It’s August 15th, 2016, a sunny Monday afternoon, when we sit down in the park to chat and catch-up with young Canadian musician Harley Alexander and his drummer, Ben Deinstadt. It’s the final day of their North American Harland tour, which they have spent promoting and performing their new album in a number of cities across the U.S. and Canada. Later tonight they will be playing the Smiling Buddha in Toronto at 961 College Street. Then, it’s back home to Ottawa briefly, before moving to Montreal to continue making music.
Sitting in Dufferin Grove Park, we spoke to the up and coming artist about his new album Harland, technology, and feeling what you’ve gotta feel.
The theme of love comes up a lot in your music, so we hoped you could tell us a bit about your history with love. Have you had a rough history or has it been a beautiful path?
Harley: I grew up falling in love kind of easily, and I felt like I really gave my heart away openly. Many times I received a little bit in return, but I also felt a lot of rejection.
It’s like Neil Young said, “only love can break your heart.” It took a long time to realize that it wasn’t actually the love part that hurts at all… the love part, the way I see it now, is kind of untouchable. It’s a pure, beautiful energy, and the parts that hurt, like I said, are rejection or misunderstanding.
When I realized you don’t need another person or another thing to be in love, that you can just believe in this energy that you can tap into and feel okay, it was very powerful for me. It really helped me feel less worried about my heart being broken, or love not working.
It seems like you learned to love yourself, but to also love others and let them love you.
H: It’s so hard, at least for me, to be open to receiving, because I was raised to think selflessness is very important, and that selfless means, you know, giving not receiving.
H: There’s so much energy being put out by people, positive and negative, that you either shield from the negative and hold on for dear life, or you can take in some light and some love. That way, it’s a lot easier to roll through when shit goes down. At least for me, that’s kind of how it works.
Would you say you’re an empathetic person?
H: Oh my gosh I feel extremely empathetic.
I feel overwhelmed almost constantly by people around me, what’s going on… I feel tuned in because I really, really, really, care about the social environment I’m in. I want to know how people are doing and how I can fit in and add to the vibe in a good way.
You care about people around you being happy too.
H: Yeah. I mean I’m totally cool if I’m hanging out and someone’s having a hard time. I just think that’s what life’s all about: feelin’ good, feelin’ bad, confused.
In relation to the song Borg Fest from Universal Love, cause we fuckin’ love that album, what is a borg?
H: It’s kind of a judgemental song [laughs].
Basically, the way I was talking about borgs is that… borgs are what happen to people when they’re shut down by society. You’re shut down emotionally, you’re shut down at a spiritual level. I mean, Borg Fest is kind of battling that idea of being turned off and becoming this borg, or this clone. This copy of a regular person, or what is-
Or what you once were?
H: Yeah. I was just really alive for the first time in a really long time.
I felt like I was in social situations, trying to talk to people, and it felt like people were just kind of tuned out. And I didn’t understand. [laughs] It’s good. I’ve gotta think about the lyrics…
Borg fest, everywhere’s a borg fest, I can smell a borg fest…
Isn’t it obvious? [laughs]
Everywhere’s a borg fest.
I felt like I wasn’t relating to people, and I… I felt like I’m awake, and y’all are asleep. I want people to hear my music and think, “I can be whoever I wanna be,” and it’s okay, and I can be loved. I want people to look inside themselves and be okay with whatever’s in there. I wish I had that growing up or when I was younger, I wish that I felt that I didn’t have try so hard to be something, and that it’s totally okay to just exist and have feelings, and that there’s no right or wrong.
It’s okay to be confused and be yourself, and even to not know what you feel or who you are at the same time. I guess that’s kind of it. I felt like I was finally getting some clarity for the first time, and I thought, “this is messed up.”
I noticed that Universal Love contains more than a few references to technology and the digital age.
