Still great spring waters
For one-time Northern California indie-rock band Harvester, the coming weekend marks 10 years of sweet jangle
Sometimes, life gets in the way of a perfectly good band. One person gets a degree, another person gets married, another gets a job that makes it impossible to continue, and another moves away.
Under such adverse circumstances, many bands give up. Others, such as the plucky members of Harvester, scale back their ambition a notch and figure out a way to continue.
Consider Jed Brewer, a grade-school teacher by day who lives at the southern end of Midtown and who never stopped playing guitar. He still performs with his Northern California band, Carquinez Straits.
Drummer Jon Sebat had been living in Moscow, Idaho, for the past few years, but he recently moved to New York. And singer-guitarist Sean Harrasser (whose misspelled surname on a piece of mail gave Harvester its name) and bassist Todd Steinberg continue to reside in Portland, where Brewer lived until five years ago; they play together in a band called Dearest, Crown.
But every once in a while, with what seems to be increasing rarity, the four reconvene to play together. “It’s been five years since we all lived in the same state,” Brewer explained. “I would say the first two or three years, we were pretty active about making trips to other people’s cities and doing stuff. The last couple of years, it’s gotten slower.”
Brewer, originally from the Contra Costa County bedroom community of El Sobrante, moved to Davis in the 1980s and founded Thornucopia, a band that grew out of his involvement with KDVS. Later, the lineup included singer Johanna Galos and, eventually, her husband, Guy Kyser of Thin White Rope fame. Thornucopia would play Chico, and that’s how Brewer hooked up with the future members of Harvester.
Though the name Harvester has an agrarian ring to it, this combo ain’t exactly some No Depression-style Ramblin’ Woodrow Elliott & the Whiskey-Tilted Bindlestiffs knockoff. Yes, the guitar-guitar-bass-drums lineup lends itself to a distinctive Northern California sound, but Harvester’s music sometimes sounds like the Velvet Underground trying to tackle the Creedence Clearwater Revival songbook, or R.E.M. played sideways without the mumbling. Factor in obtuse but smart and evocative lyrics, and wordless ba-na-na-na choruses that any half-plastered Aggie can sing along to, and you’ve got something quite special.
And this is likely why Harvester got inked to the then-prestigious Geffen/DGC label, still on a post-Nirvana high and signing every promising alt-rock band in earshot. One album, Me Climb Mountain, was released in 1996; a second, Camper Van Landingham, archly titled in honor of former Giants pitcher Bill Van Landingham, was recorded in 1997, but DGC didn’t release it. “That spring, they cut their roster,” Brewer recalled. “All their little obscure bands, they got rid of in one fell swoop. We were even more obscure than Pell Mell or Three Mile Pilot.”
Brewer got the rights to Camper and put it out on his Lather Records label, which already had released an EP called Northstate. Lather also has released records by Carquinez Straits and Dearest, Crown, along with some of the better acts from Davis’ incestuous music scene: Acme Rocket Quartet, Beatrice Nine, the Lookyloos, the Popealopes, the Curbfeelers, Buick and Thornucopia. Lather’s Harvester catalog also includes another EP, Congratulations on Your Nudity, and two full-length titles, Mud Is My Ally and Annoying the Waitress. “Lather kinda started when I was still a Davis guy,” Brewer said, “and it’s still mostly that group of friends.”
This weekend, Harvester will kick up a little more magic at Old Ironsides, in what promises to be a uniquely west-of-the-causeway rock experience, with Los Cuatros Estebans and Sudden Oak Death also on the bill.
For Brewer, it will be another night to savor with some old pals. “You know,” he said, “we had a lot of fun with it, we’ve put a lot of time into it, and we don’t hate each other. And the music, it’s not exactly like we’ve moved on from that style. So, there’s really no reason to call it totally done.”
There’s really no reason at all.