Singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist David Ryan Harris joins Michael Franti’s “Stay Human” podcast to talk about all things from Harris’ varying musical inspirations, his politically-driven album Maiden America and what success means to him.
The episode also includes an excerpt of Harris’ song “Holy Moses” from when he was in the band Follow for Now which Franti explains was the first song he ever heard by Harris. The album itself was applauded for being so dynamic in its musicality, which Harris attributes to his unique experience growing up and being exposed to so many different genres.
“We didn’t know that these things weren’t supposed to go together. The sensibilities that we got from our neighborhood and the sensibilities that we got from MTV at the time, which was a predominantly sort of white thing and a rock thing. So we put this band together straight out of high school and just started playing shows because we loved to do it.”
Harris cites musical influences from Funkadelic, to Simple Minds, to Pink Floyd, to Stevie Wonder, to The Cure and more. He adds that at the time of Follow for Now, he wasn’t focused on the accolades, but more so the opportunity to just create music and sing.
“I can’t really remember what I would have thought success was at the time but it certainly was not headlining arenas. Success to me was probably being able to play in a city other than my own and drink for free,” he says.
Despite not thinking of headlining arenas, Harris most certainly ended up playing in them. He shares about the time he opened up for John Mayer and was forced to reevaluate his idea of success because of the intimidation which came from playing for huge crowds.
“The venue is the smallest piece of the puzzle. It can be pop stuff in an arena or singer-songwriter stuff in a coffee house, and it’s just about a little bit of escapism for the audience. A little bit of you telling a story or narrative that you’re trying to tell,” he explains.
“I realized that the thing that I do, I’m not reaching for the back row, that’s not the kind of music that I make and that isn’t my metric for success. I’m just trying to connect with somebody. I just got in the habit of finding the people, the pockets of the room that are paying attention that I’m connecting with, and that’s who I’m talking to.”
As far as his album Maiden America which was released last year under the pseudonym The Hush Money, Harris explains that it was an opportunity to put out music that felt like a “time capsule.” Though the album was first created in 2018, it wasn’t until the tragedy of George Floyd that he found the album to be more relevant than ever.
As always, Franti ends their wide-ranging discussion with the question of what it means to be human and Harris’ answer doesn’t fail to inspire.
“To stay connected, and to realize that at our best we are trying to figure out a balance between being of service and making sure that you’d never get lost in the giving of that service. To stay human is to learn how to be a good listener. And learn that we’re all kind of on the same struggle. I’ve been telling people a lot lately that I think we all are trying to get to the same place, we just disagree on how to get there and staying human is to just be mindful of that.”