Married in song
The rowdy, rockin’ and sober relationship of Portland’s Harmed Brothers
The Harmed Brothers play folk rock that’s true to the band’s Americana roots: heartfelt and a little rough around the edges. The five-member “indiegrass” band from Portland, Ore., is known for whipping audiences into drunken, boot-stomping frenzies, but that reputation is, at times, at odds with everyday reality for singer and guitarist Ray Vietti, who has been sober for about four years.
“I wanted to go into working on what became our latest album with a sober mind, so I did,” he said during a recent interview. “It felt so good. I was just enjoying that state of mind and waking up without a hangover, so I just kind of rode that out.” (Side note: Chico-based musician Jeff Coleman played mandolin on that 2017 self-titled Harmed Brothers release.)
Vietti, 36, maintains that his clear-mindedness doesn’t take the raucousness out of the band’s performances. “I feel like, night after night, we’re putting 110 percent into everything we’re doing,” he said. “Those emotions and feeling are still alive in all those songs. That rowdiness is still there. I hope the audience can see that these songs are coming straight from the heart, and that it all pours out in the live performance.”
Speaking with the CN&R ahead of the Harmed Brothers’ show at the Maltese this Saturday (June 23), Vietti also shared his insight on the band’s internal dynamics. He splits songwriting and vocal duties with banjoist Alex Salcido, a partnership that has proved prolific. They’ve written and recorded five albums together dating back to 2010’s All the Lies You Wanna Hear. Like any functional relationship, theirs has involved listening with open minds, compromising and letting the insignificant stuff slide.
“We’re really good about taking each other’s criticisms,” Vietti said. “There’s rarely a situation where it’s like, ‘Let’s not try that.’ Our friendship is a marriage of sorts; that’s kind of how bands operate. You’re married to each other. You learn how to communicate and get past the little things with personalities and stuff.” He paused, and then chuckled. “If we could apply that to some of our romantic situations, maybe we wouldn’t have songs to write anymore.”
Salcido and Vietti turn to the other members of the band—Matthew McClure (bass), Ryan Land (drums) and Ben Knight (guitar)—for input on how to shape the songs. “It’s kind of an open forum these days,” Vietti said. “If you think you have something that will make a song more interesting, or it’s just more to your liking, let’s throw it against a wall and see what sticks. That’s kind of how we decide what skin to put the songs in.”
As a band, they stick to the philosophy that whatever works, works. And that’s how Vietti has come to feel about using drugs during the creative process. He’s written plenty of songs while he was stoned or drunk—songs he says he still likes—and he finds that being sober isn’t necessarily better or worse for making music. He’s come up with equally worthwhile ideas for lyrics or melodies in both states of mind, he said. However, he’s certain that the Harmed Brothers’ shows have only gotten better since he stopped drinking.
“Personally, I think our performances are 1,000 times better than they were in the past,” Vietti said. “I’m sure there are people who would disagree because they’d love to get drunk with the band or whatever, but we’ve decided that this is what we want to do with our lives. So, for the most part, we make an honest effort to put our best foot forward.”