Bristol-based band certainly know a thing or two about soothing the musical soul, with their mixing pot of warm jazz and soulful hip hop.
Known in particular for their live shows, the four-piece is often accompanied by long-time collaborator Solomon O.B, however Sounds of Harlowe is officially made up of Keno, Jamie, Mike and Chris. Since forming in 2012, they have already ticked off a load of achievements on their bucket lists, including touring the UK, festival appearances and impressive support slots for the likes of Nubiyan Twist, who they supported at The Fleece early last year.
With the release of their debut EP Change of Disposition forthcoming on 18 January, Nitelife met up with band members Chris and Jamie in the beating heart of Stokes Croft at the bustling Canteen to have a chat about the new release.
After settling down with drinks in hand, Jamie kicked off the interview by telling Nitelife how the band Sounds of Harlowe first formed. After all meeting at university in Bath, they started performing together in 2012.
It was a totally different set up to what we have now
‘It was me, Solomon, Keno and Mel, who was lead vocalist at the time. It was a totally different set up to what we have now. Sol would beatbox, Keno would play the guitar with Mel singing and me on the bass. It was a pretty stripped back kind of thing, but over time we got to the point where we realised we wanted a bit more oomph to our sound. That’s when we got the rest of the band involved. For a while, we even jumped from a four-piece to an eight-piece band.
‘Post university we started to focus more on what we were actually trying to do and fine tuning our sound. Now, we are back down to a four piece with Solomon joining us when he’s not working on his solo album.’
With Mel departed from the band, Keno has skilfully adopted singing duties alongside guitar, with the help of Chris who also spits bars between providing a brass section with his sax; while Mike and Jamie take on drums and bass. Keno also raps, and Solomon joins the group as MC and beatboxer. Now with their first full release on the horizon, Jamie talks us through the initial writing process behind the Change of Disposition EP.
‘For a long time, we have been trying to figure out how to write music together. We’ve had to figure out how we work best, throw different ideas around and try out different ways of writing. We’d jam for ages and then take bits out from that, or make beat samples on a laptop and bring them back to the band to try and replicate.’
But when asked if Sounds of Harlowe have finally cracked the code for their music writing process, the question was received with a swift and simultaneous ‘No!’
You can’t have a code for making music
‘You can’t have a code for making music,’ says Chris. ‘Unless everybody stays exactly the same for the rest of their life then it’s not possible. Humans are always moving forward and trying out new things. If you never learnt anything again then you might keep the same creative process, but in reality, you’re always going to be inspired and motivated to try out new things – that’s half the fun.’
Jamie agrees, ‘these days the boundaries within music are continuing to get pushed and I think that pushes you to explore different things. If you’re sticking to a code, that code is going to dry out eventually.’
As we continue to talk about their upcoming EP, Chris explains why it’s important for the band to test their new material out live before pressing the record button in the studio.
‘I don’t think we’ve ever released a piece of music without performing it live first. Up until recently when we were constantly gigging, we would always play new songs in our sets because playing it live would help us work it out. A lot of the time we’d play a song live and then come back afterwards and pick out what worked and didn’t.
we’re always looking for a connection with the audience
‘Personally, I like to play something that’s very nearly finished. You can see which bits resonate with the audience and which bits don’t. I think we’re always looking for a connection with the audience. Very early on we just used to see if people were dancing, but now we’re also paying attention to the people in the back-right corner, just constantly staring at us as we play our instruments.’
Sounds of Harlowe have built their fan base in local venues around Bristol, and like many local bands, they are deeply concerned about the threats to local music venues. With Thekla, The Jam Jar and Fiddlers among the latest music venues under threat of closure due to residential developments and soundproofing issues, Chris talks about what local music fans can do to keep the music venue culture alive.
‘Go to gigs. Just go to gigs. If you don’t want to pay £5 for a gig ticket, then donate a couple of quid to the campaign to keep it open. Obviously, all over the UK music venues are being closed down and The Fleece nearly closed down too. It’s about being an active member of the community. If you think it’s a shame, then go down and show some support to your local music venues.’
Looking forwards to the rest of 2018, as Chris and Jamie describe the usual schedule of festivals and a potential tour, it quickly became clear what their real main focus of the year will be.
we’ve gigged hard for so long over the years, now we’re really going to hone in and up the ante on our material
‘We’ve already got a couple of half written songs for our next EP,’ says Jamie. ‘And we’re already looking forward to getting those finished and getting them out. The thing is, we’ve gigged hard for so long over the years, now we’re really going to hone in and up the ante on our material.’
Words by Abi Lewis
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger