In June of 2011, songwriter and musician Alex Casnoff bid farewell to his band mates of the time in order to pursue his own music. With years of experience from touring with his prior bands Dawes and PAPA under his belt, and a growing cache of original music, Casnoff stepped into the studio to record what would become the first EP of his new band Harriet.
The original group almost completely disintegrated after a year a half, with only drummer Henry Kwapis remaining from the original cast. When the current members finally came together, (Henry Kwapis on drums, Patrick Kelly on electric bass, and Matt Blitzer on guitar), they took their time to choose a label, ultimately signing with Harvest Records (Death Grips, Best Coast, Glass Animals). During this time, Casnoff and his mates kept writing and editing what would become their debut album. Finally, four years after the release of their first EP Tell The Right Story, Harriet released American Appetite in 2015.
This four-year gap, and the changes in the members of the group, allowed for the band’s sound to evolve over the years: while the first EP was declared by critics to “fit within the Americana vein”, according LA Weekly American Appetite is harder to pin down within a specific genre, “with Casnoff’s soulful vocals and pop sensibilities cast as the record’s binding substance.”
We were able to ask frontman Alex Casnoff a few questions, and he shared with us his creative process, his passion for film, and his views on social media:
Serious question: when you’re crafting an indie pop (or indie rock song), do you ever find yourself thinking, “Wow, this particular song would be good in a movie?”
All songs really should be soundtrack songs. It's not about movies as much as it is about making your drive or run feel lifted. Something that helps you transcend the mundane is what I'm looking for. They should make your everyday commute feel like shipping off to war or just that you’re the center of something. They feed the ego in a healthy way. They should recall memories and make new things memorable.
If so, does this cinematic possibility then go on to shape the final mix of a track?
I don't really know what a "cinematic" mix would sound like. There are so many types of songs used in movies.
Conversely, do you ever find cinema to influence your lyrics or compositions?
Definitely. Movies are my first love. A lot of times I write songs from character's perspectives other than mine. I'll sometimes even write out monologues for them before I whittle their words down into something you could sing. I'm a very visual person so the music and words are often connected to little movies in my head as I'm writing them.
Favorite late night Mexican food in Eastside L.A. — Taco Zone after an Echo show? That Mex-American cart outside the Satellite?
You'll have to go a little more mid-city for me, although I think they may now have a truck on the east side as well. But it's definitely Leo's truck on La Brea and Venice in the gas station. The pastor is the best I've had outside of Mexico.
Universal record execs signing major deals and hand-printed cassette tapes being passed around by hand, tell me how Harriet fits in amidst this creative nexus.
I think what you’re talking about is more the business nexus. Selling music and marketing it. The music business seems to me to be extremely disorganized and complicated to a point where a select few who really understand it are able to take advantage of those who don't. I was just told yesterday that there's something like a half billion in unclaimed royalties every year, simply because people don't know how to get them or that they're owed them. But if you're question is do I see myself as "indie" or Counter culture in a way that means I don't want to make money, no. I think I've not made money at music for long enough. :)
Speaking of deals: would you sell one of your songs to Kanye? I’ve heard from friends that he’s been known to solicit.
Yes. 100%. I don't care what anyone says. “Ultralight Beam” is the best song I heard last year.
If the medium is the message, what is snapchat/twitter/vine doing for a/v culture (music videos, taped performances, etc.)?
Those mediums are all about being in the present moment. Not filtering yourself. That's not my thing. And the funny thing is all of those mediums take you so far out of the actual present moment outside of your phone. It takes me days to write an email to a friend. Draft on draft on draft. I like working hard and editing. I'm a control freak. You can be clever on those mediums, but I think they're hollow.
With so much to do in L.A., what anchors Harriet to its creative task?
What's there to do in LA?
Last question: Pizza with Bill Murray, Tea with Tilda Swinton, or song writing session with Ru Paul? (feel free to answer individually)
Pizza with Bill
Harriet is currently on tour. You can see them live in:
Goleta, CA @ The Goodland Hotel on May 12th
San Francisco, CA @ The Swedish American Hall on May 13th
San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar on June 16th
Follow Harriet on social media:
Interview by Daniel Warren