Daniel Harris
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Daniel Harris

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, United States

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, United States
Alternative Avant-garde

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"Hillel rep doubles as an indie rocker"

Many Brandeis students know Dan Levine as the guy who tables in the Usdan Student Center for a free trip to Israel. Others know him as a musician who occasionally performs at Cholmondeley's. Now 25, Levine has been recording music since high school. His solo project under the name Daniel Harris began two years ago when he started working for Hillel at Brandeis. Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Levine-a self-described "verbose creature"-for a lengthy interview in his office on campus. What follows are excerpts in which he discusses his career, his influences and his guiding musical principles.JustArts: How long have you been gigging and recording music?

Dan Levine: I started playing open mic in high school [in Monroe, N.Y.] with my best friend, Matt. We were always writing, but we also did a lot of covers, and we'd book gigs at local coffee shops, birthday parties, that kind of stuff. Funny enough, our first band was Hillel, because we were obsessed with the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, and their original guitarist was named Hillel Slovak. Later on we threw in a drummer, and then our friend Ryan joined us, and we changed the name to Ethan's House of Pancakes. Then by the end of senior year of high school, my friend called us up asking to start a band. I was like, "Sure, I'm always ready to start a band." He's like, "Alright, we have a gig in two weeks, at the House of Blues in Cambridge!"

JA: That was your first gig?

DL: Our first gig as a band, yeah. We ended up playing as Family Junction. Our first two gigs were at the original House of Blues in Harvard Square. We started off as an acoustic trio. We got up there and did a six-minute version of the humpty dance and a weird vocal jam based on the word "iocane." We were into very weird stuff. Family Junction then progressed and started taking cues from Frank Zappa, and then Phish, then Radiohead and Salt-n-Pepa.

JA: What inspired your 2007 album, This is so much better than Elton John?

DL: This is where my solo career really started to gain more full-length momentum, and there was a lot more time put into it. There's a magazine up in Portsmouth, N.H. called The Wire, and in the winter of '06 they... were challenging everybody, in the month of February, to write and record an album. I helped a friend of mine do it that year, and it was a lot of fun. I decided to do it over my entire February break in '07, just before I started this job. ... I did everything on a Tascam four-track cassette recorder and plugged all of my pedals in. Everything that you hear on that album was done 100-percent live, in one shot with no overdubs.

JA: Your EP Faarminals, Aarminals, and Nick Nolte is less straightforward than either Elton John or your more recent album, Thirty-Two Bit Isn't Really Eight Bits Better.

DL: Those tracks came from loops that I created. I've been really into that kind of ambient sound ever since the fall of '04 when I got my first loop station. That summer I learned that it's not just about chord progressions; it's not just about having an A section, then a B section, return to the A section. That's when I really started to paint with sound. To me, that EP is a painting.

JA: Given that characterization, it would seem that your albums are thematic.

DL: Thelonious Monk's theory on recording an album was that you should be able to do it in one or two takes, completely live, because you are really able to capture a personal zeitgeist. That's the way I create my albums: They are very specific to where I was at the time. What's different about Thirty-Two Bit is that it was recorded over an 18-month period, unlike my other stuff.

JA: It seems like that album is also a lot more polished. "San Jose," for instance, is pretty complex.

DL: That song began with a poem that my girlfriend wrote at the time. Everything just came out. I didn't have to think about anything-it was very visceral and very heartfelt. When I finished that I was very proud. I really felt like all of my musical education from the time that my dad showed me how to use a turntable as a kid to the moment that I recorded it came out in that song.

JA: Sometimes when I listen to your music, I find myself laughing. Is there an element of comedy that goes into the writing of your songs?

DL: [Laughter] Absolutely. My whole life I've been a big fan of satire. My uncle is a political cartoonist who is incredibly cynical and dark, and the musicians I've tended to gravitate towards tend to have a misanthropic element to them. Satire isn't always meant to be funny; it should also point out the vice and folly of society-but satire can be brutally hilarious sometimes.

JA: Who do you see as your biggest influences?

DL: Frank Zappa is a huge influence on me, specifically the album Weasels Rip My Flesh. The way he goes from intense tribal beats to performance art to a highly composed orchestral piece, genre-hopping left and right, all the while very much in t - The Justice


"geshSMOC’s taste: Daniel Harris"

Ever wonder what a snow day would sound like?

