By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
So Har Mar moved to New York City, and it was there that he delved into the work that became Bye Bye 17. "It's great. I find myself writing a lot more," he says of New York. As a songwriter, he says, he "always [tries] to tell a story," and often that means drawing from personal experience. "When I get stuck, I just walk outside the door and crazy shit is happening everywhere — just awesome, weird, real-life shit that you can draw off of. Because in L.A., you're in your car a lot, and not really interacting with people all the time."
It was there, too, that Har Mar embraced the mood that came to mark the music on the new record. "It felt great being back in winter when I wrote it," he admits, almost visibly lighting up at the thought. "That's how I would do it here: I would fuck around all year and the second it would snow, I would just like write two albums or whatever. So that motivated me, the grayness and bleakness of winter. I find it really inspiring."
One of the primary qualities that Har Mar has built his reputation on over the years is his ability as an in-the-flesh (pun intended) performer. Yes, his affinity for taking his pants off is infamous — has anyone ever been so comfortable in his body? — but Har Mar is also an impeccable entertainer, one who can hold a room's attention with his gifts for humor and storytelling as well as with his talents as a singer. And as he's developed the material from Bye Bye in concert over the past year, he's worked hard to refine his stage presence.
HAR MAR SUPERSTAR plays with the Chalice, Baby Boys, and Painted Ponies on Saturday, May 4, at Turf Club; 651.647.0486.
"I try to stay a bit more still to really maximize the power of the vocal," Har Mar says of his current live show. Sometimes he even brings out a suit — but that's not to say that he won't employ costume changes anymore, either. "I'm also adding a little choreography tricks with the band. I'm trying to make it more of a show that way and less of me being an idiot rolling around."
He's also been pushed to try out standup by Casablancas, whom he's known since all the way back in the mid-aughts when he toured with the Strokes. He describes his friendship with Casablancas as one of "brotherly mentoring." "We're mutually enamored by each other," he says.
Casablancas's influence also proved crucial to how Bye Bye turned out, even though he didn't get involved in the record until after a full mix had been completed. Har Mar had recorded in Austin, Texas, with Spoon's Jim Eno and a cast of musicians that included Chris Bierden, Matt Romano, and Jeff Quin, with Spyder Baybee Raw Dog and Ryan Olson also contributing parts. The initial mix, he says, "was really ornate." But in Casablancas's hands, it took on a whole new life, "like it had been dubbed on VHS eight times and unearthed from a garage."
"He listens really close," Har Mar says of Casablancas. "The whole ethos with Cult Records is to put a stamp of approval on every song on every record." In fact, the final version of the record is shorter, too — cut down from almost 35 minutes on the original mix to under 30. "He wants everything to be the best it can. He sits and thinks about the record more than I ever did."
The end result is an album that's tight and fiery, without any wasted breaths or unnecessary fat. Each song packs a punch and could stand alone as a single, and the snarl of the album's lo-fi production, rather than flattening out the tones, somehow brings it all to the surface, accentuating the energy and passion that Har Mar himself channels through his vocals. Even if the latent humor is missed, it's more than made up for in the gnarly funk of "Prisoner," the doo-wop of "Restless Leg," and the ache of "Late Night Morning Light."
"I'm 35 years old," Har Mar says with one of his rumbling, almost maniacal laughs. "I feel like I finally wrote the record that catches up with everything [in my life]. This is the record I've been meaning to make."