Discovery: Harriet


Harriet, PAPA, and Dawes all have two things in common: musician Alex Casnoff has been in all three bands, and the bands’ names come from the members’ grandparents. Casnoff’s new electronica-folk project features him as the frontman (along with guitarist Adam Gunther, bassist Aaron Folb, and drummer Henry Kwapis) and comes after his departure as the pianist from Dawes and PAPA. Harriet has only been together for three months but released their EP, Tell the Right Story, at the end of January. The band has been playing most of their shows around the LA area, but will soon be taking their music down to Texas for South By Southwest. Since the release of their EP, the guys are waiting to go back into the recording studio to work on the songs they already have down.

We spoke with Alex Casnoff about telling the truth, his hope for a future performance with Robyn (fingers crossed!) and keeping the peace.

A NEW MUSICAL BEGINNING: Well, I sort of just had a bunch of songs. I was touring with Dawes at the time. I’d been writing a bunch of songs when I decided I had to get them down on record, so I started playing with guitarist Adam (Gunther), bassist Aaron (Folb) and Henry (Kwapis), the drummer. We recorded, and then it sort of just happened from there.

EXPERIMENTAL INFLUENCES: It’s sort of a mixture of people who I consider great songwriters – people who write songs, like Bruce Springsteen, Randy Newman, Nick Cave, and I think Wilco does really well at it – along with people who are more experimental with their music, whether it’s electronic music or Radiohead. I think we’re trying to bridge the gap between more traditional songs and more interesting sounds.

MOVING ON TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM DAWES: Well, there are no brothers in the band. I think that Dawes sort of opened me up to a lot of great songwriters and all those guys in the band. I think that electronic drums probably would not have set well in a Dawes song, drum machines or whatever. I don’t really think it’s different because I’m writing the songs. I don’t think it’s a conscious effort to… I mean, it is different, definitely, the sound. I still like a lot of the American music that Dawes makes. I also want to take a lot of things from electronic music, whether it’s James Blake, The Weekend or Simian Mobile Disco.

ON TELLING THE WHOLE TRUTH: I think everything from the title, Tell the Right Story, and all the songs, are sort of about the truth being more important than facts. I’ve had a lot of experiences, whether it was breaking up with a girl or getting into a fight with your parents or whatever, that has created some sort of emotion that I wanted to write a song about. I think in the end, it was more about storytelling and finding ways to take that emotion and diffuse it into other characters: sort of take a step back and have a better understanding of it.

STARTING FRESH: The band, at this point, has been around for a total of about three months. We’re focusing on LA right now and getting our show as tight as possible. Hopefully when we’re down at SXSW, we can meet somebody that we hit it off with, and who we can go on tour with. Hopefully this summer we can go on tour. We haven’t locked down any tours yet.

THE MUSICAL GENE: Well, my dad is a singer, and I started piano lessons when I was really young because of him. So, music has sort of always been in my family. I think the first song he had me singing along to was “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News. I just kept playing. It is sort of the tool that I have. I think whether he had gotten me painting lessons when I was younger, I might have ended up being a painter, but it’s the tool that I have to represent myself because I’ve been doing it for so long.

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY: Harriet is my grandmother’s name. I was in two bands before, Dawes and PAPA, which were both named after their grandfathers. So, I thought I’d just continue with that. My mom suggested the name for the band. I think my mom missed our last show, and she was so apologetic. I was like, “You really don’t need to come to all of our shows.” She was like, “No, I feel really bad!”

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL: I think that this is gonna be a lifetime of music. I mean, I never really thought about it as a career until I joined Dawes, and I think that making it into a career is hopefully going to be an amazing thing. I think I would be writing songs, regardless, until the day I die.