The Envelope Peasant’s Sean Harrasser has a story to tell
Sean Harrasser is no stranger to the life and rituals of being in a band, having spent the past two decades in various Chico groups, including The Vertels, Disaster Scrapbook and, most notably, Harvester, which released 1996’s Me Climb Mountain on David Geffen’s DGC imprint.
But the “singster-songster” has been keeping himself and his pedantic wordsmithery (relatively) quiet since his last project Dearest, Crown called it a day in 2004. Not necessarily by choice, either. Raising a daughter, going through a divorce, returning to school and moving back to Chico from Portland, Ore., put performing and recording on the backburner. Over the past two years Harrasser has eased back into Chico’s music community under the Envelope Peasant moniker. His time away serves as the backbone for Next Year Will Be Beautiful—a double-album (released on Harvester band mate Jed Brewer’s Lather Records) that lays bare the past seven years through 28 joyous folk-pop songs steeped in the songwriting of Bob Dylan and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.
“It’s a little self-indulgent,” says Harrasser of the album, recorded off and on in Portland from 2004 to 2010. “In context, it’s almost what it had to be.”
You haven’t done this for a while. It sounds like you’re realizing again how much goes into putting out a record.
Yeah, even things like just playing out. After [Dearest, Crown], my life was pretty well filled up with going through a divorce, I went back to school at Portland State to hopefully find some way to make a living that mattered to me, trying to bring up a daughter all the while. There were a lot of inward journeys as well. In a lot of ways I had no choice but to step back from the whole “music scene”—not from music by any stretch. I mean, it would be disingenuous and misrepresentative to say that I did this as a conscious effort to step away from music. But looking back on it, those years away from doing shows and recording and the like proved to be really good for me. After a while I noticed, even with the small-scale successes that Harvester had, that it starts to lose the focus of why one creates in the first place. The heart of a song exists even if you’re sitting alone in your living room. The time away definitely reconnected me with why I wanted to make music.
And what is it for you? Why do you do it, and why do you continue to do it?
For me it’s almost an imperative. I feel like there’s this whole universe of these colors and geometries and sounds, and by giving yourself some sort of a tool—be it an instrument, a camera, a pencil or a keyboard—and then also having the emotional wherewithal to be receptive, I think you can open yourself up to these beautiful forms and beautiful sounds. So I think it’s this voyage of discovery that I’ve felt my whole life, since I was a kid, that I had to do.
A lot of songwriters draw inspiration from sadness. It seems like a lot of your songs come from a place of happiness, or a joy of discovery.
I have more than my share of “sad songs,” but I think the overall arch is bittersweet, which is what life is. I tend to write very personal songs, sort of my journal if you will.
Do you keep a journal?
In essence that’s what my songs do. I mean, I’ve got written journals, but they tend to be these disparate fragments that seldom have any continuity, where my songs have a little more fluidity. We did the mixing recently, and I remember we were sitting there listening back and, you know, the intent was what anyone does when they’re listening back to mixes. But there was this whole other side story going on that was pretty emotionally jarring. It was all of a sudden pasted there in this voice and this instrumentation that wasn’t really my own anymore [pauses], and it was really difficult. It was hard for me to focus on just the mechanics, or if it was a good mix. It was like, “Shit. That’s fucked up.” [laughs]
But now it’s out there forever; that has to be pretty rewarding at the same time.
Even with all the things I’ve gained from stepping back, it’s just been scintillating and exciting and wonderful to be playing again, meeting new people, discovering new bands, and most of all being able to share some of that in a recording again. It’s been beautiful so far.