Five Questions With… Kyp Harness
The highly-rated Toronto folk-rock singer/songwriter releases a self-titled album, his 14th, today. Here he talks about getting closer to the source, his parallel writing career, and an early love of Eddie Cantor.
By Jason Schneider
If you aren’t familiar with Kyp Harness, then you’ve been missing one of the most important bodies of work any Canadian singer-songwriter has amassed over the past 25 years. With each new release, media outlets have hailed him as a genius, and his songs have been covered by Ron Sexsmith, Daniel Lanois and Mary Margaret O’Hara, among others. Sexsmith has called Harness, “my favourite songwriter. It’s his lyrics that set him apart. They are every bit as powerful as the best Dylan, Cohen and Lennon combined.”
That brilliance is evident once again on Harness’ fourteenth album, entitled Kyp Harness, a collection of nine timely observations of our fraying society, rendered with all the wit, wisdom and just the right amount of folk-rocking flair that Harness’ die-hard fans have come to expect. The album’s crackling energy is the result of the tracks being laid down during a single all-day session at Toronto’s Revolution Recording, with Joao Carvalho capturing the chemistry generated by Harness, the renowned pianist Tania Gill, bassist Mike Smith, and drummer Sean Lancaric.
The range of his songwriting chops is fully displayed on standout tracks such as “Talking To Myself,” “Angel Mine” and “Insomniac Lullaby,” but it’s on “Hard Life,” “The Sea Monster” and “Jungle Out There” that Harness unflinchingly illuminates the dysfunction at the heart of our society.
Kyp Harness is out Oct. 19, and he officially launches the album—along with his new novel The Abandoned (Nightwood Editions)—in Toronto on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Tranzac Club. Find out more at kypharness.net.
What makes your new album stand apart from your previous work?
It's the latest edition of what I am, and also one of the purest distillations of who I am and what I do. That's why I titled it Kyp Harness.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
I've always been on a journey, and if I could articulate that in words I probably wouldn't need to make music. It's about trying to get closer to the source and what's real. I've gone on many excursions and some of them were dead ends, but even they were rewarding. Music always has to be alive, so I've been staying on the track of making it truly alive.
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
Underwear. But I also received the Relit Award for best independent novel for my first work of fiction, Wigford Rememberies. A lot of the past year was spent finishing my second novel The Abandoned, which is being published at the same time as the new album.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up and what do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I was really into the music of the ‘20s and ‘30s, singers like Eddie Cantor. The first show I ever did, my knees were shaking uncontrollably, and I was really hoping that my pant legs were obscuring that fact.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
I'm not sure the music industry exists anymore. I think I've outlasted most of the music industry. Like most of the institutions of our time, its been destroyed by money-obsessed greedheads.