What’s so funny?
With a new record finally complete, Hardy Harr! can have the last laugh
Katie Mourning is a bit giggly as she confesses that she’s not exactly the best interviewee in the world. Still, the conversation lasts long enough to convey the following tidbits: Mourning has been singing since the second grade; her favorite vocalists include Tori Amos, Billie Holiday and Fantômas’ Mike Patton … and she just sold some of her eggs for $6,500.
“I plan on not working ever if I don’t have to,” she jokes.
The female half of Sacramento acoustic duo Hardy Harr! also says she is excited about the group’s first record, Plays Nice, a quirky country romp with sugary sweet harmonies telling stories about the devil and drinkin'.
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Hardy Harr!—which also includes songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Moses “Moe” Dawson—as just another cutesy boy/girl pop duo. Of course, then it becomes the classic game of guess their relationship. Brother/ sister? Husband/wife? Lovers?
Turns out Mourning and Dawson are just pals from junior high school, which is about the time the music seed was planted for Dawson.
“I saw kids in junior high in bands and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I wanted to hang out with them. I wanted to play. And I wanted to be in a band.”
Which he did. But it wasn’t until almost a decade later, when Mourning approached Dawson with a couple of her songs, that they began making music together. Dawson already had a handful of songs written, and the two started playing shows furiously to make sure the new project kept moving forward. In the past year and a half, Hardy Harr! has completed four West Coast tours, playing a good chunk of shows with Bay Area singer-songwriter Ash Reiter.
In a performance at San Francisco’s Edinburgh Castle earlier this year, Mourning and Dawson switched off between guitar and keyboard, playing a set of fun tunes as they exchanged endearing glances. Hardy Harr! even did a bubbly version of the self-explanatory “Food and Pussy” from eccentric folk artist Dan Reeder (whose demo, found in a mail pile, was put out as-is by John Prine).
But don’t let the cheery, nerdy exterior fool you. There’s something slightly off about these kids.
Songs like “Lucifer Sam in Dixieland” conjure up images of a sort of modern vaudevillian underworld, as haunting harmonies tell the tale of the evil one coming “down from the ceiling selling riddles and ribbons to the ministers’ children / He’s wobbling his head off-beat to the rhythm, keeping a straight face when he’s kidding.”
And with the addition of pedal steel and drums, Plays Nice, which was released in May, has transformed Hardy Harr!'s sound from simple guitar-keyboard pop to fully fleshed-out country. The album—the majority of which was recorded for free as a project at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts outside of Berkeley—took a year to complete, which Dawson attributes mostly to his laboring over lyrics.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that he cites Bob Dylan as one of his major influences.
“If you gave me only Beatles and Bob Dylan CDs, I’d be happy the rest of my life,” said Dawson, who also plays keyboard in a Beatles tribute band called The BBC.
He’s becoming prolific in his own right. The band will begin work on a new album in June. Mourning and Dawson will ditch the duo status and bring a full band out on the road, which will likely add some grit to their sunny harmonies.
Yes, the vocals hide some of the morose topics in the lyrics, but Dawson still insists he’s not some introverted hermit who churns out despondent entries in a journal. In fact, his outlook on life and his songwriting has changed quite a bit over the years.
“My whole life I thought the best art was tormented,” he said, “but I’m as happy as a maggot in a gut pile.”