the Harbours
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the Harbours

Band Alternative Folk


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Harbours - Second Story Maker
(release date: 10/16/2006)


Feeling a bit camera shy


When a young band goes on tour, the members usually have to come up with creative ways to get out of jobs and other responsibilities for two, maybe three weeks. After finishing their second album, Harbours leader Miguel Zelaya’s former group decided instead to give up everything and hit the road for six months. “Ambition is the key word in my last band,” he says with a grin.
He can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible: Four months into their San Francisco to New York trek, Zelaya and his Headlands Band bandmates found themselves broke, burned out, and sick in Louisville. Licking their wounds, everyone headed back west, and Zelaya ended up in his hometown of San Jose, where he worked for his family’s travel business while devising a plan to get back to San Francisco. Eventually, he ended up in a warehouse in the Mission District populated by musicians, and not surprisingly, he quickly found himself rekindling the songwriting flame that even a doomed U.S. tour couldn’t snuff out.
“I had all these songs from the challenge of moving back to the city,” says Zelaya. “All these people told me that once you move out of San Francisco, it’s really hard to move back. So a lot of the songs came out of that, just trying to get back here. Like, ‘What the hell was I doing? Why would I leave my girlfriend for six months?’ Just all that stuff.”
Zelaya played at any bar and party that would have him and his acoustic guitar, and eventually his new band scored a gig at San Francisco’s Mission Creek Music & Arts Festival. There was just one small problem: his new band didn’t exist yet. Aided by some former bandmates and new friends, Zelaya made a good showing at the event, but it wasn’t until he committed songs to tape—at the studio conveniently located below his living space—that The Harbours were officially born.
“After three songs, [engineer] Joe Alvarez was saying, ‘Let’s do an album,’” explains Zelaya. “We became really good friends, because I was living there, so at that point that’s when I began thinking, ‘Okay, this is more of a real thing.’ Since then, it’s been more serious and I’ve focused on getting a band together for recording & shows.”
The fruit of everyone’s labor—including contributions from members of The Mother Hips and Elephone—is the gorgeous new Second Story Maker, The Harbours’ debut album due Oct. 16 on Stab City Records. The 11-track album acts a bit like a song cycle with its tales of going home again and finding one’s place in the world, but it’s not the product of a grand plan.
“My influences are pretty obvious on the record,” says Zelaya, who says everyone from The Beatles to The Kinks to The Zombies were reference points. “I wasn’t trying to deny anything I wanted to do. The old band, while it was haphazard, we attempted to be coherent, and in trying to do that, we didn’t sound coherent at all. With this, I’m not trying to sound directed—these are the 11 songs that I like the most, and I basically got my favorite musicians that I knew to play them.”
Though music from the ’60s has had a profound effect on Zelaya, his allegiance to the era isn’t as cartoonish as some of his contemporaries. While it’s true that Second Story Maker probably wouldn’t exist without John, Paul, Mick, and Keith, it’s just as easy to find comparisons to more recent artists like Elliott Smith, Spoon, Wilco, and Cardinal. And, perhaps most importantly, the sum of those parts is a timeless-sounding record that’s subtle and intriguingly singular.
“When I moved back to the city, and even when I lived there before, everyone was telling me, ‘There’s so much great ’60s-revival rock,’” says Zelaya. “I would think, ‘Awesome!’ I’d go to tons of shows and think, they’re more like cover bands. They look really good and the people in the audience are all gorgeous and really cool, but it’s more like bar rock. It’s music to meet somebody by.’ I understand all that, but I never want to be a novelty act.
“I’m into the idea of putting together parts that are there for a purpose, but don’t overdo anything. Just get the idea across, but don’t beat it over anyone’s head—let the singing and the lyrics do that. It’s the song, it’s not really the instruments. The instruments play a role, but it’s not about some killer guitar riff or some huge drum sound, or any reference to a song that was popular 30 years ago.”
Where Harbours’ songs will be in the pop-music canon three decades from now is anyone’s guess, but don’t expect to find its leader worrying about big-picture things like that. He’s got a great record in the can, he’s already working on the follow-up, and now he’s working on that band thing—again.
“I think the whole point of The Harbours is get a record out first, and then get a band together second, which is kind of backward,” says Zelaya. “But I did it the other way already, so I’m going to try the reverse.”