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Beau Harris un-learns old tricks with Go Indigo's first single, 'Do It Again'

Courtesy photo

Many people may know Beau Harris from his past musical projects, including the band Old News. Harris is back with a new project, Go Indigo, and a new single. He says changing musical styles gave him a new artistic freedom.

Beau Harris has played in a variety of musical settings in his career, including jazz and with the emo/math rock band Old News.

Over the last few years, Harris found himself exploring new musical styles as he split time between Kansas City, Missouri, and stays in the south of France and Madrid, Spain.

While abroad, he began to consider electronic-driven music more closely and decided to move in a new musical direction. The result is Go Indigo, a project which found him reconsidering not only his musical style but also his writing and production process.

Go Indigo's first single, "Do It Again," is available Thursday, April 4, on digital streaming platforms.

The tune, which features Harris on guitar, vocals and samplers, also features drumming and synthesizer work from Will Erickson (Team Tremolo), who co-produced the track with Joey Lemon (Berry).

Harris notes that he will release more singles throughout the year with an eye toward issuing an EP later in the calendar. (He also has plans for live performances, which will include a rotating cast of musicians.)

Harris recently spoke with KMUW about Go Indigo's origins and his process for writing and performing the material.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

This project is still recognizable as you, but there are some different influences this time.

Absolutely. I got really interested in pop music. Coming from this musical background that I did, a lot of it is really guitar-driven. I've played in a lot of bands that I loved that were kind of guitar riffs stapled together and then vocals haphazardly put over the top. I wanted to study more songs. How do I write a song instead of a bunch of riffs in a row? I was operating from that headspace and then I ended up living in two countries that are famous for electronic music. All of a sudden, I was immersed in not only trying to write pop but also these electronic, sampling-heavy styles of music. And then, of course, I have my voice, too. It all kind of blended together and that's how Go Indigo got started.

Electronic music is prevalent in many European countries, and it has a different flavor in Europe than what we would be acquainted with in the U.S.

I think so, personally. It's always really, really diverse depending on where you go, but a big part of it is that it's also an activity. It's not just, "Let me put on this record and my headphones and go about my day." It's a lifestyle, a place that you go, a type of full-on entertainment that you enjoy. I thought that [was] in and of itself ... kind of interesting. Then, when you factor in the sampling influence, the fact that it's designed to make your body move, I thought it was something that was missing in a lot of the rock music that I've been exposed to. I thought it would be fun to take some of those sounds and use that framework of movement and groove and sampling to make rock music more danceable.

The music that you were making before was not oriented toward dance. You'd probably hurt yourself if you tried to dance to it.

[Laughs.] Yeah, man, 7/4 music is some pretty angular dance moves. This has been a lot of fun. Music causes the body to move, and I love that. It's a really pure form of self-expression. As I'm entering into this new saga of my musical life, I've been really focused on making music not only for me but also making music that someone could pick up and have an emotional or physical reaction to. A big part of that has been drums and bass, driving compositions, where you can't help but [engage with it]. All of a sudden, you're tapping your foot or moving your body a little bit. That's been a whole really, really rewarding journey to go on. It is way harder to make than writing angry music. It's so much harder to write music that encapsulates your experience, but that people will also enjoy that also taps into other sounds. It's been fun but also a real challenge.

I would imagine that there's a kind of un-learning because whether we're writing prose or music something like this asks you to expand your tool kit.

I think un-learning is the best word for this. For me, the process of un-learning, learning something new, starts with putting guitar last. I used to start with guitar first, and it was a bunch of riffs and then those come together and then a song is made. Now I'll start with generally finding a bass or a drum groove or a sample to drive an arrangement. I'll write everything until guitars come in. Then, whatever gaps are left, that's where guitar fits in rather than driving the compositions.

If I pick up a guitar, I will write a 155 beats per minute, I will use the same six-chord shapes that I've been playing for nine years, and everything will sound the same. It's been a new journey, making myself start in a new place and get over to guitar to finish songs. That's been really fun. It makes vocals much more prominent because you have way more space. I have more fun making music this way.

Did the different musical approach also influence your lyrics?

I don't think the musical context changed my approach to lyrics, but I do think I changed my lyrical intention. Some projects that I've been involved with before have been incredibly self-reflective. It's a one-to-one emotional exchange. For this, I wanted to try starting from new places, writing almost as characters has been kind of a new thing. Not necessarily trying to be more [pop influenced] but figuring out when I'm using a word that doesn't fit a rhyme structure just because I think it sounds cool. I've been trying to get myself out of that and to bridge that gap of making it approachable and quirky and making it something I can live with five years from now has been important. And I've wanted to make it a lot more fun to listen to.

When you're trying something new, I think it's inevitable that there are going to be false starts. What was the learning curve like in this process?

[Laughs.] Oh, man. The learning curve was steep! Let's just put it that way. "Do It Again" was the first real Go Indigo song. I think I had some other ideas and tried to get them over the finish line, but this was the first song that we got 100% to where it felt good and felt like something distinct. What I really wanted to do was build the plane on the ground and then evaluate if the plane was worth flying or not rather than build the plane as the plane is taking off. I knew that this would be difficult, but I also didn't want to commit to doing a bad job. I wanted to see it through and then evaluate: "Is this good or not? Does this resonate with me?" "Do It Again" came first, and it was the first piece out of that process that I listened to and said, "This is really fun to listen to. I like this a whole lot."

There was a bunch of stuff that was torched. It will never see the light of day. Any new musical journey is just that. It's learning new styles and learning new processes and most of it is not good, but I think "Do It Again" was the best start that we could have.

You brought in Will Erickson and Joey Lemon on this project. What made them the right partners for this process?

The honest answer is that I just love and respect them both so much. Any project that I do, I always love to see if they're available. I picked Will for drums and Joey for production really, really intentionally. Both of them have these really amazing musical voices and perspectives. They're really, really good at making me better at music. I credit a ton of my musical growth to those two people. They've given me great feedback and guidance over the years. When I set out to do this new project, I couldn't think of two better people to do it with.

Will has this amazing drumming voice that links up with drum machines so, so well. I knew I wanted him on this because there's a lot of grid-based stuff. I think he plays drums like a producer. He and Joey have been doing a ton of production work in Wichita and the area recently so I hit them up and said, "Would you do this?" And they did. The song would not be nearly as good if they hadn't touched it.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.