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vol 7 - issue 02 (oct 2004) :: interviews
HAR MAR SUPERSTAR
Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts
Illustration by Fphatty Lamar

IF MICHAEL JACKSON'S OFF THE WALL IS PART OF WHAT DEFINED HIM AS THE KING OF POP, THEN THE HANDLER WILL MAKE HAR MAR SUPERSTAR THE CROWN PRINCE OF IT. THREE ALBUMS INTO A CAREER THAT SOME CRITICS REFUSED TO TAKE SERIOUSLY, HAR MAR PUTS SOME SERIOUS SOUL ON WAX, AND MAKES ONE OF THE FUNKIEST PARTY RECORDS IN YEARS. VINNIE BAGGADONUTS GOT THE WHOLE STORY FROM MINNESOTA'S OTHER FUNKY SON.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: I just found out today that you know someone we're friends with here: a girl named Tiffany Kowalski.

Har Mar Superstar: Oh, yeah!

VB: A long time ago, you played a show in Columbus, Ohio. We were living there at the time, and wound up with your album because of it.

HMS: Yeah.

VB: Well, she was in town touring with one of her bands, and we saw she had a Har Mar sticker on her violin case. We were like, "You like Har Mar, too?" And she said, "That's my friend Sean. He's kinda weird!"

HMS: (laughs)

VB: We were like, "He's awesome!" She did say you were one of the nicest people, though.

HMS: Awesome.

VB: Congrats on The Handler, man. It's like Off The Wall, Part II!

HMS: (laughs) Thanks, man. That rules.

VB: So, I know you're in England for about a week on a small tour.

HMS: Yeah.

VB: I read that you like it there because the audience there gets you.

HMS: Um, it's just that they got it faster. England's just up for newer shit. You have to break it in here, and then the U.S. might get it. The crowds I play for in the U.S. get it, but I still haven't achieved anything in the U.S. somehow, even though I've done a lot more work there.

VB: Well, it seems like you're doing pretty well here. Is The Handler a response at all to the people here who may have thought you weren't serious?

HMS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I wanted to write better songs, use my voice more, and use more real instruments so people wouldn't be able to pigeonhole me, you know?

VB: Yeah.

HMS: I just made a better album because I was bored with the other ones. I mean, I still like them. They're just primitive or something.

VB: This seems more like a soul record, whereas the other ones seem more like electrofunk or just straight funk.

HMS: Yeah. Totally.

VB: So, when you recorded this one, did you go in with a different conscious objective or different vibe?

HMS: Just a different vibe. I started working with a different producer, and went in with some basic riffs. I had some bass riffs and some basic vocal ideas, and just built the songs while we recorded them. It was a lot more organic that way.

VB: Did it take you long to strike that vibe?

HMS: Oh, no. Once I met John (Fields), the producer, we got on it right away. We weren't even supposed to work together. I just went in to look at his studio, but we wound up writing most of "Body Request", "D.U.I.", and "Bird In The Hand". We had pretty much all of it, and a lot of the vocals were recorded by that afternoon.

VB: Wow.

HMS: It went really fast like that. We'd just go for vibes, build from there, and let it sit for a week. Then we'd come back to it, finish it, let it sit for another week, mix it, finish it more.... We did the same thing with the ten other songs at the same time.

VB: Well, did that at all change your plans? Were you intending on making one record, but these vibes were so good that you wound up making a whole other record?

HMS: No, no. This is where I wanted to take it, for sure. It just turned out better than I thought it would.

VB: I read that you said this is the album you've wanted to make all your life.

HMS: Definitely.

VB: What was it about it? Did you notice it right from the get-go? Or did you listen to it at the end and think, "Holy shit! I've been trying to make this forever!"

HMS: Yeah, just the sounds and everything coming together, and trying to wear my influences on my sleeve and be real direct about where I'm coming from. My favorite records are like The Handler. So far, it's my favorite one of all the records I've made. But I think I'll make an even better one next time I go into the studio.

