Q&A: Dead Harvest

For a band built on drive, things come together quickly. Proof lies with the Chicago-based rock trio Dead Harvest; a band that has not only successfully self-recorded a 4-song EP but has also built a notable following and an online presence in only a few months. Vocalist and bassist Jonathan Wilson, drummer Drew Garnaut and guitarist Gerard Rapp are continuing on the fast track with a number of new songs, recording plans and a list of shows scheduled for 2018.

Listen Live and Local: Dead Harvest formed in the summer of 2017 and released an EP roughly four months later. Can you guys talk a bit about that process?

Jonathon Wilson: We started playing as a threesome in August. Gerard, the one who is not here, him and I played in a local Joliet band. This was around the same time that Drew had started messing around with Gerard playing drums and so when the three of us got together it was really casual. We didn’t really have any songs or anything then, so we were kind of just messing around and stuff. From then until December, everything got progressively more serious. I think it was actually early November, so only a couple months after we had practiced for the first time, we recorded the four songs. We self-recorded it, so we recorded it in my basement with just random mics and whatever stuff we had. Then we found somebody online to actually mix and master it and make it sound as good as it could, and that’s what we released. We were actually pleasantly surprised [with how it turned out]. What’s funny is that when I listen to it now, I look back on the drums, I am like “Wow, it sounds like a little crappy beater kit,” because it is. I mean, if you look at the drum kit, where did that even come from?

Drew Garnaut: I had an electric kit worth like $150 and I reached out to this dude on OfferUp of all places. He was looking for an electric kit and I wanted a real kit so I went and traded it, but it was his kids’ drum kit. It’s this crappy little black unbranded kit.

Wilson: The funny thing about that is it doesn’t sound like complete garbage, but it doesn’t sound like a rock kit. It almost has its own little personality. It kind of shows when you have a talented musician playing it, you can actually make it sound pretty good. We were strategic about where we were placing the mic and what we were doing with this recording. Usually, when you record a rock album, you’ll have a nice big drum set and then you’ll have everything mic’d individually, but we didn’t have the resources to do that. We used two microphones; one for the lower frequencies and one for the higher frequencies just to try and capture everything. The overall sound that came out of it, for what we had, is pretty good I think. You can’t really tell how low budget it really was.

LLL: Of the recorded songs, are there any that stand out?

Garnaut: My favorite sort of fluctuates. It started as “Wasted Love” and “How Do You Know” and now I think “Leave It Alone” is my go-to. I think just because it’s such a rock song. It’s such a fun one to play live and the more we play it live the more people start enjoying it.

Wilson: I don’t like any of them. No, I mean, they all kind of have cool things in different ways. I don’t know if the ordinary listener would pick up on the same things that I pick up on, just because I am so involved in it. “Leave it Alone”, for example, that’s one of my favorites. I don’t know how to explain it cause I am not all that musical of a person, which is weird, but it starts ahead of the one beat, so it kind of throws off the whole percussion of the song, but [Drew] picked up on it really quick. I’ve played that riff with drummers before who could not understand that, so that one’s probably my favorite, just for that reason. But I don’t know, sometimes I like them all, sometimes I don’t like any of them.

LLL: It’s only been a month since the release of your EP Wasted Love, but can fans be expecting new music anytime soon?

Garnaut: We’ve actually got a whole bunch of material. We’re trying to save up and get into a real studio and record our first full-length album. We’re looking for a good engineer more than a good studio; someone who can capture our sound without too much post-production editing. For being a 3-piece band, I feel we sound really big and we want to capture that without all the post-production editing and stuff.

Wilson: It’s tough cause we don’t really talk that far in the future. We only kind of discuss things that are right in front of us. We all have different visions of the band, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think as long as we keep it a collaboration, we’ll be able to find our next step. I think right now we’re just trying to get better shows or shows with bands that are kind of along the same style that might have a little bit of a following. We try to be smart with the shows that we book, but at the same time, we’re just trying to play everywhere, too. That’s mainly what we’re doing now, just trying to get a bunch of shows, and we’re talking about recording a full album. All we have released now is four songs, but we have 11 songs total written. We want to do a recording [with] professional sound engineer capturing and mixing it just so we can have something a little more professional released. As far as a year from now, hopefully playing festivals or something. If that’s in the realm of possibilities, that’d be awesome.

LLL: Dead Harvest has a solid social following for such a new band. How does the band balance the business and creative sides of music?

Garnaut: In terms of social media, that’s, for me, not the most important thing, obviously the music comes first, but developing a base and presence online is pretty important. We try to do what we can with Facebook and Instagram.