A fresh blanket of dazzling Winter white tucks nature into bed, putting work or school on hold for the day, and you can already smell a fresh cup of hot cocoa wafting into your room.

If a snow day as perfect as this were put into music, this is nearly what Thirty Two Bit Isn’t Really Eight Bits Better would sound like. As a whole, this solo project helmed by Daniel Harris may unthinkably come across as too mellow even for the most impassioned melodic crowd, but there are some gems worthy of complementing a relaxing late morning brunch. Better yet, the free-spirited acoustic spell Harris casts with a homemade, accessible arrangement of guitar, accordion, banjo, and more could color in a ginger ambiance of a feel-good sitcom moment (“Elephant” in particular would be perfect for a show like Scrubs, perhaps – the resonance of Harris’ vocals here reminds me of Jose Gonzalez’s cover of the Knifes’ “Heartbeats”).

Tread softly with Harris’ “Elephant” and sip a little “Lima” with the new-and-improved geshSMOC’s taste player right here!
- Shemspeed.com


"C.D. On Songs: Daniel Harris - “Another Dos""

“Another Dos” sort of fades into your consciousness from some sidewards-facing background, slowly but surely traversing great distances to land somewhere in your mind. Gently insistent tones sort of wander into the frame, fix you in their gaze, and make a beeline for your position. This song wavers in an alien-yet-familiar way, like sea-flowers underwater that undulate in response to the currents. The thing is, “Another Dos” is such an immersing experience, you don’t just see the effects of these currents, you feel them as well.

A gentle, insistent guitar rings out the higher points of this track’s cyclical melody, almost seeming to count out its own time in the form of orbits around the song’s count. The five-syllable phrase works its way up and down the steps, clicking down four and back up one for the next iteration. The melody has the timeless, solid feel of something that was going for a long time before we tuned in and will continue going long after we fade away from its existence.

“Another Dos” doesn’t stop with transporting us to a weird world, dropping us off and letting us fend for ourselves. Instead, it takes us by the hand and guides us through strange new places with such patience and welcome that we feel as if we are part of the new weirdness. “Another Dos” makes us comfortable in these odd surroundings, give us the gentle prod of deja vu, as if to say we’ve been here before, so welcome back. - Boston Band Crush


"Interview: Daniel Harris"

Knocks from the Underground Interview by Django Gold

For some musicians, guitar players particularly, stomp boxes and signal shapers are a means of suppression rather than expression—i.e. distort your signal enough and all the crowd will feel is the drums. Not so for guitarist Daniel Harris, who views his various technological toys as a fundamental part of his musical palette, and, at this stage in his development, wouldn’t be caught dead without them.

To witness Harris at work in a live setting is a study in dexterity. Behind a small hill of sequencers, effects pedals, stereo trickery, and musical baubles sits one man, Harris, who is charged with keeping everything together in a live performance. Harris, who logged a multitude of shows with Brighton’s “Family Junction” in the past, plays exclusively solo for the time being, a role to which he has eagerly adapted. Taking his cue from acoustic loop-master Keller Williams, Harris delivers a brand of playing far more ambient than Williams’, less focused on instrumentation, and more centered towards moods and tonal colors—say, if Williams couldn’t get Kid A out of his head. The result, when executed, is a dense and evolving series of sounds that travels according to Harris’s emotional whim. Knocks discussed with Harris this musical voyage, and how he has come to this point of personal expression.

You’ve done collaborations in the past, but it seems now that you prefer playing alone, is that true?
Right now I do. I played in “Family Junction” for seven years, but we’re on hiatus at the moment. I like the solo stuff, because I like to experiment, and it allows me more freedom of motion. It’s pushed me as a musician to really explore and push my own boundaries. Sometimes it can be really scary, when you don’t have a band to fall back on, you’re just kind of out there by yourself. But it’s good, and I’ve gained confidence through doing it. Besides, it’s fucking fun.

How much improvisation goes on at your live shows? How much is pre-arranged?
At this point, I don’t use setlists anymore. I have a lot of songs in my head, and I just go out there on stage and start playing and see what happens. This really opens things up, because I’m free to really explore the space and follow whatever I’m feeling at the time. Since so much of what I do is based on what I can do with my pedals, I spend about half the show on my knees tweaking knobs and just exploring the sound.

