Harvester's 20 year journey to and from becoming not quite almost famous

How the Northern California indie band survived the so-called alt-rock revolution

This is what Harvester looked like back in the day. Now the band has a different drummer, but the same ’90s vibe.

This is what Harvester looked like back in the day. Now the band has a different drummer, but the same ’90s vibe.

Photo courtesy of Harvester

Catch Harvester at 5 p.m., Sunday, August 23, at Harlow's Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J Street. Tickets cost $8-$10. The Toadmortons are also on the bill. Learn more at http://latherrecords.com/harvester.

The '90s were a dramatic time for music. Once underground alt-rock groups such as Nirvana got major-label deals and shot up from obscurity to megastardom. On the other end of the spectrum, however, hundreds of other bands also nabbed coveted contracts—only to go nowhere fast.

Harvester, an indie four-piece with members from Sacramento and Chico, was one such group.

“We were without question one of the most wildly unsuccessful bands in the history of major labels,” says lead singer Sean Harrasser.

The band’s 1996 DGC record Me Climb Mountain bombed, but the group has stayed together in the nearly two decades since and will return to Sacramento this Sunday, August 23, with a show at Harlow’s to celebrate its fifth album, the self-released Mt. Tallac.

The event will take fans all the way back to 1994 when the group released its demo cassette, Granite …What? The majority of its songs were re-recorded and released on Me Climb Mountain. Now the band is selling a new CD version.

“We just really liked that cassette. We thought it captured our sound,” says guitarist Jed Brewer.

Even from that early start, it was easy to hear the band’s offbeat and quirky sound. Back then (as with now), the band penned tender, vulnerable indie folk-rock tunes, but also some obnoxious, noisy, goofball songs too.

Shortly after its release, the label made cutbacks and Harvester was dropped.

It was hardly the end, however. The label still paid for the band’s second record, the self-released Camper Van Landingham. From there, Harvester decided to continue as a part-time venture. These days the band members, including bassist Todd Steinberg and drummer Jon Sebat, have full-time jobs, kids and other bands; they’re also spread out over Northern California and Oregon.

As such, it’s a little tough to play shows and record albums. For this show, drummer Ario Lynch will fill in for Sebat, who lives in San Diego.

The band started working on its new record 10 years ago when Harrasser wrote a batch of particularly passionate songs. At the time he was going through a lot of painful upheaval: divorce, moving, returning to college and trying to find a new job.

“When I write songs they’re always some kind of essay or introspect,” Harrasser says. “I have to feel something deeply to discover in order to translate that to song.”

The record wasn’t finished until earlier this year—in part because it took the band that long to finish overdubbing vocals and getting final mixes just right, but also because Harrasser’s life improved to the point where it was hard to access its dark roots.

The timeline’s not the important thing here, though. Rather, the band’s members say they just want to celebrate the music as they marvel at the chemistry that’s kept them together all these years.

“It was pretty noisy. It had a special energy to it,” Brewer says. “Obviously we don’t want to stop, ’cause here we are 20 years later.”