VB: Do you feel like you'll follow a Marvin Gaye-type path, and make a "What's Goin' On?" type of record?

HMS: Who knows? I'd love to, at some point.

VB: Yeah?

HMS: (laughs) Yeah. Definitely.

VB: You know, as someone not in your immediate circle, looking in as an outsider, it seems like you've achieved a pretty good level of success.

HMS: Yeah, it's been good so far. My goal is to keep getting bigger, and every time, bigger and bigger stuff happens. So from my perspective, if I was me three years ago and saw myself now, I wouldn't believe it! But at this point, it's not enough, you know what I mean?

VB: Yeah. I was just gonna ask that. Back when you first introduced the world to Har Mar Superstar, did you imagine you would be who you are now?

HMS: No. But at the same time, in a way, yes. Know what I mean?

VB: It's what you wanted.

HMS: Yeah. It's what I wanted. And I knew if I worked hard enough, some semblance of this could happen. But it's actually happening a lot easier than I planned.

Both: (laugh)

VB: So, is there any of it that you weren't prepared for?

HMS: Not really. Maybe just the fandom of the U.K.-- becoming like a tabloid character and that sort of thing. It's unexpected, but at the same time it's kinda fun. There's nothing to complain about. If you actually complain about being famous, then you're kind of a dick.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Do you tour a lot?

HMS: I'm kind of constantly working. I used to actually tour more than I do now, but at this point I'm working constantly, either doing performances or TV shows or making videos or writing more songs, you know what I mean? Even a week off is not time off.

VB: Do you get time to collaborate for people or write with other people?

HMS: Right now there's no chance of me doing that because I've been so busy. I just went in and recorded some stuff with Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) because she's doing some doo-wop stuff just for fun.

VB: Oh, weird.

HMS: I went and did that for a couple days last week. Stuff like that always pops up. It's not like I'm taking calls from labels to write for people. At this point, I'd just have to turn that down anyway.

VB: Does that ever blow your mind? That you have to turn down work?

HMS: (laughs) Yes, it does! (laughs) Definitely.

VB: You know, I said The Handler was like Off The Wall, Part II, and I meant it. I mean, I listen to it, and it makes me wonder why Michael can't make albums like he used to.

HMS: I know. He could, but he must not want to. People's tastes get worse, apparently.

Both: (laugh)

HMS: I don't know. It's one of those things. I guess from their perspective they might feel like they'd look like a sellout if they went back to making that kind of shit, but it's what made them famous! I don't understand why they can't anymore. But if they're not going to, I will for them.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Do people thank you for that, though?

HMS: Yeah. I think it's apparent when we go out and play and people are packing the rooms and dancing like it's a big party. That's thank you enough, I think. There's just as many haters, too. But that's hilarious to me. (laughs)

VB: What's there to hate about it?

HMS: Just that it's kind of preposterous that it's me. I think people take that angle. There are some media retards who will give a ten out of ten review to some album with a Pygmy choir and bells and birds chirping for 20 minutes, but not anyone who can have fun.

VB: Do people still get confused when they see you? Is that ignorance still there in the crowd, or have people gotten over that by now?

HMS: Well, actually, it's not like that unless I play bigger arena tours. Then there's always that element. You can't get a crowd of 7,000 to 20,000 people together and have it be all cool people. It's not possible. (laughs)

VB: You know, I never understood that, really. I mean, yeah, you don't look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, but neither did Barry White, and everybody has no problem accepting and loving him!

HMS: (laughs) Exactly! People just feel the need to talk about what you look like. At the same time, it does sometimes get blown out of proportion, like, "It's insane. He's so gross!" But, really, in person, I would get laid more than they would, so....

Both: (laugh)

VB: You've done some pretty big gigs. You've done the Reading Festival and Leeds... what's the most mind-blowing gig you've done?