Wilson: I am definitely involved and I try to do a lot for it, but I think Drew’s just better at the PR side of it. I’ve always kind of been more creative with stuff, so doing the logo and I put together a WordPress site, but Drew’s kind of been more on top of Instagram and Facebook. Not only do I trust him, but he’s constantly doing stuff with it. Every time we practice he’s like, “Oh I was talking to this person and this new opportunity came out of it”, which is awesome because  I’ve never been in a band with anybody that’s been that on top networking. I think it’s gotten us a  lot of shows and a lot of opportunities.

Garnaut: We’re all fairly involved. All three of us have access to our email so if someone hears of an opportunity, we all have access to our band email so we can talk to whoever through that. We want everything to be fully disclosed so whatever we’re doing, everybody knows about it. [It’s a] no secrets sort of thing.

Wilson: It goes back to the whole core of the band. I think what’s the healthiest relationship for us is just if we keep everything a collaboration, so we try to keep everything open. We all have access to the band email. We all have logins for whatever stuff. If someone wants to take the initiative to go on there and start posting stuff, they have every opportunity [and] every right to do that. It’s not like one person is in charge of our online relations or anything like that.

Garnaut: The music side of it, I think I am sort of the mediator. They’re always bringing ideas. Sometimes they’ll agree with each other, sometimes they won’t. I kind of sit back and stay quiet for the most part and I’ll listen to their ideas and then work out a way to have them meet in the middle. Our last song there was a riff our guitarist wrote like two years ago and John went away and wrote a bass line using the same riff, brought it back with a vocal melody, showed it to us and our guitarist didn’t agree with it. I kind of sat back and let them bicker about it for a little bit and then said, “Well why don’t we do it this way?” and they were both like, “Oh yeah that works.” But we can all bring ideas. Vocal melodies almost always come from John because he’s the singer, but we never really have an issue with that.

Wilson: What’s funny about that is, I didn’t want to sing when we got together. I told them, back in August like “Yeah, we can be a 3-piece but one of you guys have to sing.” Drew was like, “Oh yeah, I can sing,” but I think once we started playing the songs, some of them were songs I already had vocal melodies too. It was just kind of natural for me to sing and then Drew started singing some stuff when we recorded. Again, I was blown away, not only with his drumming but again with his vocals.

Garnaut: Aw, thanks, man.

Wilson: Some of it’s kind of funny cause he’s got an Australian accent but he was trying to sing it like I do with an American accent.

Garnaut: There was one word [the word “here”] we had to retake 15 times. I could just not get it.

LLL: Rock is probably one of the larger scenes in Chicago. How does Dead Harvest standout?

Garnaut: I think what surprises a lot of people is our sound in a live setting. I’ve heard a lot of 3-piece bands, [and] you can always tell there’s something missing. It’s not that they’re bad or such, it just feels a little empty. When we play, John has a whole bunch of pedals that he uses with his bass and it really fills it out. Our live presence as a 3-piece feels a lot bigger than a 3-piece. I think that’s something that people really appreciate.

Wilson: I think with the setlist we have, the newer stuff is quite a bit different than the EP. The last couple shows people were really complimentary of stuff they hadn’t heard before. I don’t even know what genre we would fall under because we have so much random stuff. I think the newer stuff that’s not recorded, I think that’s what I am excited about with this upcoming Elbo Room show.

Garnaut: We played newer stuff at our last [show] but we’ve got two brand new ones we’re aiming to get out at [The Elbo Room] show.

Wilson: “Sleepless Nights” is one of them. What’s the other new one?

Garnaut: “Take Me Home”.

Wilson: We played “Take Me Home” at the last [show] but that’s the one we’re really stoked on now.

Garnaut: I think that one is a step away from what we’ve done. To me, it’s got a bit of a funk feel to it, which is completely different from our previous stuff and it got a really good reception last time we played it. Every time we play it we get better and better and it gets tighter and tighter, so we’re just excited to keep playing it [and to] get it front of new people.

LLL: Aside from recording new music, are there any other projects in the works?

Wilson: Elbo Room is our main thing coming up right now. Was there anything else that we were planning?

Garnaut: Not in the next month or so. Early April we’ve got some exciting announcements about some big shows.

Wilson: I think the other thing, just for anybody who [has] any sort of interest in us, is just to keep an eye out for whatever recordings we’ll have coming out. I am sure we’ll start recording the songs within the next couple months. We’re not really focused on music videos or anything yet, just cause we’re still trying to put the sound together. Our live stuff has changed since August. [Drew] started off with a beater kit and now he’s got a full badass kit. I’ve changed my setup quite a bit just to try to have more dynamics with the sound. Gerard is kind of a straightforward rock and roll guitar player, so he always brings that to the table. I think it will be kind of fun to see what we’re able to come up with the next couple of months.

Dead Harvest’s next show will be on Friday, February 26 at The Elbo Room. The night will also include performances by Andrew Palmer, Cabin Noise, John June Year and Clan Adam. 

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