By: Matt Williams
When I visit Kim Harris at her home just a few days before the release of her second album, Heirloom (out today, January 31, in fact), the prevailing attitude is gratitude. She’s grateful she’s got a wonderful team to work with, grateful for being able to make music in any capacity, grateful that anyone would want to listen to her songs. She’s extra grateful when those people reach out to tell her about listening to those songs, because that means they’ve not only spent time out of their busy days to investigate her dreamy melodies, but also that they felt compelled to make sure she knew. They were so grateful for what Harris communicates with her music that they felt the need to spread the love, setting off an unending (and lovely) cycle of reciprocated gratitude. Harris’ gratitude is plentiful. And it does not exclude her butterscotch Squier Jazzmaster.
“I wanted an electric guitar that was even lighter than the Gibson [I’d been using], that suited me,” the Halifax-via-Cornerbrook, Newfoundland songwriter says. “I took a long time trying to find one because I also needed to be able to afford it. And my friend wrote me and was just like, ‘This Jazzmaster has come up. It’s super cheap, and it’s fine. You should get this thing.’ This guy drove from Cape Breton to Black Street and just took it out of the trunk of his car with no case or anything. I didn’t play it. I just was like, ‘Here’s the money. I’ll take this.’ It had a black pickguard. So I started to play it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, this is absolutely the thing I want to be playing in my life.’ So I spent a bit of money and put a sparkly thing on it and got it set up.
“I was like, ‘This is my new butterscotch friend that I now love and will have forever.’ It’s the only electric guitar that I have right now,” she adds.
This handsome Jazzmaster is also a symbol of freedom. Harris grew up playing piano and was trained classically as a singer—she was on the fast-track to doing opera back in the day—but the grind of the latter’s formal education at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto got her down, and eventually she took an opportunity to liberate herself from it. A short while later, she began playing a sunburst acoustic guitar that her ex-boyfriend gave her, teaching herself Alice In Chains and Pixies songs. It wasn’t until a friend requested Harris write a birthday song that she realized she could write her own music, and eventually she graduated to playing out on another former partner’s six-string—a gorgeous, ancient Harmony hollowbody.
“We were together like, seven years, so I used that guitar for seven years and it was the instrument I would play out,” Harris says. “I think after we split up, I sort of realized I had been playing it because it fit into a singer-songwriter space. I was just like, ‘Okay, I can play this old, tiny acoustic guitar, and it sort of fits and it’s kind of what everybody would expect from me. It just makes all the sense.’ You know? I felt like I had to have a Western outfit on when I played it.”
When her and her partner split up, Harris was without her own guitar. For a long time, she borrowed instruments from friends, until she joined Jenn Grant’s band for Grant’s Compostela tour, when she started working regularly with a loaned Gibson. That’s when she realized what she likes and the direction she wanted to head in—reverb, a little delay. Essentially, the next step forward was to ditch the acoustic guitar. Enter the butterscotch Jazzmaster, a steal from the dude from Cape Breton.
“I felt before like I had to play an acoustic guitar because of what I was doing,” Harris says. “And then in the years between the last record and now, I moved into a space of independence in myself and I think in my music that felt very natural but also progressive, and deciding that I was going to get an electric guitar and learn how to play and write with it was all a part of that. I think it was a big piece of it, to move into that sort of sound.”
The allure of the Jazzmaster for Harris is multi-faceted. She can wring many types of sounds from it, and its easy playability makes the memories of playing that Harmony seem like pulling teeth. Aesthetically, she feels that it’s chameleonic, able to join her in whatever style of music she wishes to pursue and look like it belongs. That’s no small thing, either—often before we can do something, we have to be able to envision ourselves doing it. It was this small but huge gift that her hard-earned $200 really bought: a glimpse toward a future with more time spent on stage, looking like the artist she wants to be, making music that the world is getting to hear right now.
“I felt immediate comfort in having it and stepping into creating with it,” Harris says “I felt there was something really secure in like the ownership of it because I had just been borrowing. As much as that’s comfy, if it’s friends, it’s still just like, ‘Okay, but at some point I have to give it back. I don’t get to have this all the time in the way I would want to have it.’ So [buying the Jazzmaster] definitely made me feel like I could be the artist I wanted to move into being.”
With Heirloom, Harris has clearly become that artist. The record is an expansive collection of poignant pop—dense with enveloping synth and booming piano—that soars on her nimble, impressive pipes. As she gets ready for her biggest tour yet, she’s preparing to strip things down to the bare essentials—voice, guitar—for a number of dates. Having the Jazzmaster by her side, though, makes her feel ready for anything.
“I feel so confident,” Harris says. “It’s strange, but this little guitar makes me feel so powerful when I’m playing on a stage because it feels like an extension of me. It’s just this like, scrappy little dude I cleaned up a little bit and made sound nice. I think it’s the perfect tool to have to express the songs on this record, while I’m out there away from home. To have something cozy is so helpful.”
Kim Harris’ sophomore album Heirloom is available now. For more information or to purchase the album visit: kimharrismusic.ca