Harshist are near the top of my list of favorite Hawaii underground bands, only second to Makua Valley Blast Test and VAX. Dark psychedelia and punk played with a kraut-prog precision.They were a ridiculously important to me and to the progression of the scene here, musically and in their attitude/politics/presence. I was working on this interview for either inclusion in a proposed group-collaboration zine, or for my old zine So Nails, and probably to send to MRR. This is embarrassingly old, as it was started right before their short summer tour and I’m kinda disappointed in myself for not getting around to finishing this interview with the follow up questions I had, so here it is in it’s rough unfinished form, for the hell of it.
What brought you guys together?
TRAVIS: I just wanted to start some kind of noisey, No Wave band. Theres plenty of dude-rage in the music scene in general so I felt like a female fronted band would be much more interesting to me and everyone at going to shows… I love Annie’s zine (Riff Raff) and we have a lot of similar taste in female fronted punk so that seemed like a no brainer. Alex and Stevie are incredibly talented musicians and are into the concept of FUTUREMUZIK so I just had to have them involved.
ANNIE: I sat back and observed a lot of scenes for a long time. I’ve been involved in punk rock in some way or other for over 10 years and I was ready to do something. It took finding the right people to work with that made it possible. I don’t really have to explain myself to anyone which is refreshing.
STEVE: Travis and Annie built this band out of common taste and philosophy. I remember hearing about the project for a few weeks before they had even asked me to play. Travis and I had jammed once, and we recognized musical competency in the other, so I was down to join when he asked me to play drums for them.
ALEX: Travis asked me if I wanted to play bass in a band with him and Annie and Steve, who I hadn’t met before but was told that he was a badass drummer. Me being the band slut that I am, said of course.
What would you say you sound like and/or what are your influences?
TRAVIS: Generally, I think we could be filed under Psych-punk. I would say that SHOPPERS, BROWN SUGAR, THE CONTORTIONS, CAN, TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS, NATION OF ULYSSES & DNA are my biggest influences in regards to my playing/writing in harshest.
ANNIE: I was listening to THE MEN from Brooklyn (Sacred Bones Records) and SHOPPERS from Syracuse a ton when we first started playing music. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of MERCHANDISE (FL), RANK/XEROX (SF), NERVOSAS (OH), & MARY CHRIST (DC). I’m also really influenced by the way Paul Westerberg writes for THE REPLACEMENTS, those themes really resonate with me. I also love gangsta rap because of the swagger of it, that’s something that I try to emanate as much as I can. That not-giving-a-fuck mode. KILLA MIKE’s new record is amazing.
STEVE: When I told people I was playing music again I had a tough time categorizing the sound for this project. I feel like psych-punk is more indicative than weird hardcore, but theres definitely some elements of heavy DIY, prog, stoner metal, and noise going on in there too. My influences for Harshist have been pretty prog and jazz heavy, including Mahavishnu Orchestra, Can, any Omar Rodriguez-Lopez project and Elvin Jones.
ALEX:I think we sound like a hardcore band that does some psychedelic stuff some times. Certain bands and songs influence different parts of my playing. I’ll listen to some THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS then some SLINT then DRIVE LIKE JEHU then BUILT TO SPILL then SMALL BROWN BIKE. Although, my biggest influence lately is THE BEST SHOW ON WFMU WITH TOM SCHARPLING.
Annie, although you’ve been involved in punk/scene stuff here and back home in Ohio for a long time, but unlike all of the other Harshist dudes, this is your first band you’ve been in. How has the experience been for you?
ANNIE:: Weird and scary and fun and really rewarding. shout outs to everyone who’s involved in the Honolulu music scene because it’s not really about me or our band, it’s about everybody that’s involved in this. everything that’s going on with our and our friends’ bands and anyone who plays music or writes or does art or is just creating anything feels like a movement to me. This place is more or less wide open for people to create things. I’ve always approached shit in a “give a lot, get a lot” kinda way, and that tends to work out for me.
What do tend to write songs about and/or what inspires them?
TRAVIS: sometimes i’ll be like “I have this riff, i want this song to be about blank.” But thats just vague direction, its all Annie. We fully commit to whatever she wants the song to be about.
ANNIE: I write about whatever I’m thinking about a lot at whatever given moment. some major themes: growing up in a conservative environment/family and being a weirdo and dealing with all of that, what people expect of you vs. what you can or want to do/be, being a woman in a male-dominated world and subculture, and things that are going on in the world that make me upset.
ALEX: Song writing in HARSHIST is a mix of ideas. Travis or I will have a riff or a part that we jam off of and pick it apart and mangle and mold it in to the crimes against nature that become the songs you know and love from us. any other time, my answer to this question is: THEY ARE ALL LOVE SONGS ABOUT HOW MUCH I HATE MYSELF.
Whats your favorite part of the 808 scene currently? Favorite bands?
TRAVIS: It seems like there are more and more bands of every stripe forming every week. Thats what we need to build a more sustainable scene. Right now, my favorite local bands are DEAD DEAD MILLIES & HERBIVOROUS MEN. We just played GNARWHAL’s last show and I cried. They were one of the best bands around and they were basically the catalyst for all of us getting together. I’m pretty sure I met Annie & Alex & like 80% of my friends in town at Gnarwhal shows. I also really love PHARAOHS and AT SEA. but theres a ton of awesome bands right now…
ANNIE: I love AT SEA, HERBIVOROUS MEN, PHARAOHS, SIBLINGS…RIP NARWHAL…I also really like what Miller does with BRAINPLANE. More weirdos all the time.
STEVE: I love SIBLINGS and PHARAOHS. I wrote off hardcore for a long time, but some good 808 bands doing it right got my attention. When I first moved to Honolulu I was only finding bar rock and cover bands, but when I finally caught DIE SLOW at random one night I realized there was actually some great music being made here. Other bands I like would have to include HERBIVOROUS MEN for their feral weirdness and MIDSTREAM DUO for not giving a fuck and playing free jazz death metal in a town dominated by misplaced Jamaican music.
Whats your least favorite parts of the scene? Things that should be changed?
ANNIE: I think there is no place for macho tough-guy bullshit or “hipster hate.” Hipster is a meaningless word that describes everyone in their 20s or 30s that isn’t a bro or a hippie. I just want more people to start more bands and do more art and write and just be weird and put their shit out there. Just do it. Everyone’s life and story is really valuable and we only learn from each other if we’re willing to share. Break down walls and we can find community and commonality.
ALEX: My least favorite part of the scene is how bent out of shape people can get when they read a Facebook status update. People with no sense of humor. This could be changed by simply jerking off or smoking a bowl.
Whats your future plans as a band?
TRAVIS: We’re putting out a tape at the end of the summer and going out to play 10 shows in Portland, Seattle and a few other spots in the pacific northwest in August. We have a 7” in the works too, but all those plane tickets are gonna put that on hold till the fall.
Harshist went on that tour, played lots of local shows and regularly destroyed all in their path, as well as put out a split seven inch with Pharaohs (which I was lucky enough to design the cover art and labels for) and recorded the tracks for a possible 12 inch. Annie and Travis both moved to the mainland, which put the future of the band and this record on hold but hopefully it will see the light of day.