Volume 94, Issue 51
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Sarah Harmer's music a thing of beauty
Photo by Natasha Nicolson
"SMELLEY CAT, SMEL-LEY CAT, EVERYBODY NOW...Kingston-based singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer plays The Embassy tomorrow night. Royal City will open.
By Matt Pearson
Sarah Harmer grew up on a farm north of Burlington. The youngest of six children, her love for the outdoors developed at an early age.
Having just turned 30, she recalls learning piano as a young child before picking up the guitar in her teen years. It wasn't, however, until well into her studies at Queen's University in Kingston, that she became heavily involved in the world of music.
Harmer formed the band Weeping Tile in 1993, with whom she released three records before embarking on her first solo project, Songs For Clem, in 1999. That album, comprised of well-known traditional country songs and dedicated to her father, was recorded on her porch in late August of that year.
Earlier this year, Harmer returned to the music scene with You Were Here, a lushly beautiful album that has garnered widespread critical acclaim since it first hit the shelves. The record's dozen songs paint tender pictures of summer nights on a lake, the warmth of unending devotion and the melancholy of moving on. Her voice, as gentle and familiar as flannel sheets, wraps each word in cozy harmonies perfectly suited for cold, rainy days.
Harmer sounds relaxed and thankful for the break from touring, even if it is only five short days. "It's great to be home. There's some snow on the ground and I've got the woodstove rockin'," she reveals.
For Harmer, this recent break was well-earned. "Touring is fairly trying, but we have a great time," she says. "It's only trying on a physical level because you have to travel so much and get up for your performance each night and eat shitty food. It's hard work."
Harmer, who has been touring non-stop since the end of August with artists like the Indigo Girls, Great Big Sea and Josh Rouse, recently played an intimate show at Trinity St. Paul Church on Bloor Street in Toronto.
"That was definitely a high-water mark for me. It was a beautiful, all-wood church with huge balconies that wrap around the room," she enthuses, adding the show was recorded for a CBC Radio concert series.
On the subject of her latest album, Harmer has some insightful things to say. "Every song has a 'you' reference. I don't know if I'll ever make such an earnest, personal album," she begins. "But I'm also writing stories in these songs. Sometimes I just wait around for the [song] to expose itself, but other times they just happen quickly."
After a few listens, one finds it difficult to ignore the repeated references to the environment. Harmer agrees, but isn't sure whether the presence of such themes has anything to do with being Canadian. "The fact that I'm Canadian probably makes my vision Canadian. It's hard to put into words or ideas what it's in your life that makes you feel like you have a unique nationality," Harmer says.
With her single, "Basement Apt." climbing charts across the country and the media focusing more attention to her, Harmer is both genuinely flattered and unaffected. "It's nice to know that the sounds came together, but quite frankly, you get tired of yourself. I particularly like live reviews or reviews of the record, but I don't check them out thoroughly. You try to keep it in another place where it doesn't necessarily affect how you write or that you write at all," she says candidly.
"I've been given lots of forum to blab on about myself and sometimes I wish I was a bit more important or that there was something that I could talk about that maybe needed more exposure than my personal side."
Sarah Harmer appears at the Embassy tomorrow night with special guests, Royal City. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000