Released on February 3rd, award-winning British singer-songwriter Jo Harman's second studio album, People We Become , is a personal story brought to life by the warm sound of upright piano, electric guitar, and Harman's soulful voice. The album, recorded in Nashville at Sound Emporium Studio with producer Fred Mollin, contains ten tracks including first single, "When We Were Young" which features rock legend Michael McDonald. While on tour, Harman graciously took the time to talk about her roots, the album, and more by answering a few questions via email.
Since you are new to many American listeners, can you give a brief background as to how you came to pursue music professionally?
Even though I don't come from a particularly musical family I had a very musical childhood including playing violin, piano and bassoon (the latter to very good standard) as well as singing in school bands etc. To cut a very long story, very short, it took the death of my father (I was 22 at the time) to make me re-evaluate my ambitions and dreams and by the time I was 25 singing became a full time profession, and a couple of years later I realised the only thing that would make me truly happy was to be an originals artist, operating entirely on my own terms, which I have been ever since.
You have a very soulful voice, did you begin singing in that style or did you have to, as many artists have told me, find your voice?
I guess I always had (relative) power and bluesy tones by dint of my natural physiology but phrasing and how to use my voice, in different ways, has developed year on year and I guess will forever be in development. I'm certainly very influenced by classic soul and gospel stylings, and black American music generally, in terms of the armoury I have at my disposal but I try not to simply be a copyist and, for one thing, I try to keep my natural English accent in sight too.
Are there any particular artists you draw inspiration or influence from?
Many but Ella, Aretha, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Mavis Staples, Joplin etc are all in there somewhere as I listened to a lot of that kind of music growing up. On the composition front I'm probably more influenced by my late Father's vinyl collection of classic English rock and singer-songwriters. In many ways the combination of the two elements (US black music and classic English rock from the 'golden age of music') have helped define my singular style and approach, perhaps. I'm told I make 'Jo Harman' records and I quite like the fact that they are thought of as signature records, with a signature voice, although everything I do just comes naturally and intuitively; nothing is over thought or engineered.
People We Become is your second album. Why did you choose to come to Nashville to record it?
Why not might be a better question? Nashville offers the best facilities and players in the world and there seemed a natural fit with my sensibilities as an artist. My American management relocated to Nashville so I felt I had the right support too, to work with the best people, which was also important. But it was very much my own decision to record here.
How did you connect with producer Fred Mollin? Why did you want to work with him and what did he bring to the project?
Apart from his impressive CV (which demonstrated that a lot of great artists trusted him) he took the time to get to know me as both a person and as an artist. He gave me great confidence to make a 'Jo Harman' record and facilitated and helping me articulate my artistic vision, with often the lightest of hands on the tiller. I'll forever be in his debt for that and for his sensitivity and support. He's an incredible producer in the very best sense of the word. Everything he touched became golden. It's a masterpiece of production at so many levels and in so many ways.
Similarly, how did you come to work with Michael McDonald who guests on the first single?
My producer Fred Molin had worked with Michael and he introduced him to my music. Michael heard me cover one of his songs and was very kind in his reaction to it. Fred asked and Michael offered to sing on my record. An incredible honour for me, obviously, just incredible and, again, entirely uncontrived and natural sequence of events.
There’s quite a bit pertaining to relationships on the album, where did you draw from when writing the songs?
It's a break up album of course but I believe that many of the songs relate to my relationship with myself, first and foremost, perhaps?
Why did you title the album, People We Become?
Because it seemed to sum up the story of the journey as relayed on the record. But I don't really know other than it felt right. I'll probably be able to explain it better in 20 years time? The album title came late in the day. It's a very personal record and it seemed right to lift a line from the closing song as the title. I don't like to examine things like that too closely or talk too much about my lyrics less in in someway inhibits the process of self expressing. I reach deep within myself when I write and I don't like to analysis what I'm expressing and I also like the fact that people can feel free to find whatever meaning they may want to anything I say. For me, writing is more of an emotional than intellectual process, in that regard.
To me, the softness of the songs really accentuates their emotional impact. My favorite track is the closer, “I Don't Want You To Be Lonely” Can you share the story behind that song?
Only that I feel it's largely about love and empowerment. The album is my story and that's all I can really say on the matter. People should find whatever they want in whatever they feel or hear on the record. I can't analyse my own work otherwise as the mere act of trying to do so would inhibit the process. I write from the heart, not from the mind. But the use of space, musically, was something both Fred and I were very strong on. Silence can be powerful.
You’ve shared the stage with artists like Patti Smith, Joan Baez and Sinead O’Connor. Do you have anyone in particular you would like to collaborate or even share the stage/tour with?
I've had the chance to collaborate with a number of writers and artists but, generally, I still need to learn more about collaborating with myself - thats a journey in itself - but there are very many artists I admire, of course. But for now I'm still discovering what's inside Jo Harman.
On March 28th, you’ll be making your US debut at one of my favorite rooms in the city, Joes Pub. Is it exciting to bring the music to the states?
Yes and daunting. It's a fantastic opportunity at a life experience level and that's how I treat everything that has happened in my career to date. As with the songwriting process, as an artist I can't over fixate on the career aspects of what I'm doing. I just do my work and it goes where it goes. In many ways I'm selfish, I write largely for me, no one else.
Finally, I always like to know what you’re listening to. Is there any recent release you cannot stop listening to and recommend others check out?
Currently it's a mixed bag of Foy Vance, Australian artist Ainslie Wills, Rag N Bone Man and some of my friends who are artists. I wish I had more time to discover new artists and listen to more music in fact.
For more information visit her official website
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Purchase People We Become HERE