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Sarah Harmer - photo by Amy Lotsberg / collectedsounds.com

A Conversation with Sarah Harmer (continued)

PM: How early in your story did playing music for other people begin?

SH: You mean singing in bands?

PM: Yeah, or playing your guitar for your friends, or whatever.

SH: When I was seventeen I joined a band called The Saddle Tramps. And they were already--all these guys had met in college, but I was just friends with one of the guys. So I sang, didn't play guitar, just sang. I was just starting to play guitar on my own then.

PM: Was it as country as the name sounds?

SH: Yeah, it was kind of country rock. We did a Rank and File tune, and we covered--it was mostly originals, but it was definitely country, country rock, and loud guitars, loud like Telecasters through Vox amps. That's the way I learned to lose my voice all the time. And then I guess just right near the last year or so of the band, I had written a handful of tunes that we were playing live. Then I quit the band and was full time in Kingston, moved to Kingston, which was about three hours away from Toronto. And I was going to the university there, so I started my own band about a year and a half after I'd left the Saddle Tramps, or so.

PM: And was that Weeping Tile?

SH: That was Weeping Tile.

PM: So both solo and with Weeping Tile, your songs now have spanned quite a number of styles. Can you tell us about the period where you wrote the original songs, at least, for this new record, I'm a Mountain?

SH: They were written over the last five years, I'd say, really, because I kind of was just stockpiling them. The song "I'm a Mountain" was written in 1998, I think. So it's old for me, and I just never recorded it. My friend's band played it all the time, Luther Wright and the Wrongs. And it was one of those songs that was just out there, but I never recorded it. And the most recent songs on the album, like "Escarpment Blues," and "How Deep in the Valley," and "The Phoenix," I wrote those all within the last year. But "I'm Aglow" and "The Ring"--just kind of really over the last I'd say five years, and put them in a little place on their own where I thought, okay, those kind of seem to be of the same sort of sentiment or genre.

PM: Yeah.

SH: Once I had enough of them, I decided that it was time to go into the studio. And I was working on them at my home studio a little bit here and there, over the last little while, too.

PM: At the home studio, what do you use there?

SH: I use Digital Performer. It's kind of dismantled now. I recorded All of Our Names there, but--

PM: Oh, that's a hellishly good record--

SH: Oh, well thank you.

PM: --to have done it at home. You did that in your home studio?

SH: Yeah, I did that in my bedroom.

PM: Holy jeez! That's a good sounding record.

SH: Thanks, man. Well, my friend Marty Kinack, he was the engineer and co-producer on it, so he knows a lot more about the technology of recording than I do.

PM: Did he bring in a lot of outboard stuff, or did he just use what you had, or--

SH: Well, we mixed it all there as well.

PM: Damn.

SH: But we had a bunch of nice compressors and preamps and nice mics, and we tried to get a really clean signal path. And I have a nice old kind of slanty shanty farmhouse that we were able to mic up and use different rooms. And we did some stuff where we had people--like three of us at least, playing at one time, with drums and bass and guitars. But most of it was multi-tracked, painfully, individually. I'm a Mountain is quite the opposite approach, where all but two songs were recorded live. Even the background harmonies were recorded pretty much at the same time.

PM: Really? I mean, you cut the lead vocal and the backgrounds all live?

SH: Yep.

PM: I see. You know on that title song, you say, "I'm a mountain, like you said to be," did someone actually say to be, and what did they mean?

SH: Well, it was my friend Holly, who was giving me a Tarot card reading over the phone.


SH: She's just a wing nut. And we were just talking. She said, "Oh, I've got these Tarot cards here. I'm going to draw you a card." And so she said, "Oh, I've drawn the mountain." And I said, "All right. I'm a mountain." And it was just kind of a joke. And I was sitting watching TV, playing guitar, and I got off the phone and wrote the beginning of that song.

PM: And in the context of the joking around, did she say, "Well, you be a mountain," or something like that.

SH: Yes, because that song was written kind of when a lot of songs for You Were Here were being written, and I was going through this large relationship breakup, and stuff was tough. And I think I do remember her--it being in the context of, like, just kind of be brave.

PM: That's cool how Holly jumped onto the record that way.

SH: She'll do that.    continue

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