Waiting for Smith
THAT name alone was compelling enough for me…
to investigate Waiting for Smith and discover the facts and figures. Harry (the man behind the moniker) explains that name and details of the new single, Monkeys in My Head. I ask whether there is more material coming; what tour dates are approaching; how he met the band he plays with on the road – which artists compelled him at a young age.
Harry shares a precious memory with me; he recommends a load of great new artists; I ask whether Oxfordshire, where he and the band play, is a good spot to create and perform; whether there are any goals in his mind for the remainder of this year – Harry ends the interview with an awesome tune suggestion.
Hi, Harry. How are you? How has your week been?
Very good. Just been recording at Abbey Road Studios.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
It’d be a pleasure. I’m Harry: A.K.A. Waiting for Smith. In terms of my own music taste; I listen to pretty much everything. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and stick on a bit of Oscar Peterson or Ray Charles; at lunch, maybe, I’ll play A Tribe Called Quest and spend the evening listening to Steely Dan or Dire Straits. I’m interested in variety and I want to reflect this in my own music.
I’m currently playing live with Carl (Bass), Tim (Drums); Molly & Rosie (Backing Vocals).
Can I ask whether there is a story behind the name, ‘Waiting for Smith’?
The first incarnation of the group was started with an old school friend, Danny, who has another band now called Self Help. We were always struggling to find a drummer. Eventually, we started rehearsing with a guy called Smith who just never seemed to show up.
We’re still waiting…
Monkeys in My Head is the new song. What is the tale behind that one?
At a very young age, I was introduced to the idea that your emotions are separate from yourself: they seemed to arrive like a storm and leave as quickly as they came. We all have a voice in our head if you think about it. It can feel like our own twenty-four-hour radio station of anger, anxiety and fear - all seemingly trying to prevent us, by any means necessary, from fulfilling our potential.
The trick I was taught (was) when negative emotions swept over me (as they do all of us) was to imagine the voice as an actual monkey that lives in my head.
The song is about not letting my monkey get a grip on me, with its endless instructions, or yelling at it to leave me alone (as I once did). Instead, I like to tuck it up in its cosy bed with some cartoons and a Manuka honey sandwich…the little bastard.
The song is taken from your forthcoming E.P. Are there particular stories and incidents that compelled the song?
Yes. I was taking some time out in Cornwall a few summers ago and spending a lot of time in my head. It sort of (just) came out nearly all once at about 10:25 in the morning…and then I had a cup of tea.
Was the E.P. recorded at Challow Park? Is this a space you feel comfortable in?
It was, yeah - with my good friend Will, who has a background in live sound engineering. I’ve stayed at the studio - and practically been living there for the last year.
Harry. I believe you broke your back skiing – and recorded music whilst recovering. Is that how the band met? When did you guys all get together?
Yes. I used to be a ski Instructor in the French Alps until I broke my back avalanche training. It was all pretty extreme, but a part of me felt strangely relieved - it was the right time for a big change and, although the circumstances weren’t ideal; I quickly came to release that this disaster might well be an opportunity in disguise…
What is Oxfordshire like for a musician? Is it a good place for your music to grow and develop?
It’s a perfect place to begin if you’re looking to find a fan base and play a lot of little gigs. It’s produced lots of great bands like Bombay Bicycle Club, Radiohead; Supergrass and The Foals - because there is a network in place for musicians; plenty of bands and they genuinely seem to want to help each other out.
I’ve heard it’s a rubbish place to tour through, though, if you’re not local: it’s, apparently, hard to draw a crowd.
Which artists are you inspired by? Do you take more influence from older or new musicians?
Influences include J.J. Cale, The Kinks; Dire Straits, Nick Drake; Mozart, Billy Joel; A Tribe Called Quest, Leonard Cohen and Thelonious Monk.
More recently: The National, Johnny Flynn and Vulfpeck...
IN THIS PHOTO: Kaleo
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
At the moment, I’d say, for a nice variety of stuff:
Check out Rex Orange County - just because he’s got something very special. Kaleo for new American Rock music from Iceland; the song, Notice Me, by SPINN - if you like The Cure and miss that they’re not around. Try Set Sail (Blank Kids) by Sticky for the sheer energy of youth - you’ll find it on YouTube. Gus Dapperton, if you like a good haircut and your music with a little groove.
Hollow Coves, if you like beautiful clean acoustic harmonies; Tom Misch and Loyle Carner for some laid-back Hip-Hop. Wild Cherry for acoustic duets. JAIN (Makeba) for incredible innovation. Mia Gladstone for a seriously delicious vocal. PaulWetz’s song Moonlight for some sexy Dance music - it kicks in at 00:31. Declan McKenna for young talent with plenty of glitter and, finally, Flyte: I know the frontman, Will, and they do some wonderful four-part harmonies.
IN THIS PHOTO: JAIN
If you had to choose one album that means the most to you; which would it be and why?
I remember, when I learnt to drive, my first car was really old and only had a tape player. No one used tapes anymore - but my dad had a large box of them in the attic. I randomly picked The Kinks (Greatest Hits) who I knew and J.J. Cale (Really) - who was new to me. I listened to it on-repeat for about a year whilst smoking cigarettes in my little Ford Fiesta with the windows rolled down.
What gigs are forthcoming? Where can we see you play?
We’re waiting to hear back from some festivals and have a quiet next month - because we’re back in the studio but for the moment…
7th March - The Hatter, Oxford
16th March - The George Tavern, London
27th April – 93 Feet East, London
2nd June – 229 Club, London
2nd August – Wilderness Festival
But (just) check the website for more info.
What do you hope to achieve, personally, in 2018?
Record an album of songs, do plenty of gigs; call my grandmother more and learn Dutch.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I used to do a bit of orchestral contracting work (booking players for sessions) and one of the girls I worked with was obsessed with the Lion King. We were doing a massive session at Abbey Road recording film music - a whole orchestra including string section, choir; horns, timpani; you know…the whole lot. Anyway; this girl walked into the middle of the orchestra to collect some forms from the conductor - after being instructed to do so by the boss...
They said: “Stay there, please, we’re doing a take”. So; she stood still and, to her amazement, they started playing Circle of Life – the theme from the movie. You could see her first recognise the tune, then smile and then just weep with uncontrolled joy - but still having to contain herself from making a noise so as to not ruin the take. She surrounded by about one-hundred-and-twenty players and singers - and what she didn’t know was that they were playing it just for her, as a surprise!
It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed in music.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
I’m still learning myself - but here are a few things that have helped me...
Sing in a range where it feels comfortable - and spend the time finding your unique voice.
Pursue the style of music that you feel is right for you - but don’t get too hung up on style.
Listen to your instinct; not what your friends are saying - and don’t talk to strangers.
Most importantly: try not to take everything so seriously.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Rock Steady by Aretha Franklin
It’s such a great groove and the moves are outrageous!
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ALL BLACK-AND-WHITE IMAGES OF WAITING FOR SMITH:
Sequoia Ziff (@oneseq)
Gary Stafford Photography (@Garystaffordphoto)