Darkside's Dave Harrington On The Art Of His Latest Collaborative Album
You probably know Dave Harrington from his days working alongside artist Nicolas Jaar in the electronic band Darkside. But he’s more than just one kind of musician: Harrington is a multi-instrumentalist who’s bounced between the electronic and jazz worlds. And after a Darkside EP, an LP, major festivals, and tons of remixed work, he’s diving back into experimental music, where he seems to fit right in.
To say that Become Alive, his newest album, is a solo project would be misleading. The Dave Harrington Group is compiled tons of people, from friends he’s known back in the fifth grade, to people he’s met on tour, and even a few wild cards; members include Jaar, Andrew Fox, producer Samer Ghadry, and many, many more. Assembling the group, which one would think would be a hell of a task, was really more like a phone call, asking an exceptional group of musicians to just come hang.
I met Harrington at Dynaco, a laidback bar in Brooklyn. Dim lights, cabin-like interior, a fireplace, and a liquor license—I was sold. Hoping to beat him there, I walked in about ten minutes early to find him already set up at the end of the bar, on the last sip of his whisky ginger. Over a couple of drinks and a bowl of Goldfish snacks, we lost track of time talking about his music roots, what the New York scene used to be, and the relationships that matter. Harrington claims he doesn’t have any good secrets to share, but I beg to differ.
This is a tight spot. Do you have any other favorite places around here that you go to?
Well, I used to live in Bushwick off the Jefferson stop. But then literally six months after I moved over there, the neighborhood just exploded into what is now Williamsburg 2.0. When I moved over here, I went opposite direction from Bushwick industrial to somewhere that I have a little backyard. I have a kitchen I can actually move around in.
Nobody has a backyard here. That is a special thing.
I know. I found an apartment in the middle of a blizzard and now I’m kind of a homebody. I have a couple of places around the neighborhood where I hang, but mostly, I spend my day doing laps from my studio, to the kitchen, to the backyard, to the studio, and back again.
You collaborated with a lot of people for the record, Become Alive. The self-titled track sounds so smooth, but I know that’s not how songs fall into place. Did recording all of those experimental bits feel organic to you, or was there a lot of editing?
There was a ton of editing. There was a mammoth amount of material to wade through. The way that the sessions broke down, basically, was three days of mostly improvising and playing through a few structures that I had come up with before hand. I ended up with a lot of raw material and some things that I thought, in the moment, were great ended up being kind of confusing when I went back to them. Some things that I wouldn’t have thought landed that hard ended up being some of my favorite parts I cherry picked to put into the record. There are three people credited as co-producers. It’s Andrew Fox, who’s Visuals, and he plays on the record and sings a little bit—atmospheric, vocal stuff—but he was also just there with me during all of the sessions kind of being my ears in the control room. I was always playing and he was always in the booth.
One of the other guys is Samer Ghadry, who’s one of the drummers, and he’s the co-producer because he helped me, initially, wade through everything. He was the guy who stepped up after the sessions and was like, “Now we gotta go though all of it.” If he hadn’t done that, then I don’t even know if the record would have gotten finished. It might still just be files in my hard drive in my fucking house. Then the third guy is Nico, who helped me kind of in the later stage, once Samer and I had started to parse everything and get to where the good stuff was. Nico really helped me hone that stuff. There was just so much. It’s not like five takes of song one and five takes of song two, they’re all just different. There’s no science, all art.
You, amazingly, play the organ. How did that start?
I had a phase in early high school where I was super into like, mid-early ‘60s blue note soul jazz records. I had a whole chunk of my young life where I was just getting on the M86 bus to go to school and just listening to organ trios with B3, drums, and guitars, and I was just like, “This is the thing, this is the thing.” It’s always been something that’s one of my favorite sounds. One of my oldest jazz memories is when my dad took me to Village Vanguard to see [his friend’s son], who was playing guitar with Dr. Lonnie Smith, who’s like a legendary jazz organist. I was like eight. It was Dr. Lonnie Smith on the organ and I remember sitting right at the end of the stage practically underneath the B3 where I could see his feet moving along the pedals and watching him just rip.
Do you still go to a lot of shows?
I play a lot in the city, whether it’s playing with friends or testing out new combinations with people. I’ve played my fair share of gigs in and around the city. I feel like it’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do and the thing I’m lucky enough to be able to do now. [To] have friends, have connections, have community, and certain places, and be able to put stuff together and try new ideas out—that was the world I grew up on going to The Old Knitting Factory or Tonic in the early 2000s. One of my favorite things about seeing music is seeing [people do things they’ve never done before]. I’ve been doing a lot of that and that’s how I end up seeing bands. I’ll see whoever’s playing when I’m playing because I like hanging out in venues and if I’m playing a gig, the last thing I’m going to do is show up five minutes before my set and then finish and pack up and leave.
When I was in high school with a bad fake ID living in New York, it was the peak moment, as far as I saw it at the time, when the downtown New York jazz world met the jam band world. So, I ended up going to all kinds of weird things. I always liked that vibe of something new. I like the stories that go into that kind of thing. I like the idea that a fan of Morgan’s, someone who’s a deep Chrome Canyon fan, would stumble onto my record and be like, “What the hell is Chrome Canyon doing on this record and what is this thing?” I like those kinds of connections and that’s what I like the most about going to see music and see gigs in the city. We’re not obsessing about making money because there isn’t any, and you’re not worried about packing the place because it’s not going to happen at 10 pm on a Tuesday. Just, like, trying out something new and meeting some new people. Being part of a community. I like that, genuinely. That’s not bullshit.
Images courtesy of Dave Harrington.
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