interview / conversation with Art & Phil Harris, of Skinny's 21
The New Puritan ReView;
Arthur Harris: guitar + vocals
Phillip Harris: guitar + vocals
Cassandra Voltolina: percussion
Angie Smith: bass guitar + violin
This is the raw, pre-edited, conversation / interview.
Another part of the process that connects performing artists with writers and readers alike.
The finished, edited layout for the completed article as it appeared in 1991, was either lost or destroyed over time. The floppy disc with the transcription of the original interview was the source for what appears here - before that too, gave way to the ravages of time. Keeping tabs on the past is a lot of work.
Other than that, my recollection of this interview session is more vague than most of the interviews I've done over the years. There was a pervading feeling that each of the brothers was gauging the responses of the other, as though they were guarding a deeper secret, and neither one was going to let me get too close to discovering it. They also finished each others sentences a lot, and I never did to have a look at their studio space, where all the magic happened. Thinking back, it felt very much like the interview I did with Ween, a few years earlier, before they became really big. Then again, the Ween article has disappeared completely, along with so many other artifacts from those days.
Art: we were switching over our rhythm section.
Phil: And doing a lot of recording and writing - just internally - not playing out too much, but yeah, we're gonna have a third tape out pretty soon. Actually we have the songs for a fourth one, but we're kind of behind in our four-tracking.
Art: We played a few of 'em tonight.
Phil: Right, and that'll be out on the third, after which we should be planning to record pretty soon - in the next week or so we'll be getting at it.
So how old is this band?
Phil: Probably a year and a few months.
Art: Our first show was at the Pizza Junction in St. Petersburg. I was in a garage band that never made it out of the garage, with him, then I was in a hardcore band down in Bradenton and I decided to move up here after finding this amplifier in a dump and repairing it. I put this band together with my brother, and I feel lucky that I'm able to put together a band with my brother and not just some other guy. So far we've been together for this long and we've got so many songs together, so... not too old.
Have the other members been at it as long as the two of you?
Art: No we changed rhythm sections. We have other people who are kind of waiting in line...
Phil: We actually did a lot of rhythm jamming with a lot of musicians from the local scene, and it just kind of formed out of a couple of people who just sort of stayed with us. Originally that was Andrew from Home and a friend of his named Corin. Here's our bio - it tells the story about our luck rock amplifiers and guitars, my Fender Mustang I traded for a basket of fireworks.
Who got the better part of that deal?
Art: I think I did, somehow. He just didn't want it. It was a lot of good fireworks, though; I had a whole trunkful.
Phil: The kid had his fifteen minutes of fame, blowing off all that stuff.
Art: Yeah, and you were climbing around in the Manatee County Landfill, and found your amplifier.
Phil: Yeah, I had to put new speakers in it, but that's the story.
You guys also have the sibling thing going for you - how did that come about?
Art: We actually were in our own projects to begin with. He was in a hardcore outfit in Bradenton called Malicious Intent; I was doing something a little different. Eventually that just fell by the wayside, and we ended up in Tampa, and decided to build a studio which we operate out of. We do all the four-tracking and recording and dubbing and all of the production there.
Is the band on the first two tapes the same as the live line-up?
Art: There's other musicians playing on the tapes.
Phil: Yeah, but we don't have any rules about that. That's where we like to experiment, since we have the freedom and the capability to do that in the studio. We like to take advantage of it, mess around with more effects and stuff.
How did you happen to hook up with Brian Repetto, and end up releasing material on his Screw Music Forever label?
Phil: Actually through our good buddies in Home.
Art: Brad, the bass player from Home.
Phil: We love Brian - great guy.
Art: He came out to our show and talked about putting out a seven-inch, but nothing's happened yet. He comes out to all of our shows.
Phil: I like Dumbwaiters.
* [unsolicited plug for Brian's band]
So with the outside interest, are you shopping yourselves around?
Phil: We just got the bio together. We're just starting to really get organized now, after a year - finally.
Art: We feel we haven't really arrived, because we're always borrowing members from another band locally; now we've got two members that seem like they'll hold it together.
Phil: Sometimes it's actually more fun; we just want to do it like that. It's just sort of an orgnization thing, that's pretty recent. We have some demos that we're sending out. We have a fellow who's getting us shows, too - besides Brian.
