Charlotte-based indie-rock band HRVRD has been through many ups and downs, yet they handle them like they really are Harvard graduates. At an early age, all of its members were serious about music and committed to follow that melodious medium.
Bassist Garrett Leister says, “I’ve grown up craving and discovering new music and genres, from jazz to punk rock to film score composers. We all surrounded ourselves with music because of our love for it, and it has had a part in who each of us are today. Over the years and with college behind us, I don’t think any of us could see ourselves doing anything else.”
Guitarist Jason Shaw adds, “When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I also knew that I wanted to play music more than I wanted to do anything, and I wanted to play exceptional music with exceptional musicians. That may sound a little arrogant; however, if you want to do something and you want to do it well, you have to take yourself seriously and set yourself some standards. I started looking for the most talented musicians I could find within Charlotte/North Carolina.”
Through mutual friends, the eager seeking soon evolved into a full-fledged band.
“The best way to explain how everything and everyone came to be is that they were recognizably amazingly talented and creative people,” Shaw says. “I couldn’t live without them.”
The band began calling themselves Harvard, but it wasn’t the easiest process.
“Coming up with a band name sucks,” Shaw admits. “Everyone wants their bands name to sound cool and be easily recognizable and possibly even mean something.”
Despite their simplistic criteria of wanting to stand solely behind their music, only using one word and having something recognizable and agreeable, it took time for the decision to be unanimous. It was vocalist Jesse Clasen who suggested Harvard and what stuck. However, that initial challenge soon became even more burdensome.
“A few years later, we started running into legal difficulties for obvious reasons, so it came to the point where we absolutely had to change the name or risk being sued for numerous types of infringement on the name Harvard,” Shaw explains, “not to mention we were running a risk of being incredibly hard to find online. We had put out a full length record at this point, toured on it and developed a pretty decent following, so we didn’t want to alienate anyone who had supported us or ourselves by changing our name completely. We decided our best course of action to stay true to what we’re doing was to just drop the A’s and even leave the spaces where they used to be in some cases. All we really care about, though, is our music, and I hope that everyone who listens to us shares that sentiment.”
Just as the thoroughness in thought went into determining the reincarnation of the band’s name, the same applies to the music itself.
“The entire idea in putting the band together was to constantly challenge ourselves to play music that could be intelligent and wholesome while still being easily accessible to anyone and everyone,” Shaw states. “We never wanted our band to have a ‘target market’—we just wanted everyone in our band to want to play music with the same amount of passion and without discrimination of any sort. In a different regard, we also view playing music as a living art form that can constantly change and grow into new more expansive ideas, which we try to display in our live performance. We do our best to make sure that every show we play is a different and unique performance brought together by the energy and ambiance of our current environment. I feel like we really do pour our hearts and souls into the music we create, and I’ve never had more fun than I do when I play music with Lee [Herrera, guitar}, Garrett, Jesse, and Tim [Cossor, drums]. Our general aesthetic would be to work hard, challenge yourself, be creative, be positive and have fun.”
HRVRD is in helpful hands, as they’ve joined Equal Vision’s roster and released a new record this past February.
“It has been an honor being a part of a label we have loved and supported since the ‘90s,” says Leister. “Everyone there has been extremely welcoming and positive, and we are very grateful to be in the position we are in and have their help in taking us to the next level.”
The ‘next level’ starts with HRVRD’s newest album, From the Bird’s Cage, which, according to Leister, was a natural progression from their previous record, The Inevitable and I.
“We focused much more on the songs as a whole, not just individual parts,” he explains. “We held nothing back and voiced each and every opinion, re-working instrumentation and writing multiple lyric and vocal versions to try and translate the moods and feelings we wanted to create. The music is more mature, tame and intense all at the same time. Going back to record at Salad Days Studio with Brian McTernan was a great experience. After working together on the last album, we learned how he worked and used it to our advantage. We realized that sometimes less is more.”
This ties into HRVRD’s overall work ethic.
“We all come from a DIY background and have always used those principles with this band,” Leister reveals. “Lee has designed all of our album and t-shirt artwork; Jason has booked all of our shows and tours for years. Up until recently, Jesse worked at a screen printing shop, where he printed all of our shirts. Before that, we would print them in Lee’s basement ourselves. We believe in working hard to get where you want to be.”
Even if that means living like campers while on the road.
“Since we’ve been a touring band which has been since at least 2007, we probably have stayed in less than ten hotel rooms,” Shaw admits. “We either camp at national parks or free camp sites or sleep on people’s floors. On our full U.S. tour last September, we did a lot of camping, mainly in the desert, and I would honestly recommend that other bands give it a try. There’s really no words that can describe how beautiful it is to look up at the stars in the middle of the pitch black desert night or how overwhelming it is to wake up to absolutely nothing of the modern world around you and only see mountains and canyons in every direction.”
Besides extreme self-sufficiency, the band also prides themselves on their hometown.
“Being from Charlotte, and North Carolina in general, has greatly impacted our music,” says Leister. “All of us grew up heavily involved in the local scene here, and most of us met through playing in other bands. I remember back in high school I would go to shows five nights a week sometimes and everyone knew everyone. With small, DIY venues such as The Milestone and Lunchbox Records and larger venues like TremontMusic Hall and The Neighborhood Theatre, there is always something going on. Lee and I play in a side-project punk band called Calormen. Jesse plays in The Bear Romantic and does solo shows around Charlotte constantly. Tim plays in The Bear Romantic, a band called Of Sinking Ships, as well as other musical projects. Jason is one of the best booking agents/promoters/resources in the Charlotte music scene. We all are still very much involved in this great community of musicians and friends. Charlotte gets overlooked by bands a lot because of high music-cultured cities in North Carolina such as Chapel Hill and Asheville, but we are very proud of our scene and it’s thriving now, maybe more than ever. Support your local music scene!”
HRVRD will be touring frequently throughout the year. For more information and to stay up-to-date with the band, check out hrvrdmusic.com and facebook.com/hrvrdmusic.
An A+ act, even without its vowels
By Jen Emmert
*Substream must apologize to HRVRD for spelling their band name incorrectly in our latest issue. We hope you can overlook our oopsie and enjoy this article about a great act!