How’d you get to where you are musically? When did you start seeing the potential of effects?
I started out playing the cello when I was 9, then moved to guitar shortly thereafter. I picked up a bunch of these boxes piecemeal, just buying what I could afford. Once I got this looping station, though, and just had time to experiment with it alone, that’s when things started opening up.

What’s your favorite part of the Boston music scene?
I love the community of musicians that I have become a part of. I love hanging out with musicians, listening to records, partying, et cetera. Boston’s really not a city beyond the downtown area; you’ve got a bunch of happening suburbs, like Brighton or Cambridge, or Somerville, for example, so you’ve got backroads here. Just a lot of small little communities to make music in, and meet people.

Who would you say your key musical influences are?
First off is Frank Zappa. When I first listened to Weasels Ripped My Flesh, that was it, I’d found what I was looking for: organized chaos. The first time I ever heard “Inca Roads,” on One Size Fits All, I was obsessed, my friends and I drove around for an hour with that track looped. Besides Zappa, there’s my Dad, who taught me how to use a record player and introduced me to music in general. Also, my friend, Matt Ross, who is a brilliant musician—guitarist/bassist/drummer. We’ve been writing music together since we were kids. He has magic hands.

What are some contemporary bands you view as being “important” to the music climate? Best live show you’ve seen recently?
Animal Collective for sure, you just get so lost in the music and atmosphere, you can be frightened and enthralled at the same time, it’s amazing. The Mountain Goats, Akron/Family, Pattern is Movement, Adam Forkner (White Rainbow, [[[[Vvrssnn]]]]), Left Hand Does, and David Bowie; he’s always relevant. The best show I’ve seen recently was when Left Hand Does, which is one of my favorite bands, and definitely my favorite Boston band, played a show in my living room back in February. That was unreal, definitely a dream come true.

Okay, fluff time. Favorite place to eat in Boston and favorite drink?
Publick House, definitely, for both of those questions. To drink, get the St. Bernardus Abt 12, it’s a Belgian quadruple. Anything Victory makes is good, too.

Daniel Harris’s latest release is his full-length record, Thirty-Two Bit Isn’t Really Eight Bits Better. You can check him out at www.myspace.com/danielhmusic and www.theanorexicfoodcritic.blog - Knocks from the Underground


"Daniel Harris - Interview"

Interview by Bryan Baker on 10/9/2010

Do you pick up a guitar and improvise songs?
All the time! Actually, for the past two years, most of my solo shows have been predominantly improvised performances. I do a lot of looping (using the Boss RC-50, RC-20, DD-7). Sometimes I'll start by playing "Lima" and then go off into ambient land; sometimes I just start hitting my guitar, loop whatever sounds come out of the amps and build off those.

What does the album title mean?
My old friend and former band-mate Alan Cohen recorded two of the songs on the album ("Virgin Girl" and "Benjamin Franklin to whom are we thankin...") and he is a huge computer nerd. When he and I were working on "Virgin Girl" I asked him about bit rates, wave depth with regards to Super Audio CDs versus vinyl, bobloblawlawblog, etc. He then delved into the science of it all which quickly went over my head (and after knowing each other since we were 14, he could tell). So to sum it all up he looked at me and said, "Basically, thirty-two bit isn't really eight bits better." I looked back at him and said, "That's the name album. Done." I am eternally grateful to have at least heard the end of his explanation because when I talk about the album with engineers they get the joke immediately. Whereas non-audiophiles just think it's quirky, and that's cool, too.

