With the Iowa caucus behind us, the 2016 election is about to kick into high gear and musicians will surely be letting us know which way they lean.
Harriet is an upstart L.A. pop-rock band with a definite interest in the society around it. Their debut album (released Jan. 29 Harvest Records) is called American Appetite, and its lyrics are deeply inspired by the power and greed that drive the American condition. Expecting to be browbeaten with a lesson in Sociology-101? Harriet is smarter than that. You won’t be getting pitched on a political candidate, but expect to be hit hard with what it means to be American. Fortunately, part of that is enjoying a well-crafted pop song.
Today (Feb. 2) Billboard is excited to premiere the music video for Harriet’s single “Inheritance.” It’s got the plot of a heist flick condensed into three minutes, and despite its heady plot, Harriet offers a simpler bliss to sink into. They know the effects of a pop-induced endorphin rush, and when the synth kicks into this pre-chorus, get ready.
Check out the video below, followed by an interview with Harriet frontman Alex Casnoff.
How did the video’s concept come together?
This video is a really dark comedy, but that’s not always too far off from tragedy. It’s about a band stuck at a dead end. A band who has been so trapped by the people who were supposed to be helping them, that the only option they’re left with is a terrible, no good, very, very bad one. I think the characters in the video are aware that there isn’t going to be a happy ending, but the emasculation and humiliation of their “enemy” at least gives them a sense of agency, and hopefully self… Although I think the high is short lived.
What drew you to the subject matter of “Inheritance”?
I’m drawn to characters who wrestle with things inside of them. I like to write songs like monologues, and a lot of the time the voices I write in aren’t mine, because I get bored with just me. For a song like “American Appetite” I wrote it in [former Enron CEO] Jeff Skilling’s voice, because of the “personal experience” of simply being pissed off and amazed by this documentary about Enron.
“Inheritance” happens to be more personal. I don’t think it’s really about greed, but more the feeling of being misled. It’s about my experience of being an artist in an industry that no longer supports “artists”, only “creative entrepreneurs.” It’s about me being naive and believing that the business people involved in the arts wanted me to be creative. The truth is I think they do, but the industries only support them if they bring in the money. It may be true that on a larger level the reason for this is a systemic greed, but my feelings behind this song aren’t about “reasons” or understanding. I wrote it cause I was pissed off about being misled — that’s it. “It’s hard to tell business from kindness.”
“Inheritance” is the track you’re working to alternative radio. Do you think its theme and lyrics are really different from what you hear on there?
It’s interesting because right now most of what I’ve heard on the radio for the past couple of years have been what I call “forgetting songs.” Songs that you listen to, to not deal with your feelings. Party songs, taking drug songs, sex songs, etc. I think these things go in waves though. You go back to when people got fed up with ’80s party anthems at the beginning of the ’90s and all these long-haired angry dudes started screaming on rock radio. Or how people got fed up with how overly brooding and melodramatic the late ’90s got. At a certain point, I think people were just exhausted and wanted to stop thinking about all the problems in the world, and instead just take a ton of ecstasy and jump up and down inside tents packed with too many people and strobe lights.
This will change too.
I actually happen to love pop music on the radio. I love electronic music. But when it comes to what I write about lyrically, it needs to be something that really affects me. I write music for catharsis, and I get nothing out of talking about partying. I’m down to jump up and down, but we don’t need to talk about it.
How does “Inheritance” tie into the overall theme of the album? Are there a bunch of different voices?
“Inheritance” is just me. It takes place under palm trees in Los Angeles, sitting across from people I don’t trust.
There are many different voices on the album. I have been taking acting classes weekly for the past eight years, and I really enjoy inhabiting other people’s heads. Mine gets too loud sometimes. Everybody has the same feelings, there’s just different reasons for them, different connections to them and different ways of expressing them. Like I said, I like exploring internal conflict, and I like drama. So sometimes I’ll have a feeling, but I’ll change the circumstances of the person singing the song to raise the emotional stakes.
Sometimes it ends up as an amalgamation of myself and someone else I’ve imagined. I like to latch on to gut reactions and see what would happen if I acted on them. A song is a safe place to do that.
Who are you supporting in the 2016 election? Do you think we can save ourselves from this American condition?
I’m much more interested in the people I don’t support. I believe that the people who to me seem so messed up and wrong-headed are the people who deserve my empathy, because it’s the only way to understand them. We now have the ability to so easily curate what we see on our “feeds,” and I think it’s very easy to succumb to shutting up and out everything we don’t agree with.
That’s not to say I’m so fair and balanced. I’m probably one of the more opinionated people you could meet, but it’s the whole reason I wanted to sing as Jeff Skilling. I think that without empathy a lot of the people who are so against what he did will be unable to “save” anyone from following in his footsteps. I saw him as a seriously wounded broken animal. He was the worst, but hatred and vitriol only allow us to not deal with things. So can we “save” ourselves? Individually, yes. And that’s why I’m not so much interested in the bigger picture. Change happens from the inside out.