Have you done any shows outside of Florida yet?
Phil: No not yet.
Phil: Pretty much just regional; we're real fresh. It'll be nice to have some publicity, stuff like that.
You guys do have a knack for making a catchy hook out of a phrase.
Phil: We just try to stay on a roll...
Art: ...we stay alert to a lot of different...
Phil: ...some things just hit us...
Art: ...if we're playing the guitar and something sounds neat, that's good, or weird conversationally... somebody will say something, a catch word or a catch phrase we realize that...
Phil: ...it's something important to us...
Art: ...something important to society and something important to us, so we write a song about it...
Phil: ...or do something with it; sometimes we put 'em on the tapes and we never do 'em out - it just depends on however we feel about it...
Art: ...there's a bunch of different ways; that's just two of the ways that we would do it.
Some of those ideas seem like they could have come from anywhere - there's a pretty diverse selection of topics in some of your lyrics, at least.
Phil: Sometimes Art writes it, sometimes I write it, sometimes we collaborate on it; it just depends on what was going on in whoever's mind then.
It's a very effective strategy to get a song stuck in someone's head.
Phil: It does that to us too, for some reason. Maybe that's why we do that. But it's fun; we're enjoying it anyway.
Art: I'd like to get out and play more.
When do you forsee having this third tape of songs available to become stuck in our heads?
Phil: Phil: We should probably have it out this month, I think. We shouldn't take too long to do it, beacause we have a few of 'em already done. Then, right after that, there should be another one not too long behind it; we've just gotta get a few things done first, like just finish up two songs. We know another set of stuff already. If we can just work it in, it's a matter of time.
Art: I've always wanted to be in a band that played out, and put something together and did something, and got a following. He's just always played since he was in like eight grade, and I was inspired when I was in the eighth grade, sort of in the same way. He started writing stuff before me, and then I started writing stuff but it was just luck; and we were able to get together and put together the same type of music, and not have any differences.
Phil: Yeah, we both kind of merged at the same time, stylistically. He was mellowing out, and I was hardening up a little bit. He'd start singing a song, and I'd start singing with him, because he had it written down,; and we kind of just decided to sing at the same time and play the same guitars, and it just sounded good.
Art: Phil's kind of the "Johnny B. Goode". He never really wanted to be in the band, he never really wanted to play out, and I always did. I though a band would be the more fun thing to do; it's more freedom in it's way.
Phil: He's trying to say I'm always the more reluctant one; I guess that's true.
Art: I had to buy a lot of the equiment with vacation money, instead of going on vacation; and then I would earn a bunch of money doing other things, and get some more equipment. I repaired some equipment that was given to me by a boss of mine at a restaurant I used to work at.
Phil: More free equipment!
Art: More free equipment, so it's all "luck rock".
Phil: That's what Art calls our rock, is "luck rock". We have equipment given to us all the time. I still think it's like... do it if you can.
Okay, I wasn't going to ask you about the name, but I've changed my mind.
Phil: We saw a pop art painting we really liked, and it was in the painting. It seemed like a good enough name. I guess we didn't really think a whole lot about it.
I'd like to mention that I'm glad we had the chance to do this interview, if only because I wasn't sure if you really existed or not except for on a couple of jar tapes at the Blue Chair.
Phil: We kind of got out of jar tapes. I mean, we didn't want to do the jar tape thing anymore, because they were so low quality. "Live And Not" is really a bad quality recording. Actually, we're planning on re-releasing it, because the master sounds great.
The jar tape idea seems to have thinned out in general, but it seemed like a pretty novel way for a band to get some exposure.
Phil: I love the idea. I don't know who did it first... [to Art] Did Home do it first?
Art: Home did it first; for lack of having a way to shelve it, or something. We did it because it became a cliche.
Phil: Yeah, Dogs on Ice did it, and then Dumbwaiters started doing it - and a bunch of other bands caught on, and before long there were all these pickle jars of tapes.
Yeah, and another band that likes to keep a prety low profile - namely Pee Shy.
Art: Well, they'll be accessible soon!
© J. Free / New Puritan ReView; 1995