Wheat’s Harvest: In conversation with Brendan Harney
You may not be immediately familiar with Massachusetts band Wheat, but you won’t forget their memorable brand of quirky pop-rock in a hurry.
Formed in 1996 by singer/songwriter Scott Levesque, drummer Brendan Harney and guitarist Ricky Brennan, the band came to prominence with strong sales of their first experimental indie-pop records Medeiros and Hope and Adams but they then endured a period of record label uncertainty until Aware/Columbia Records picked up the band’s as-yet-unreleased album Per Second, Per Second, Per Second…Every Second in 2002. However, after remixing and releasing a new version of the album in 2003, it quickly became clear that band and label were not particularly well suited and the band was released from its contract in 2004.
Now Wheat have returned – minus Brennan – with their fourth album, Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square, due for release in spring 2007. A mini-album, That’s Exactly What I Wanted…Exactly That is also due out shortly, and Andrew Ellis recently caught up with drummer Brendan Harney for the lowdown on all things Wheat.
Hi, Brendan. I really love the new record, it is the perfect bridge from Per Second, Per Second, Per Second…Every Second. Are you pleased with the way it turned out?
Yeah, I am super-happy with the way it turned out. I love its strangeness. It’s challenging in a way because it waits for you to get in its zone, but when you’re there it’s a great friend. We wanted to challenge the idea of a professional record – everything today is made as perfectly as possible, and we wanted to have this feel as real, and as human as possible. I think we did that, and we did it without sacrificing the power of the music.
Was it self-produced? Did Scott write all the tunes or were they co-written?
It was co-produced by Wheat and this guy Rick Lescault (who has his own band called Emetrex). The process was a flow… a lotta love flowing!
As far as writing goes, Scott generally comes down with demos – sometimes lyrics, sometimes music, sometimes a line – then it all goes into the process that we do where things are expanded upon, edited, revised, lines redone and parts added. We flow like that until we’re in love with the song.
The band has recently been on a bit of an extended break after you parted ways with Aware/Columbia. What made you decide to get back into it and to write and record again?
Well, we were kinda mentally just letting it all go, really. There was this feeling like we needed to walk away from the whole thing. The things we loved, the art of what we did, the control of what we were about seemed to be slipping, so we had to jump. Then Scott and I started talking on the phone here and there, and we would confirm what we loved about what we did, and we committed ourselves to the task of Wheat and its set of parameters that we had laid out in the early days. If we could do it all in that way, with that total control, then we could love again what Wheat was.
When you decided to get back into the studio did you have any preconceptions of what you wanted to achieve? Did you actively look to make an album that reflected the band’s true identity better than the Aware version of Per Second, Per Second, Per Second…Every Second?
We try and never go into the studio with preconceptions – we do, however, have a few general concepts that more reflect what the record should feel like, but I don’t know how to explain how that works. It’s how we feel at that time, and how that can translate into music, I guess. We wanted this record to not just feel real, but to BE real. It’s very off the cuff in many ways and we tried not to play things over to make them right.
It sounds like that on that record, you guys suffered the traditional major label experience of big expectations and crushing disappointment. Why do you think it did not work out?
I have to say, we really didn’t have big expectations to start with. We knew what we were and we knew pretty much early on in that relationship that it was gonna fall apart. We couldn’t do the monkey suits and the handshakes well at all. We were terribly unhappy, and we started to just play it in a way where we could get out, and get on with life. It didn’t work out ‘cause it was a completely fucked-up fit – Scott and I started Wheat as an art project, and the second we let other people’s opinions slip in is when it started to come apart.
Do you have regrets or are you happy to be out of it now?
Happy to be out if it, really. When you feel sucky, you just feel sucky. Nothing matters at that point. It becomes all about finding peace again.
Getting back to the new record, what are your personal highlights from it?
Hmmm, the end of “Closeness” when the floor tom swells as does keyboard chord changes. It’s so quiet, so beautiful to me. I love the vocal and guitar part in “To, As In Addressing the Grave”. That song, all around, is wonderful. “An Exhausted Fixer” just hits me right too.
The new songs are so intricate, experimental and have so much depth – on so many levels, the new album feels like Medeiros or Hope and Adams.
Yeah, we really tried to get back into the flow with this music. The abstract nature of communicating with depth and detail, communicating what we all feel when we love. We work hard at keeping the spirit of the original thought alive, which is why we try not to “perfect” anything.
You have undergone a recent line-up change. Tell me about that.
Well, it’s not so much a line-up change, it’s more just that Ricky [Brennan guitarist] is now gone. We haven’t replaced anyone. In the studio Rick Lescault played some stuff, but it’s not like he’s now become a band member or anything. Wheat, at its heart, was always me and Scott, I think.
Can you elaborate on the title of the new album? It’s certainly a strange one!
It’s about remembering through a ritual. We lose things we love sometimes in life – people turn corners, and things change, and we try to remember. We make art, but art becomes stylized…then we decide to just make a square. Simply…to remember, or hope, maybe….
Back in the day, when you were signed to London-based Nude Records, you did a session with legendary British radio DJ John Peel. That must have been a great experience so early in your career.
That was a wonderful time for us. We really didn’t know what the hell we were doing! Really, we were the least career-minded band I’ve ever come across. Everything was about magic – like children. We just let it fly, the rest be damned.
Who influences you musically and as a drummer?
No drummer specifically, just music. I try and make it sing, that’s all.
Do you have any plans to tour off the back of the new record?
We do plan on touring after the release… we’re making some noise now in our practice space, and it’s a bunch of fun. We look forward to seeing faces again.
Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One Inch Square will be released on Empyrean Records in spring 2007.