Tell us about making "Elephant."
Firstly, the lyrics for "Elephant" were written by my old camp friend and also former band-mate, Seth Kroll. Seth sent me a few zip files of lyrics years prior and said, "Here, do something with these." The song: Guitar is my main instrument, but I have had a love affair with the banjo since I was about 19 and have fits and bouts with it a few times a year. At the time of writing the music for "Elephant" I was dating a girl who lived in Worcester, MA while I live in Boston and I was out staying with her and brought my banjo. I wrote the initial chord progression on her bed. A few days later we were back at my house and had the place to ourselves. So, while she worked on a project in the dining room, I setup shop in the upstairs bathroom (incidentally, Seth's bathroom). I had my computer and interface on a desk in the kitchen around the corner and I brought my one condenser mic into the bathtub with me (I recorded the entire song literally in the bathtub). I recorded the banjo parts first, then the vocals. Cello was the last thing to be recorded (this was all in one night). Aside from my relationship with that girl (which was great at the time), everything else in my life was pretty frustrating and shitty and I was determined to convey that sense of despair through the recording. I felt it was important to include the sounds of the recording process--for example, you can hear when I'm raising and placing the bow of the cello, breathing, etc. The fact that the cello parts are not "perfectly" in-tune did not and still does not bother me. The sound of the recording and the sounds in the recording give it character. Years later I enjoy listening back to and comparing early recordings with newer ones and hearing how I've changed, I still love that recording so much. It's funny, even though Seth wrote this lyrics, I felt so aberrantly connected with the words. "There's an elephant on the table and I can't make it stable..." That sense of feeling overwhelmed was so apropos to my life at the time. "A missed first kiss, won't happen again, a chance romance in a basement den..." When my girlfriend at the time and I met, it was very much like that, actually. The first meeting was shit and then a few days later at a mutual friend's party in his den we hit it off. When I started writing the music and was looking through that folder of poems Seth had sent me, it was a perfect match.

What is "Lima" about? How does the man with a booth at the mall tie it all together?
Hahahahahaha! "Lima" is another one of Seth's poems. The "man with a booth at the mall" is a reference to the Israelis we'd see at malls selling Dead Sea mud. They're everywhere and we both find them hilarious. Beyond that, you'd really have to ask Seth what his inspiration for the song was. I love the line, "There are sources of insight, and are sources that fight, so you may ask but they might never share." He and I are both political junkies and love getting into debates about both how fucked the world is and how to fix it. I was listening to Terry Gross interview Jon Stewart earlier today and he spoke about his frustration with the "media's abdication of responsibility." He explained that he expects the chicanery of politicians much like he expects monkeys at the zoo to throw their feces. However, the zookeeper is there to say "Bad monkey!", but the media is failing to do just that (and has been for a long time) and he (Stewart) feels he is the zookeeper for the monkeys in politics. I think Seth is expressing a similar sentiment and I agree with him. To quote Frank Zappa, "Ultimately, I'm a com - Gajoob


"Ep. 5 Daniel Harris"

Screw you, folk-rock; Daniel Harris is taking no prisoners. His self-proclaimed "anti-folk" album, 32 bits isn't really 8 bits better, promises to dismantle the overly-litteral alliterative axioms of classic folk music. It's stripped down orchestration that sounds HUGE (especially through headphones). It's catchy; you'll find yourself humming the tunes in the shower and, in doing so, cursing the ground that Joni Mitchell paved through history. - The Unsigned Sounds


"Daniel Harris: Thirty-Two Bit Isn't Really Eight Bits Better"

"This pleasingly spare and stripped-down experimental lo-fi pop acoustic album eschews needless flashy razzle-dazzle frills in favoring of a more straightforward approach to banging out a tune. Said approach possesses a delicate intimacy and equally fragile melodicism that's truly something to hear. Harris' vocals are appropriately warm and inviting, the arrangements tight and harmonic, the lyrics thoughtful and reflective. Proof positive that the small-scale take on music can be quite moving and effective if done with a winning blend of skill and ingenuity."
Joe W. - Jersey Beat
- Jersey Beat


"Fringe Benefits: Daniel Harris"

Introducing Fringe Benefits, a new, semi-irregular music column from Leor Galil focusing on local bands and artists who might not be receiving the attention they deserve. This week: Daniel Harris.

Every music fan and their mother must have run to their nearest record store/Internet to pick up the new Animal Collective LP and Bon Iver EP this past week, but Bostonist knows the one guy who can combine the best of both worlds. Daniel Levine has been performing under the moniker Daniel Harris for three years now and recently released his official solo debut, Thirty-Two Bit Isn't Really Eight Bits Better (available online). The product of 18 months of recording in between the cracks of his living spaces with a variety of friends, Thirty-Two Bits has been getting a chunk of postive press, and for good reason. Levine's sound is an amalgam of many a tastemaker's favorite acts: imagine if Sufjan Stevens and Chad VanGaalen were doing covers of hip-hop classics with the aid of a spare string section as Panda Bear randomly screws around with a loop station, and the end product is released on K Records. Bostonist recently asked Levine a few questions to see what makes him tick… musically speaking.

