Please Think: A Dialogue with Harris Cole
"I want people to feel the things I was feeling when some of the songs were created"
January 12, 2017
It’s been two months since the release of ‘Pause.’
In an unpredictable world of media, it’s difficult to be heard and have your passion and art acknowledged. This being said, what’s real, what’s sincere, and what speaks, simply will be heard. This was the case when I happened upon Chicago artist Harris Cole’s music one day cruising Bandcamp. His music is running water. A small taste of his production leads one down a drain of discovery and wonderful interpretation.
Solely instrumental, Cole creates a star beam of sounds in his songs, leaving a variety of emotion and ambiguity in its wake. With sporadic release prior, all of these proposed stars aligned in his first album, Pause. Each track evokes a feeling within you that desires acknowledgement. Now, rather than soil the experience, I strongly urge a thorough listening or two of this ambient record. In my experience, I was given the opportunity to discuss with Harris an analysis of his album, his music, and his philosophy as a person. I was met with an interesting and abundant set of responses which left me thinking, much like his music does and will continue to.
What’s your story?
I am a 20 year old that lives in the suburbs of Chicago with my mom and brother. I started using Ableton in 8th grade and messing with virtual DJ prior to that — I graduated high school a year early because of my intense desire to leave and immediately went to Columbia College Chicago to study audio engineering. I made it a year, then failed a few classes in my third semester and dropped out. That was when pause really began (though “One Day” and “Rain, Pt. 2” had been made prior to dropping out, although I didn’t know I was working on a project yet, those were initially random Soundcloud uploads)
Who/what are your influences?
I’m really inspired by nature and natural ambiance. I’m inspired by art across any medium that challenges me in some way: shows like “Black Mirror,” video games like “Inside,” music like Flying Lotus’
Describe “pause” in one word besides “pause.”
What is the meaning to the album’s artwork?
I’m not quite sure of the meaning to be honest. In my head, I had the idea of a woman floating above a pool seemingly frozen in time. The artist, George Wylesol, had done a piece before that showed a backyard with a pool, and I was inspired by that piece. Most of the choices of color are courtesy of George. As far as the lights being off in the house, I think that’s just the assumption that late at night the lights would be off I guess. The circles in the upper corner are two moons. The bars going down the cover is another creative choice by George, part of his signature style. The woman is just a character that was needed to represent the unspoken concept of the album.
How do you feel about your work?
It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, but I am growing to really like my stuff. Especially the album, much time and energy went into it.
Who’s making moves right now that you’re interested in?
Instupendo’s music holds incredible amounts of depth and emotion and nostalgia
Hue Honey is a lo-fi mastermind and a fry cook extraordinaire
Blake Skowron is going to be unstoppable in about 6-10 months
Jestic is too good to be using Skullcandy headphones and a slow laptop
Do you make projects collectively?
Some of the songs on the album had other musicians: for example, Alex Szotak played bass on “One Day,” Goodnight Cody played bass on “That Miserable Man Milligan,” Harrison Kindy played bass on “Girls,” and Aaron Shapiro played guitar on the same song, etc.
For other projects, I love to work with producers and musicians. I’m just quite particular about the sounds I’m interested in.
Do you believe there’s something in your music/passions that set you apart from other artists?
Everything that has happened in my life to me and to others is what makes me, me. That alone has led me down some sort of path that is unique to me. With all that, the musical product is distinct to those experiences.
Do you draw, read, or write? Are there general hobbies and ways you have to express self?
No, no, and no. I really don’t have many hobbies that involve expression besides music. I spend much of my time as an observer, consuming other peoples’ art and content, that’s enough for now.
Do you make music for your emotions or for others’ emotions?
My emotions. If I can find a way to express what I’m feeling with audio, then any listener willing to be receptive can feel those things too… In doing so, I think they’ll learn something about themselves, even if at first the initial reaction is outside of their comfort zone.
Do current world events inspire any of your songs?
If everyone in the world could read one sentence of yours, what would you say?
Please think: perspectives are not permanent and the truth isn’t usually pleasant.
An analysis of each track from the album.