H: Yeah, for sure. I don’t quite understand how I fit into the Internet. I didn’t grow up with social media, and when I was fourteen, thirteen, MSN was a thing, and instant messaging online was a thing, but I don’t know how I fit into it. I’ve been very skeptical of it, like, “if it doesn’t grow out of the ground, and it’s not this natural thing, and everyone is glued to their phones, and everyone is turned off…
H: Absolutely. I frighten myself when I’m walking down College Street and Ben says, “have you seen a coffee shop?” and I haven’t lifted my head up in at least two blocks and I don’t know what’s going on. I hate the hell out of it, and I hated myself when I finally got a smartphone and thought, “fuck, I suck, I’m such a hypocrite,” and I’m still not super psyched that I have one. At the same time, it’s helping me hang with you here right now, it helped me travel across America and play my music and we’re recording this right now. I mean you can’t look at things black and white… I mean I really fall into that… did you want to drop in on this at all? (To Ben)
Ben: Oh yeah, about technology. I guess I fall under your first camp in that I am deeply skeptical of technology and also find it very frustrating. I too have difficulty establishing an idea of what a sincere online personality is and it’s weird. I find myself on social media, feeling really jealous of people for these experiences that, in reality, I wouldn’t actually care about.
You get too paralyzed by seeing that grandeur of everyone else that you end up shitting on your own accomplishments and don’t feel good about yourself.
H: Yeah, you post one thing and it gets X amount of likes and you post another thing and it gets way less, and you’re like “huh, what was wrong with that?”
B: I put way more stock into it than I think the format is designed for. And I think everybody else does too. I have probably thirteen friends who I actually care about them seeing anything.
Ben Deinstadt (Photographed)
You wonder if they’re actually staying in touch or they’re liking yours so you’ll like theirs back.
H: I totally feel that vibe of “what is the intention”? Like, why does one thing work and one thing doesn’t, what’s the personal connection? I’m finding with my new outlook on it, I’m shifting the focus. I’m just going to do my thing on social media and just try to not even look at the details. The details complicate things. I’ll start looking at it and analyzing.
It’s almost hard not to.
H: Oh, it’s super hard not to, but I think the only way that I can use social media is just putting stuff out there and moving on quick. It’s actually interesting, I mean I haven’t had Instagram in six months and I just got it back a few weeks ago. We were on tour, I had all these pictures, and I wanted to have some fun, and now I’m actually insanely active, posting mad photos all the time! Posting more often has gotten me to where I don’t care as much anymore. I say, “here, snap it, post it, move on.” I know it’s different because I’m a musician, and it’s easier because I can say I’m promoting myself and this is my career, and I can make it make sense for me in that way. If I was doing something else, I think I would have a harder time just, rocking my vibe, because I would feel self-conscious.
Self-conscious putting yourself on display?
H: But really, what’s wrong with that too? People should be proud of who they are. Everyone does cool stuff and everyone should be celebrated for doing their cool things.
Harley Alexander (Photographed)
We noticed Harland was recorded at your Nana’s chalet in Quebec. What importance does that place hold for you, and is that actually Harland?
Can you tell us about Harland?
H: You gotta look within… [laughs] Well, the name Harland is my full name. I go by Harley, but I also like to use Harland as a symbol, as this place that I’m welcoming people to. Really, the place is a more personal look at me, and the experience of listening to the album is getting to know me a little bit better. I thought it would be a nice thing to call the album because I wanted to make something that was more literal, or less veiled, than my previous stuff. I also thought it would be kind of cute, tying into this little adventure with the van. The cottage is a very amazing place and I was happy to record there, and I don’t think it would’ve come out the same somewhere else. Harland is definitely not a concept that exists in the physical world.
Who did the album artwork for Harland?
H: That was an amazing artist in Halifax named Selina Latour. She went to NSCAD. She’s an incredible person and a really incredible painter. I haven’t actually seen the real painting, but I will have it eventually. It’s a alot bigger than the tape, so I was hoping to put it on the vinyl.
Photo via Bandcamp
So, where can our readers go to listen to you guys?
H: harleyalexander.bandcamp.com is the best page because you can listen to all the records and check out tapes, t-shirts, and other cool stuff. That’s how I’m trying to make a livin’ so drop in there!
H: Yeah, thank you!
B: Thanks so much!