Bostonist: What's your favorite place to record music?
Daniel: I recorded most of Thirty-Two Bit in my bedroom and I really like recording there, especially at night.

What are your favorite gadgets to use while performing/recording?
Gear-wise, I'd be nothing without my Boss RC-20 Loopstation. I bought it in the summer of 2004 and it changed my everything. That pedal is on my pedalboard and I don't play a show without it.

Favorite place to play in Boston?
I don't know... I've only played there once, but I really dig playing at O'Brien's.

Advice to aspiring musicians?
Be nice to the sound guy. - Bostonist.com


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

"My name is Daniel Harris and I paint with music. As a solo artist, I dance with my effects pedals like the Joker with Vicky Vale in the bell tower, creating terrifyingly soothing atmospheres of synesthesia."

With over fifteen years of experience behind him, Harris regularly performs and records original music, opening for international acts such as The Books, Lymbyc Systym, Reptar, Slow Six, Tobacco, Tartufi, and Boy in Static, as well as performing in producer Roger Greenawalt's (Ben Kweller, Albert Hammond Jr, Nils Lofgren) The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at the 2010 SXSW music festival, for which he was personally invited to participate by Greenawalt.

Harris has also performed with national acts Reptar, Golden Bloom, Neutral Uke Hotel, Avi Wisnia and Arizona; as well as Northeast heroes The Shills, Left Hand Does, Animal Hospital, Night Fruit, The Doctors Fox, Ellis Ashbrook and Stereo Telescope.

As a composer, Harris contributed original music to independent documentary film "The Green Reason" (about Beijing during the Olympics, 2008) and composed the score for feature-length documentary "Mifgash: Encountering Jewish Identity in the 21st Century" (2010) while also carrying the responsibility of music director.

In 2011, Harris was approached by famed political illustrator and journalist, Steve Brodner (Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, The New Yorker), to score his latest political video series for Slate.com, "Smashing Crayons." Each week, Harris is charged with the responsibility of composing original yet uniquely familiar pieces to compliment Brodner's commentary and illustrations.

In February of 2012, Harris and long-time collaborator (and childhood friend) Matt 'subPixel' Ross released "Satan's Secret" under the name, 3dCosby. The album and live band have been compared to the likes of Tortoise, Sonic Youth, and Faraquet.

"Inventive and dreamy... Never has complication been so sonically sound..." -Dories Gruber, TheWillRockYou.com

"...[“Satan’s Secret” is] a fierce rock-commando...that positions itself squarely in your dome for all eternity." -Michael Marotta, The Boston Phoenix

"The guys have an experimental tinge to their sound...filled with grooves that spread across the chilled-out vibes of post-rock and jazz, reflective of guys like Tortoise." -Carolyn Vallejo, AllstonPudding.com

“Sounds like Faraquet meets Tortoise -- it’s fuckin awesome.” -Jon Gill of Night Fruit

“Cool! Good stuff!” -Ibanez Guitars

He is also a member of Boston's celebrated The Doctors Fox.

“Very beautiful. Very different to my ears, sensitive and human. And brave I think. I love the love song in the early part. And the instrumental combinations throughout. A unique and magic sound here.” – political cartoonist and journalist Steve Brodner, The Naked Campaign (at The New Yorker Online), RollingStone, The Atlantic, Mother Jones

“The record [“Thirty-two bit”] sounds rad.”
–Andrew Thiboldeaux, Pattern is Movement

“…It is really, really nice. I liked Elephant the most. It’s real good…Beautiful tunes.”
–Ben Wigler, Arizona

“I am really enjoying it.”
–Chris Barth, The Impossible Shapes

"[Harris'] sound is an amalgam of many a tastemaker's favorite acts: imagine if Sufjan Stevens and Chad VanGaalen were doing covers of hip-hop classics with the aid of a spare string section as Panda Bear randomly screws around with a loop station, and the end product is released on K Records." -Leor Galil, Bostonist

"To witness Harris at work in a live setting is a study in dexterity. Behind a small hill of sequencers, effects pedals, stereo trickery, and musical baubles sits one man, Harris, who is charged with keeping everything together in a live performance...Harris delivers a brand of playing far more ambient than Williams’, less focused on instrumentation, and more centered towards moods and tonal colors—say, if Williams couldn’t get Kid A out of his head. The result, when executed, is a dense and evolvi