Harriet Brown’s hypnotic R&B music sounds like something straight from the early 2000s done completely differently. His addition of loop machines and love of electronic music bring it deep into the new millennium, while slick guitar licks and outlandish on-point wails bring it to a Prince place. He’s seeping soul from every era, past present and future.
We talked to him before he took the stage with fellow Popscure features Opal and Dazeases this coming Thursday. Jasmine Rodriguez of No Preserves was kind enough to dive deep into his discography – namely, his latest endeavor Mall of Fortune – and ask him a few questions
Your album cover for Mall of Fortune screams “early 2000s.” Was this done on purpose, or did it naturally turn out this way?
It actually was done on purpose! But not necessarily with just “early 2000s” in mind, but more with specific artists and albums that I was particularly influenced by during the making of the album, like 702, Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, etc.
Since we are on the topic of visuals, I felt like the music video for “Driver’s Seat” was an artifact obtained from an early ’00s vault. Everything from the clothing to the lighting to the panning shots gave off that vibe. I know you are heavily influenced by the music and vibes of that era, so was that planned as well?
Yes, it definitely was planned. Some of the main videos I was inspired by were the videos for SWV’s Someone and Total’s “Trippin'”.
Were you listening to anything in particular during the writing process, or leading up to the writing process, of Mall of Fortune that influenced you?
Yes! I supposed I hinted at this a bit already, but both 702’s self-titled album and their album “Star” were on heavy rotation for me during the time. I had also gotten super into that gospel, double-time slow jam feel found on a lot of R&B records circa ’97 or ’98, like Kenny Lattimore’s “Days Like This,” or Chico Debarge. Janet Jackson’s “All For You” album is also a big one for this record – such a varied but seamless mashup of styles.
I love a lot of electronic music, too, and I was particularly interested in how R&B albums like this actually had really tight, technical production that, to me at least, are on the same level as the IDM and earlier Warp Records stuff that electronic heads revere so highly. I had gotten really into the connections between the two.
Were there any challenges, musically, that occurred during the writing/production period?
Sure, as always. This was my first time writing and producing an entire album from start to finish within a finite period of time – in this case about 5 or 6 months – and I definitely learned a lot in the process. It was also the first time I was making the whole thing at my own studio at home. I really had to learn to trust myself and my ears. But with that said, because I was using such heavy bass on a lot of the tracks, my ears definitely got pretty strained at times.
Also, I’m naturally a night owl, but I really let myself go during this time, often working until 8 or 9 or even 10am at times, and waking up sometimes as the sun was setting. While that definitely added to the extremely personal, intimate and surreal aspects of the album, it definitely was not the healthiest thing to do, haha. I would try to be more balanced and healthy about the work flow next time around.
The album seems to encompass themes of love/existentialism (“Method,” “Outerworld,” “Cinnamon Sky”) as well as a sense of yearning for authentic human interaction (“Window Shopping,” “Retail Therapy,” “Bag Away.”) Was there a central feeling or specific moment in time that influenced you to write about these topics? Have your feelings on these topics changed since you wrote the album?
Wow, you really listened! Thank you! And yes. After having been in LA for four years and dealing with the music industry in general for the first time, as well as cycling through different music scenes in search of my “tribe,” I was feeling a bit drained, low and isolated, misunderstood, taken advantage of, and jaded. And consequently, my guard went super way up, and I had become a bit paranoid and wasn’t going out very much, even questioning the genuineness of my own personal friendships.
Most of my contact with other people, aside from my partner, were just through the internet, email or social media. So that’s where I was at when I began working on Mall of Fortune. I was definitely yearning for some real human interaction, but was also having major trust issues and instead was going inside myself for escape. I was very aware of all these things, and knew that something had to change, but was just having a very hard time doing so, which is why the album contains both moments of self-love, self-encouragement, right alongside heavy moments of self-doubt and paranoia and anxiety – myself trying to push me along.
After the album was done, I started going out again, trying to see people, and realized that a lot of people had actually been going through the same thing as I was, and were now really starved for real human interaction. I also came to acknowledge the need to prune the relationships in my life, to stop giving energy to relationships that made me feel anxious and doubtful, and instead concentrate that energy on relationships that made me feel loved and secure. Also started going to therapy!
So yes, sorry for the long response, but now, after MOF, and after having lived in LA for five years, I am finally feeling like it’s home, and have finally found the people that I feel are like family to me. And I’d say that the process of creating Mall of Fortune was the beginning of this inner examination and resulting change that has now taken place.
What do you feel like is the biggest lesson you learned throughout the process of writing/finishing Mall of Fortune?
Listen to my gut! Listen to my heart! Trust myself! I know what I want more than anyone else does (in music and in life).
Should people know anything about your current Mall of Fortune Summer Tour that they don’t already know?
It might be hot outside, but it’s even hotter on stage.