HMS: Probably the Reading Festival for the last two years. They were both awesome. Last year, I played the tiny tent, which only holds 1,500 people, and there were 5,000 more outside of it trying to cram into it. That was one of the most insane, crazy parties ever. In the middle of the set, I turned around and, like, Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream, Burt from The Youth, and this random mix of people were partying really hard. This year, I came back and played a tent that held about 10,000 people, and it was packed to the point where there were ten rows of people on each side of the tent outside trying to cram in. So that's like 15,000 people!

VB: Whoa! When you get a rush like that, do you feel like you could conquer stadiums?

HMS: Yeah. (laughs) If I could sell the tickets, I would totally conquer a stadium. I'm playing Wembley Arena next month with Placebo. It should be fun. But, like I said: 7,000 people in one place, I can't imagine they'll all be cool.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Are there any people you want to work with now that you can command the attention to do so?

HMS: Actually, at this point, no. I used to want to do that more in some vain attempt to prove myself, but at this point, I can do it on my own. I don't need anyone else. I mean, it would be awesome to do some shit with Stevie Wonder or Ronnie Spector, but I don't think I really need it, either. So I'm not going to annoy people yet.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Are there any people you want to take under your wing?

HMS: Mmmm... no. Not really.

Both: (laugh)

HMS: There are certain people I'd like to tell to stop.

Both: (laugh)

VB: But you did do some collaborating. I mean, Karen O and Northern State were on your album. Were these just friends of yours who stopped by while you were recording?

HMS: Yeah. The Karen O thing happened 'cause we'd been on tour together and talked about doing a duet. So, a year and a half later, we finally got in the studio and just did it. That was us just being friends and hanging out, having ideas. So that was pretty natural. Northern State, I actually was in L.A. when they were there recording, and we were hanging out a lot. Someone who actually was going to do that verse on "Bird In The Hand" couldn't do it. We were trying to get Slug from Atmosphere to do it, but he couldn't. So, that was good timing. They just did it on the spot.

VB: Was Slug jealous?

HMS: (laughs) No, I don't think so. He just couldn't do it. He was on a European tour. I ran into him and gave him no time whatsoever. I knew he'd like the track, but realistically he knew he wouldn't have time to do it. It's not like that couldn't happen in the future.

VB: So, now that you're out in L.A., do you want to go back to Minnesota at all?

HMS: Um, I like L.A. at the moment. I'd like to get a place in New York or L.A. I'm not sure which, but eventually, both. I feel like Minneapolis is far too small for me to live in now. To visit, fine. But even when I'm there for a couple days I feel that small town weirdness. Whenever I go home I have to relive and tell all these crazy stories that happen to me, and that's the last thing I want to do when I have time off.

VB: I was just gonna ask you that.

HMS: Yeah, and it's cool to tell all that stuff. My real friends don't care about that crazy shit, though.

VB: When you were little is this what you dreamed of doing?

HMS: Yeah. Exactly.

VB: It was?

HMS: Yeah. I always dreamed of being on stage and making music and being like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and stuff. That's what I'd pretend when I was little. I'm basically doing the same thing now, but with more body hair.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Could you imagine doing anything else?

HMS: I don't know what I'd be good for anymore.

Both: (laugh)

VB: Okay. Well, I got two last things. First, I saw you on Jimmy Kimmel Live doing "Sir Duke", and that was amazing. I mean, if I hadn't been looking at the screen, I'd have thought, "Wait-- is that Stevie?" And I'm sure Stevie was sitting at home, thinking, "Wait-- is that me?"

HMS: (laughs)

VB: You even hit those falsettos!

HMS: I used to do that live all the time during my set. People freak out about that song. And I actually sing it maybe three or four steps higher than he does. It's kind of insane to people when they hear that come out of me.

Both: (laugh)

HMS: ...Kimmel is a great show, man. They give you a lot of artistic freedom.

VB: Cool. Alright, well, onto my last question. For the last six years we've been arguing as to whether or not dogs have lips.

HMS: (laughs) They have, uh, weird lips. Like, some sort of cleft curtain of flesh. You have to lift up that weird flap to get to the teeth. I'm gonna go with yes, but they're not your conventional lips. I mean, some dogs can kinda smile, you know?

Both: (laugh)

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