Indie folk duo The Harmaleighs (a name that combines the names of the first names of the two members, Haley Grant and Kaylee Jasperson, and the word “harmony”) will be playing Club Passim this week; we had the chance to hear more about the start of the band, their inspirations, and the story behind the milky tub on the cover of their latest album, Hiraeth.

KB: Do you remember how you found the word “Hiraeth”? I know you mentioned you came across it online.

HG: Yeah! It was October of 2014… we hadn’t released our debut LP Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush yet. Kaylee was on the computer and I was nagging her basically saying, ‘get off your computer and hang out with me’ kind of thing. I then looked at the screen and she was on StumbleUpon with just the definition of the word ‘Hiraeth’ She was about to shut the computer off and I wrote the definition in my phone. Haven’t stopped thinking about it since!

KB: We always ask artists to describe their sound without using genre names. Can you please do that for us? (For reference, in the past Cigarettes After Sex have said “sleazy-sweet hazy romantic ballads” and Declan McKenna replied “lemon drizzle.”)

HG: The sound of a spork slowly stirring a bathtub full of vegan Mac and Cheese.

KB: Hiraeth was inspired by your time on the road. Does each song have a direct connection to a moment or situation from the road? I know you’ve talked about how “Lady Brain” in particular was inspired by one such moment.

HG: Yes! It’s sort of a concept album in a way. Every song was written as a reflection of that time period in our lives. It took months to fully process everything and I didn’t begin writing ‘hiraeth’ until we had been off the road for about 6-8 months.

KB: Can you tell me more about “Mouthful of Cigarettes”?

HG: Oooo this one is pretty funny. Back in 2013 we were under the impression that you just walked into BMI on music row and played for someone and like, that’s how you started your career in music. For those of you considering this—don’t. Anyways we did and one of the representatives there (while laughing at our poor choice) was kind enough to listen to a few songs. He ended up becoming a great mentor for us early on. Before we embarked on this year-long self booked tour in 2015 he said to us ‘try not to play too many shows and burn yourself out. I’ve seen it happen to so many talented bands.’ At the time, that statement didn’t even make sense to me. When he said this I was willing to play anywhere/anytime and it didn’t matter if people were listening. I just wanted to play music! About six months into our tour we were playing in Portland, OR at another empty bar. There was a band on before us and I was legit just so depressed staring down at the table at an ashtray and it dawned on me what our rep meant by ‘don’t burn out.’ I felt so tired of playing and people not listening. I was seeing the successes of our peers and couldn’t help but grow envious. The passion and flame I had for music was nearly gone. I saw the still-lit cigarette in the ashtray on the table and thought about the process of swallowing a flame to reignite the part of me that had dwindled. I wrote the phrase ‘mouthful of cigarettes’ in my phone then kept listening to the other band. I ended up writing the song a year later.

KB: You two have talked about how you’ve had to learn how to do your own promotion, booking, design, and much more. Apart from making music, do you enjoy any of these other elements of being an artist? Has that changed in the last few years as you’ve gotten better at one skill over another?

HG: Yes! We pretty much can find joy in any aspect (except booking… what a hassle) I particularly like dreaming up designs for merch/posters.

KB: “I Keep Ticking On” always seems to transport me to a particular Red Rocks concert, where I got to see Trampled by Turtles (a band I know you’ve mentioned as an influence) play live. Who are some of the artists you two want to tour with or collaborate with one day? Do you have a dream venue you’d like to perform at?

HG: Ha, that’s awesome! I was listening to a TON of Trampled by Turtles when I wrote that tune. Oh my gosh there are so many artists I would love to tour with: Brandi Carlile, Lucius, Feist, The Lumineers, Paramore, Norah Jones. I could probably list off thousands haha. I love touring with artists and seeing how they interact with fans and how they prep themselves for shows and such. Idk is that creepy? I think my dream collaboration would be with Lucius.

And if I died tomorrow but got to play Red Rocks tonight, I’d die happy.

KB: I know you two met in college; would you like to share the story of how you met?

HG: We met over queso with our mutual friend Alex. Kaylee and I clicked immediately and starting hanging out as friends. I told her I wanted to start a band and that I wanted her to be in it but I needed her to sing harmonies. She said she couldn’t sing—but alas, turns out she can. Guess who won that battle? 😉 We started dating pretty quickly after that.

KB: It’s interesting to see how there seems to be little mention of your personal lives in most coverage I’ve seen. Has this been a conscious decision on your part? In comparison to other queer artists—like, say, Tegan and Sara, or Julien Baker, or Perfume Genius, or Mashrou Leila—the stories I’ve read about you two seem much more focused on your music rather than focusing on your sexuality or how your sexuality might inspire or affect the music/themes.

HG: It hasn’t really been a conscious decision. We are both past the ‘coming out’ stages in our lives and it doesn’t really seem to be something that needs to be addressed much. Honestly I don’t even think about ‘OMG I’m a lesbian I’m dating a woman’ it’s more like ‘this is my human and it doesn’t matter to me.’ Our sexuality is such a small part of all we have to offer.

KB: I feel like being on the road and performing with your life partner can’t come easy. Has it been hard to have your careers and lives so intertwined?

HG: Oooooooooo yes. It was definitely a struggle in the first few years. I am a workaholic would probably work all day everyday if I could. Kaylee helps me slow down a bit and enjoy the little things. We’ve recently worked out a system to try and find some balance. Luckily, since we started dating 6 years ago we’ve basically been attached at the hip, so spending 24 hours a day on the road together is nice.

KB: If you had to imagine your music as a room, what would it look like? How would it be decorated?

HG: Oooo fun. Shag carpet, wood panel walls, a small disco ball, many candles. It would be located in VIBE CITY, USA.

KB: Can you talk to me about the Hiraeth album art and how it was created? How does it reflect the themes of Hiraeth, or what was the thinking behind it?

HG: So first you need to find someone in Nashville with a big house which translates to a big tub. We had a friend of a friend. Then you have to fill said bathtub with 30 percent water and two gallons of coconut milk (vegan problems) then you have to lay in the tub with you girlfriend and look like you’re not screaming at each other for space and also don’t get the top of your hair wet. All of this equals the album cover of Hiraeth.

We came up with this concept because during this time in our lives we felt like we were struggling to make it through our journey. Kind of the way you feel when your body is underwater including your ears but the top of your face isn’t. It’s this strange in between where you’re almost a fly on the wall viewing your own existence. We wanted to portray what it’s like to be drowning but a float at the same time. Marisa Boras snapped the final shot.

KB: Finally, I know you toured with a local band, The Ballroom Thieves, in the past. We’re a big fan of the trio! Any funny stories you’d like to share from when you were on the road with them?

HG: We are absolutely obsessed with them. We became friends instantly because all of our personalities just perfectly aligned. They play this called ‘what are the odds’ and it’s basically like ‘what are the odds that you will do this bizarre thing’ the other person responds with ‘1 in 15’ then they both count to 3 and pick a number. If they pick the same number the person has to do the thing. If they refuse, they owe something. They have an ongoing this of things they owe each other and it’s hysterical. I’m pretty sure Callie has to eat a stick of butter. Cold with only salt. Devin owes the band like, 100 push ups. Martin owes Callie a back massage. Callie and Devin owe Martin a ‘night out’ Basically it’s amazing and Kaylee and I have started playing this game on the road as well. 

You can catch The Harmaleighs perform live at Club Passim this Wednesday, December 20th. 

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