is a Chicago musician. He has two albums—The Myth of Heroics (2008 DRP records, with Emmett Kelly and Azita) and Big Amazing Songs (2005 Naivete Records, with Dominic Johnson and Spencer Matern)—and his third, produced by Leroy Bach, will be released this winter.
Here Harms performs his original songs “Flood” and “Egypt” as part of The Strobe Sessions performance series at Strobe Recording in Chicago, featuring Leroy Bach (formerly of Wilco) on piano and double bass. – Zachary Greenberg
Greenberg: Can you speak to the biblical undertones in “Flood” and “Egypt”?
Harms: Gosh. The Bible. I taught art history for a while and liked to do it as a comparative religion class. It is fascinating how flood myths, among others, are almost universal. I just love floods. It is so strange to see rooftops or steeples sticking out of this glassy surface, and so beautiful to imagine the world we know becoming like an aquarium. Of course people also die and lose their homes, which is not good. I actually went down to New Orleans after Katrina to work and film a movie. I definitely enjoy a good scale-shift, where an epic personal battle gets swept away by the flick of an avalanche, or in the case of Egypt, the idea that while the pyramids were getting built most people were just trying to get through their day.
Greenberg: Your second album is titled The Myth of Heroics, and in “Flood” you begin one verse with the line, “If the first story was a myth…”
Harms: People have always used music and verse to bring myths to life. I come from a tradition of troubadours singing of heroic emotion, so the idea that heroism itself is a myth broke my heart completely. I hope this next album, where “Flood” belongs, will be more optimistic. My favorite part in “Flood” is about moving on in spite of a sense that the universe is messing with you.
Greenberg: A wonderful narrative thread runs through your songs. Who have been your literary influences? Who musical?
Harms: I have a BFA in painting and an MFA in sculpture and lived in Rome for a while, so I think I am more influenced by the images and art I have seen over the years. I also watch a lot of movies and think like a video editor. So if a stanza or line conjures a visual image, I like to play at moving them around until a story is implied. I like the demands it makes on your imagination—that at one moment you can be in Detroit and the next on the moon. Like in the song “Tangled Up in Blue” Dylan sings, “Then he started into dealing with slaves and something inside of him died,” and suddenly you’re thinking, “Whoa! What year has this been all along?” Another good example of images placed next to each other is the song “Idiot Wind”. I could probably write songs forever just thinking about Blood on the Tracks.