John Wesley Harding Finds 'Swings' Lurking In 'Shadow'
The fact that John Wesley Harding isn't currently signed to a recording contract didn't stop him from recording and releasing a new album. He recently issued the studio set "Swings and Roundabouts," tThe fact that John Wesley Harding isn't currently signed to a recording contract didn't stop him from recording and releasing a new album. He recently issued the studio set "Swings and Roundabouts," the fourth edition in the singer/songwriter's "Dynablob" series of albums sold only through his Web site and at shows. And it's already turned a profit.
"This album went into profit within 32 hours of being on sale on my Web site," Harding proudly tells Billboard.com. "No reviews, no adverts. The only advert for it is my Web site and my career. No reviews anywhere because I haven't yet given away a copy for review, because they're all mine," he says while laughing. "It's pretty incredible."
Perhaps more incredible is that the affable Englishman who now resides in New York recorded and self-released the solo acoustic album while he has a full band album, "The Man With No Shadow," already in the can awaiting release. He is also putting the finishing touches on his first novel.
"Shadow" was slated for a June release via Mammoth, which issued his 2000 set "The Confessions of St. Ace," until the imprint was folded into sister Disney-owned label Hollywood Records.
"It could have been one of those terrible stories," Harding says. "But it turns out they were extremely generous and so, I'm really free to do what I like with [the album]. Without being specific, we've had a couple of offers for it, but I'm in no hurry to get it out. I think it's one of my most accomplished records yet, as it were. And I just feel that it should be on the right label.
"So, in the meantime, I made a whole other album, because I think what musicians do, basically, or should, is make music."
Unlike the first three "Dynablob" discs -- two disparate live sets and a compilation of unreleased studio recordings -- "Swings and Roundabouts" is a full studio album of new material (which, in its liner notes, is sincerely "dedicated to the lovely people who worked at Mammoth Records"). And, unlike its nearest sibling, the pop-oriented "The Man With No Shadow," it's a collection of the wry and witty folk storytelling for which the artist is renowned.
"Both represent different facets of what I do," the notoriously prolific Harding explains. "The reaction to it has been great. As I thought, [many of] the people who are really into my music ... like the acoustic stuff a lot. Which is not to say they don't like 'The Confessions' or won't like 'The Man With No Shadow,' but I think there's a kind of intimacy of the acoustic albums, possibly because it's most like what they go and see when they see me playing live solo."
As for the novel, which is based on the song "Misfortune," from his 1998 album "Awake" (Zero Hour), he expects to have it finished by the end of the year. "I've been writing it for three-and-a-half years," he says. "It's set in the 19th century and it's about a boy brought up by an insane rich man as a little girl."
Because one of the characters is a ballad writer, Harding wrote a number of songs that appear throughout the text, some of which may end up recorded and eventually released in conjunction with the tome. "I think I will [record some of the songs]," he says. "They're like traditional folk songs, but all fictional, obviously. I'd probably package the book with the song 'Misfortune' start with. And, in fact, that's probably how I'll give it to [potential] publishers."
While Harding was revising the novel, recording "Swings," and waiting to see how the Mammoth situation played out, advance copies of "The Man With No Shadow" sent out before the label's demise made their way onto Internet auction sites such as eBay, sometimes fetching more than $100.
"It's very flattering," he admits. "I get slightly annoyed that there might be people who didn't really pay any money for those things making a lot of money off of them. But apart from that, I've got nothing against people having the record."
When it does emerge sometime next year, more than a year after it was completed, Harding says "it's gonna come out in a slightly different form. I'm gonna have to put some different mixes on or elongate some versions or put a different song on. I've had a bit of a luxury with that album, and I do kind of feel I could make some changes to that, which is kind of interesting. I've never been in that that situation with an album before."
Harding is getting ready to hit the road accompanied only by frequent collaborator Robert Lloyd. He'll begin Thursday (Oct. 10) at Makor in New York, and will work his way across the country before closing Nov. 14 at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles, and plans to play a mix of songs from both new albums, as well as a host of material spanning his 14-year recording career.
New and old fans will be pleased to hear Harding, who takes requests and allows his audience to dictate the flow of any given evening, deliver a unique show most every night. "It's something I suppose that you pick up off of Bob Dylan in a little way," he says. "Or maybe it's something that you pick up off the Replacements... I've always found that to be something that I think is one of the most appealing things about going to see somebody live. I like that spontaneous kind of thing."
Here are John Wesley Harding's upcoming tour dates:
Oct. 10: New York (Makor)
Oct. 11: Cambridge, Mass. (T.T. the Bear's)
Oct. 12: Bridgeport, Conn. (Acoustic Cafe)
Oct. 13: Philadelphia (Tin Angel)
Oct. 14: Arlington, Va. (IOTA Club & Cafe)
Oct. 15: Carrboro, N.C. (Room Four)
Oct. 16: Decatur, Ga. (Eddie's Attic)
Oct. 17: Nashville (Bluebird Cafe)
Oct. 18: Louisville, Ky. (Rudyard Kipling House)
Oct. 19: Columbus, Ohio (Little Brother's)
Oct. 20: Pittsburgh (Club Cafe)
Oct. 24: Cleveland (Beachland Ballroom & Tavern)
Oct. 25: Ann Arbor, Mich. (the Ark)
Oct. 26: Indianapolis (Birdy's)
Oct. 27: Dayton, Ohio (Canal Street Tavern)
Oct. 28: Newport, Ky. (Southgate House)
Oct. 29: Madison, Wis. (Luther's Blues)
Oct. 30: Milwaukee (Shank Hall)
Oct. 31: Woodstock, Ill. (Waverly Gold Note)
Nov. 1-2: Chicago (Schuba's)
Nov. 3: Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CSPS/Legion Arts)
Nov. 6: Yakima, Wash. (Pete's)
Nov. 7: Seattle (Tractor Tavern)
Nov. 8: Portland, Ore. (the Fez)
Nov. 12: Mill Valley, Calif. (Sweetwater Saloon)
Nov. 13: Berkeley, Calif. (Freight & Salvage)
Nov. 14: Los Angeles (Knitting Factory)