Big Harp

Big Harp

BandRockFolk

Married duo Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney (The Good Life, Bright Eyes, She & Him) move away from pastoral sounds of their debut and build on fuzz bass and angular electric guitars and keyboards in their energetic, ragged live show and on their second album, released by Saddle Creek.

Biography

Outside I can hear the palm rats scraping their way up the rough trunks of the Mexican Fans (Washingtonia Robusta) in the alley. Stef thought she heard one in the kitchen. It wasn't a rat. It was the automatic soap dispenser set off by the quivering limbs of a dying spider plant. We're sitting on our couch, our green couch stained with chocolate milk and bodily fluids, the same couch we wrote both of our records on. Different rooms though. For the first one, White Hat, the couch was in a well-lit, white-walled room, with a view of the San Gabriel mountains and the big Magnolia in the front yard. Now it's shoved in a dim corner of a dark room with old wood-paneled walls, somebody's idea of a little rustic paradise. Dead somebody, probably. The living like it too. 

We started the band in late 2010, but the roots go back to 2007, when Stef and I met. I was playing with Art in Manila as a hired gun opening for Stefanie's band The Good Life on the west coast. We started hanging out, binge-smoking and chain-drinking, and we never stopped. Never stopped hanging out I mean. Within a few months Stef had a gut full of baby, and the bender came to a quick and bloody end.

We got married, moved from L.A. to Omaha, had a kid, moved from Omaha back to L.A., and had another kid, all in about three years. Stef toured a bit, twice with The Good Life and once with She & Him, but we didn't play much at home. I got a job at an ad agency doing data entry. Strictly "call the number at the bottom of the screen in the next five minutes" kind of stuff. Male enhancement pills, beauty schools, etc. I quit that job and we made White Hat. We talked to the folks at Saddle Creek about putting it out. They did. Some people liked it and compared us to people like Nick Cave and Townes Van Zandt. Hey, they said it, not me. The record was straightforward, slightly twangy folk-rock with an undercurrent of dark humor, and by far the most conservative music we’d ever made. Stef cut her teeth in the L.A. punk scene, and my previous band was a noisy, lo-fi kind of thing. We wanted to sound like adults, and we wanted to make music that echoed the sounds of our childhood -- old country for me, ’70’s folk for Stef. I think we did that, but right away we started itching to scuff it up. When we packed up the kids and went on tour, the songs -- as is often the case -- got faster and faster, dirtier and dirtier.  

We figured we ought to make a record that reflected the live show a little better, so we moved the couch to its current home and started writing with that in mind. Stef runs a rock camp for girls in Omaha, and that was a big influence on the new record too. Seeing those kids pick up instruments for the first time and start writing was amazing. We wanted that kind of raw freedom for ourselves. We gave ourselves permission to get as dark or rough or loud as we wanted, and we ended up with Chain Letters.  

If our first album sounds a lot like where I'm from -- an isolated town of 2800 in rural Nebraska -- then this one is planted about halfway from there to Stefanie's hometown, Los Angeles. We built the record around Stef's crackling fuzz bass and lyrics that deal with with escape and surrender, and the places where they overlap. Hopefully we landed closer to mid-'70's Iggy Pop than Leonard Cohen this time. Really I'd like it to sound like Leonard Cohen fronting the Pixies. It doesn't though. Maybe a little. You tell us. We recorded the album partly at ARC in Omaha with engineer Ben Brodin, partly at our home in Los Angeles, and it was mixed by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk, etc.). Our friend John played the drums. I play messy, angular guitar and keyboards and sing alternately like a burned-out country crooner or a three-sheets gospel backslider. Stef plays raw, howling, fuzzed-out bass and sings like a ghost. Her bass playing was featured in Guitar World's "Best of SXSW 2012". Shit. It's one in the morning now. I gotta go to work today. See you if I see you.

Chris Senseney 
October 2012
I only had a little, I swear.

Discography

debut LP "White Hat" released fall 2011 on Saddle Creek
second LP "Chain Letters out January 2013 on Saddle Creek