Americana artist JR Harbidge shares his take on being an Americana performer in the UK, including what Ryan Adams has in common with Iron Maiden.
Editor's note: It's been really enjoyable working with Charlotte at Kiwi Bear PR the past couple weeks, regarding her promotion of JR Harbidge's new single "Hard." We were able to get this interview with JR to learn more about him, playing Americana music in the UK, and
Coyote Music: I've always thought that where a person comes from plays a large part in who they are and, in the case of musicians, the music they create. And I must admit that I was not previously aware of the Black Country region in the UK. In fact, given the heavy dose of Americana pulsing through your music, it was a surprise that you are not born and raised in the U.S. Can you talk a bit about the Black Country, how it's influenced your songwriting?
JR Harbidge: This is a great question.
The Black Country got its name because it was at the heart of the industrial revolution and a permanent black smog lingered in the air. The area gave birth to some of the greatest bands and musicians of 60s 70s and 80s. Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, 50% of Led Zeppelin, Slade and many many more.
You can’t come from this area and it not influence you. So, for years I’ve been in Rock and metal bands and my Dad routinely played a Black Sabbath LP on a Saturday morning whilst eating breakfast. He would always follow the Black Sabbath album with Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash and Young and this is where my love of “Americana” started.
CM: And of all the genres out there, what was it about Country/Americana that resonated with you, driving you to create songs in that style?
JRH: I had two great friends and band mates Paul and Ste, I am still in a band with Ste but unfortunately lost touch with Paul. We all shared a love of vocal harmony and acoustic guitars. We would cover songs like “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by CSNY and many other songs from the late 60s early 70s. The sound of an acoustic guitar and three voices singing in harmony is very hard to beat. Magical.
That band has long since folded and band members have families and other commitments but that’s life. I tried to stop writing but couldn’t give it up so I carried on writing and have managed to put a band of tremendously talented musicians together to make these songs some of the best I’ve ever written.
CM: Are there particular artists who've given you more inspiration than others?
JRH: CROSBY STILLS NASH AND YOUNG, as previously stated, would be the main inspiration but you could include Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac and Eagles from that era. More recently I have to say I am obsessed with Ryan Adams, I’ve seen him many times and have every vinyl he’s ever released. The last musical obsession I had where I collected everything was Iron Maiden.
What I love about Adams is his prolificness, his melodies, his ability to string words together I would never think to do. And of course the music he writes and records.
CM: "Hard" is your latest single and, while it's an upbeat/mid-tempo song, it's got a really heavy emotional tone, lyrically. Do you find yourself writing more from personal experience or from things you've seen, heard, and read about. I guess, do you lean autobiographically or are you more of storyteller of scenes you've taken-in first-hand?
JRH: I mostly write from experience, I find it easier to write what I know about. However I have tried to write in a story telling kind of way. On this album there is a song called “This Old Tennessee”. It started life as a brief for a documentary about Tennessee, I knew nothing about the place but really wanted to get a song on the film so I read about Nashville and wrote the song. I was in two minds about using it on the album because it’s the only track that has zero relevance to my life but our guitarist Terry insisted on it being on the album and I’m glad he did because it came out great.
CM: You dropped the "Reincarnation Blues" single in June 2023 and now "Hard" in August of 2023. Is there a timeline for the release of the full-length album, also entitled "Reincarnation Blues"?
JRH: Yes, after a few delays along the way the album will be released on 27th October. I may even release one more single before the album comes out.
CM: Touring. I live in Texas, so touring across the state can involve 10-hour drives from Austin to El Paso for a single gig. What has your performing and touring life been like around the UK? And have you toured beyond the UK's shores? Any plans to bring your live show to the U.S.?
JRH: I have never done a “proper” tour. In the UK you never really drive more than 2 hours to a gig. I have been gigging every year since I was 13, never stopped, I’ve played hundreds of gigs. I did a tour of a large chain of coffee shops in the Uk, Cafe Nero, they made me artist of the month and asked me to tour the chain which I did. That was fun.
I would love to tour the States, visit all the iconic places in music like Nashville, Jacksonville, Laurel Canyon. It would be a dream come true.
CM: What is it about your songs and/or live performances that make you stand out from the crowd?
JRH: I don’t know how I can answer this question without sounding big headed but, I think my songs, above all else, have great melody, that’s where my Beatles influence comes in. A song isn’t a song without a great melody. A great melody can carry some average lyrics.
CM: What would you want a person who's learning about JR Harbridge for the first time to know about you?
JRH: I’m not sure anyone would be interested in the person J R Harbidge, I’m just a regular guy who writes songs. I guess I want people to listen to the music and like it, like it enough to keep listening, to tell their friends to listen and to come to shows. That’s it.
CM: Any final thoughts?
JRH: Thanks for the interview. I have nothing further to add other than keep listening, keep loving and keep learning.