Harriet Brown's been making electro-funky R&B since 2014 when "Paradasiac" dropped. That track and video made a strong first impression and garnered Brown well-deserved notoriety. Five years on with two full length albums and a couple of years of live shows logged, Brown has really blossomed as an artist and garnered a following.
The familiar strains of funky pop that have made household names out of Blood Orange and Toro Y Moi also weave through Brown's work, and the productions shimmer and have pop hit gloss. Simultaneously, where perhaps those artists are more overtly bombastic, Brown performs from a mysteriously intimate realm that feels immediately made for internet culture. Brown’s is the sound of the ultra-post-modern slow jam aesthetic, which is fully realized on his latest album, Mall of Fortune.
Brown performed on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic back in February and will be kicking off KCRW's Summer Nights Series with Garth Trinidad, on Saturday June 1 at One Colorado in Pasadena. I connected with Brown to ask a few questions about the show, album and process...
KCRW: When you swung by MBE a few months back, you performed solo (but the show wasn't necessarily stripped down per se). What can folks expect for the live show in Pasadena this week?
HB: This Saturday I'll be playing with my friend, Chris Parisse, on percussion. He always brings a whole smorgasbord of instruments with him – bongos, conga, cowbells, woodblocks, gongs, etc. I've been playing with him a lot lately, and it's been really fun. Other than that, the setup is pretty similar – he just helps drive the point home a little bit more. I use a lot of weird synthesized percussion in my newest music, so it's great having the live percussion mix with and enhance that.
KCRW: On your latest album Mall of Fortune you did pretty much everything yourself, so it's super DIY and, in this way, super punk. And you have a number of collaborators and local folks you've worked with who are also DIY (Ana Roxanne, Felicia Douglass, Tolliver). How do these collaborations come about in the Independent music spectrum?
HB: Well, to be honest, the artists I've chosen to collaborate with for the most part are just people who were already my friends, that I just built up an organic connection with over these last few years. I met Ana down here in LA through some other musicians I knew, and we just bonded really hard over being Filipino, and we actually realized that we're from the same area code in the Bay Area (707); also realized that I grew up going to Filipino church with her cousin and auntie. I actually met Tolliver through the same group of people. And Felicia I happened to play a show with a few years back in San Francisco, and we've just kept in touch over the internet ever since – we try to hang whenever either of us are in the other's city. So yeah, just organic relationships with people I love and respect, and whose respective skills and vibes happened to make sense for what we collaborated on.
KCRW: Mall of Fortune sits at this wildly personal intersection of nostalgia and immediacy, intimacy and mystery. It sounds like the feeling of DMing an internet crush. What was the intention or driving force for the album? And what does Mall of Fortune mean to you?
HB: Hehe, that's a good way to put it! The process of creating MOF (Mall of Fortune) yielded a few firsts for me – being my second album. I was the first time I was creating a whole album from start to finish within a finite period of time, and the first time I was doing the entire thing myself – not just the writing, but also all the recording and production. And it was also the first time really using this completed home studio that I've put together over the last few years to create a large body of work. And I really let myself go. I'm naturally a night owl, but from November 2017 ‘til April 2018, I never made an idea wait until the next day, and so I ended up working through the night and sleeping later and later. By the time April came around and I was finishing up the album, I was regularly going to bed at 10am – not the best for my mental health, but I guess it produced some interesting results. Some of the most memorable revelations came to me at 8am, and naturally I couldn't go to sleep before getting the idea down.
The process was sort of an experiment, a test for myself – I'd always wanted to try doing everything, and so I was trying to prove to myself that I could. In retrospect, this "proving" ended up being extremely significant for me, not just technically, but mentally and emotionally. This album is much more personal and introspective than what I've made in the past. It's about anxiety, paranoia, indecisiveness, fear of making the wrong decision and the resulting paralysis, escapism, self-love and self-hate, self-confidence and self-doubt, realizing that the ditches can be escaped from, but struggling – not always successfully – to do so.
KCRW: Looks like you just released a new remix and have a cool number of tour dates around the country this summer. Following the tour, what's next for Harriet Brown?
HB: Oh man. Well, hopefully more tour, internationally. And I've got a few collabs in the works I'm real excited to finish. Definitely need to go on a vacation to somewhere tropical, and maybe do a few camping trips in the Southwest. I wanna try producing more for other people, and also try a hand at some pop writing as well. Would like to DJ a little more, too. I've been tailoring and modifying my own stuff for a while now, but I also want to try making my own clothes from scratch – I think I'm really gonna try to do that this year. And then, actually, I really can't wait to get started on album number three – very excited for that!
KCRW: A question I've been asking folks all summer long is...if you had to pick one...What album saved your life?
Oof. You're making me pick one?!? Haha. Okay... I'm gonna go with Sade - Lovers Rock.