The name pause sort of just came to me one night, and I had some sort of weird epiphany that I have little recollection of, but I knew I needed to name it pause. I think the silence at the end is to create a strong contrast between the build and the silence.
2.) “Chapstikc” – Do you play instruments?
I just knew I had to spell it that way. I don’t really formally play any instruments, though I fiddle around on bass and keys. I recorded some of me playing bass and keys throughout the album.
3.) “The Miserable Man Milligan” – Length?
The sample is from a movie called “Waking Life,” a really strange movie that inspired me a lot. The name “that miserable man milligan” came from a book: I couldn’t think of a name for the song, and so my friend told me to open a random book and flip to a random page. I found the phrase “that miserable man milligan” and it resonated with me a lot. The length of the songs just depends on how long I think serves the purpose I’m going for.
4.) “Dark… Whatever”
This is another song that I couldn’t think of a name for. There’s an episode of Dexter where he finally tells his sister that he kills people and how he’s describing what he calls his “dark passenger,” and how when he finally says it out loud to her how stupid it sounds and he regrets it immediately as she teases him about how dumb it is (I think) — I was inspired by that
5.) “Nite” – Why this spelling?
I think you’re going to realize as I continue to address the spelling of titles that typos are intentional and I couldn’t tell you why as I don’t truly know.
I was in a relationship for 3 years that ended over winter of 2015 — most of the album was created afterwards, and while I wasn’t always thinking about that circumstance, it opened a new door for me in terms of being able to access some darker emotions. I figured the song sounded really sexy and made me think about classy women.
7.) “One Day” – Radiohead vibes – any correlation?
I really love Radiohead, but there’s no correlation; the song was actually inspired by Mr. Carmack. Many people have told me that this song feels hopeful to them, which is strange because I was in the midst of a very bad anxiety attack during the initial creation of this song, though I guess maybe making it was my way of trying to calm myself, which gives the feeling of hope.
8.) “Rain, Pt. 2” – Why two parts?
I made a song a few years ago called rain and I didn’t think it’d be an issue, but I don’t want the old song called rain showing up when someone tries to find this new version (the old version was made when I was still in high school and it’s not good)
9.) “Louie’s Lullaby”
This song is really sad; this was another one made while having an anxiety attack. Both of the anxiety attacks were in relation to the girl I was dating for 3 years, both came from interactions with her that didn’t go well, though “one day” was while we were still together, and “louie’s lullaby” was months after we broke up. While working on it, one of my dogs, “Louie,” was on my bed keeping me company, and he was falling asleep as I worked on the song. It felt almost as though the music was comforting him or helping him sleep or something so the song very quickly became about him.
Goodbye is sort of part two of louie’s lullaby, so it was a goodbye to that person I guess.
In a growing media world where it’s easy to be noticed but difficult to create sustainable, influential work, how do you work to make sounds which will resonate years from now?
I think the first part is that I’m not on a journey to make a shit-load of money and do a shit-load of drugs and sleep with a shit-load of women: those goals instantly allow an artist to access the really shallow, boring, watered-down part of themselves.
The second part is that I am alright making myself vulnerable with my music and putting out things that actually speak on myself in an honest way.
The third and most important part is that I try to make music that makes people feel things other than comfort. Some of the songs can be of comfort, though some are made from very specific places of discomfort, and I want people to internalize those uncomfortable emotions and feelings and thoughts. We can spend all our lives listening to the radio and feeding the shallow part of ourselves that doesn’t want to change and accept other perspectives and grow and learn, though that is a fast way to accept that you have nothing left to learn, sonically. I want people to feel the things I was feeling when some of the songs were created: in doing so, I think I can elicit a powerful but organic response from my listeners. For example, many people have told me that “Louie’s Lullaby” is their favorite song on the project — that one came from a deeply painful place of loneliness and anxiety. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
With this knowledge, I was left with a pleasant graciousness for having crossed paths with Harris Cole – in music and thought. He is one of the most fascinating artists creating right now, for he creates to create. For now it seems he will continue his journey in passion and maintaining who he is, which he’s done impressively so far.