Words by Tommy Johnson
It’s August 23rd, and Jason Hawk Harris stares down the lush fairway that makes up the first hole at a local golf course in the Los Angeles vicinity. Although I am not there with Harris, I can imagine what the landscape offered up while setting up to take his first shot. The sun beautifully floats over while the trees sway ever so gently in part due to the light winds. Harris grabs his club of choice and plants his feet into the desired stance. Gripped firmly within his hands, Harris rotates his body while elevating the club up, and then he strikes the ball.
Even if at the last putt on the eighteenth hole ended a day of frustration or a day of immortality, the afternoon was a much-needed distraction for the singer-songwriter. Harris released his debut full-length album Love & the Dark earlier in the day, and a mountain of work was still needed to do be done. There were a handful of interviews that were slated to be conducted throughout the day. A slated trudge through social media where Harris would be retweeting stuff and liking posts highlighting the album was enough for him to feel like a panic attack was imminent.
“That’s a really unhealthy place for me to be in. For me personally, I just don’t do well with that,” Harris tells me on our phone conversation a few days after the release. “I came home and opened it up; I saw I had a thousand notifications. It was almost better to see them all them at once than it was them trickle in.”
After attending a master’s program at UCLA to study classical composition and performing in the indie-folk band The Show Ponies, Harris shifted his focus on being a solo artist. In 2017, he released Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP. Love & the Dark is the byproduct of a musician that has faced much adversity than what most will ever experience. During the writing and recording of the album, Harris’ mother passed away from complications of alcoholism; his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; his father faced some unfortunate circumstances that derailed him. On top of all this, Harris himself struggled with addiction to drugs.
These days, Harris is now sober and has a better outlook on life. The songs that accompany Love & the Dark do, in many ways, have influences from Harris’ long and winding road to where he is today, but he stressed that it’s not all autobiographical. “We got to let songwriters be fictional again. It doesn’t always have to be truer to life. To be fair, though, this is a very autobiographical album, probably ninety-five percent of it. I presented that way; this is my life. But I mean I certainly mixed some fiction in there.”
In the early stages of our conversation, I asked Harris about bringing up his days of addiction and if it’s been tough to talk about. He politely mentioned that he still wasn’t comfortable going into the details about that time, especially when it comes to the behavioral aspects of his addiction. Not being one to be disrespectful, I made sure to stay away from such, but I still was fortunate to learn a little about the road to recovery.
OffShelf: When did you realize that you had to change?
Jason Hawk Harris: First year of my marriage is when it happened. My life got so much better after going into recovery. Then my life got really difficult; that’s when all the shit started hitting the fan. I was trying to recover when my world was falling apart. It was almost the best thing that could have happened because I got a chance to recover when I wanted to use.
My wife was incredible during this time. She was patient with me and feeling the pain with me. I think that is an underrated part of going through a death of the family, having someone that can feel that pain with and trying to give you advice.
OS: How long have you been married?
JHH: Eight years.
OS: How did you two meet?
JHH: We met in middle school at the local teen dance club [laughs]. It was a weird place. We had a kinda “will they, won’t they” in high school. In college, we realized we couldn’t live without each other. So we ended up having a long-distance relationship for about four years. After she graduated, she moved out here [Los Angeles] and got married.
OS: Growing up, I read that you got into music courtesy of your grandfather.
JHH: It’s more of my whole family. Something we do whenever we get together – mostly during the holidays – we get some a bunch of guitars, and we sing songs. It’s just something that we always have done. My grandpa showed me George Jones when I was really young. I loved it, but at that time, I remember thinking that my friends won’t think I was cool. So I hid it [laughs].
OS: Is that how you got into other genres and bands so you can be cool?
JHH: Yeah… I have always had those back pocket bands that I didn’t want anyone to know that I liked. To this day, Enema of the State by Blink 182 is still one of my nostalgic records. I also really got into Queen; I’m still in love with the band.
OS: Do you and your family still get together during the holidays and play music?
JHH: Yeah, yeah, we do. It’s a good time. Sometimes I’ll play some of my songs if they want to hear them. Sometimes we will get the book out and play some jazz standards. Both me and my aunt can read music, so we would read it while everybody sings.
OS: As for reading music, is that what got into taking a class at UCLA?
JHH: What got me into classical music and composition was Queen. I wanted to go back and see what their influences were, and I know Brian May was a big classical fan. I found a whole world that I loved a lot.
OS: With the family get-togethers and going to UCLA, did it ultimately push you towards being a full-time musician?
JHH: Yeah, I think so. As for the evolution back into country… when I started, I wrote songs a lot when I was younger. Then I stopped for a long time. When I came back to it for some reason, I was writing country songs. I just went with it.
OS: During periods of your life, writing these songs helped you get some of these feelings out.
JHH: I don’t know if this is always the case, but it was certainly was for me… I needed to go through some pretty intense pain before I could write a proper song.
OS: Do you still have to do that?
JHH: We’ll see. Let me know how you think the second record sounds [laughs]. I would have to be insane to think that I’m done with pain in my life. I don’t necessary needed certain situations to write about. It was more of I needed the perspective of having been through pain; to see the truth and nuisance of things as they glow that you couldn’t see before.
OS: During the recording of the album, was there ever a moment that you should put out as much of yourself out in public?
JHH: No, no. I’m an over-sharer by nature; that never occurred to me. I knew that I was making music that was connecting with people, and it excited me.