A mixture of sugar and spice, sun and showers, “gravel and honey”: Harriet Jones, the singer/songwriter whose sound is a fusion of soulful woes, honest lyrics and hypnotising passion.
Dom Moore photography.
Harriet may be young, but there is no underestimating the talent and ingenuity of this endearing musician’s ability – and no doubt promising future. The music of Jones is a pure delight; with infectious vocals and dreamy riffs that transport listeners to a world full of weeping willow trees, beckoning sandy shores and soft whistling winds. There is a haunting sense about Jones’ sound: it stays with you, making this up and coming musician impossible to forget. It takes one listen to realise that her music is candid and distinct, whilst being compelling in a ‘hair standing up on the back of your neck’ kind of way; albeit Harriet perceives her sound as not being definitively categorised. “An old man who saw me play once said I have a voice of ‘gravel and honey’ and it kind of stuck. It could be folk, it could be blues, but everybody knows I’m not a pop singer”.
This year has already proved to be a year full of anticipation for Harriet Jones after playing a multitude of live gigs in London and her hometown, Plymouth. What does the rest of the 2012 hold? “Even more gigs I think! This summer I’m playing a few places: Volksfest [in Plymouth] with Hard Fi, Knee Deep Festival [in Cornwall] with Willy Mason and The Road To Nowhere Festival [in Somerset], which looks cool”. As well as Hard Fi and Willy Mason, powerful vocalist Lianne La Havas – an artist whose success has spiralled over the past few months, and not to mention she has hung out with Prince! - has also noticed the talent of Harriet Jones. “She hung out with Prince? Jesus man, I’ve never hung out with anybody. She is wonderful though, isn’t she?” (Well, who could disagree?) “I went to a gig that she was playing at and a friend managed to get a demo cd of mine to her in the – let’s say – most unorthodox of ways and she sent me a little message telling me I had a beautiful voice, which is very cool”. With Lianne La Havas already having written a song with Willy Mason and Harriet playing with him this summer, the future certainly appears to be promising for this rising singer/songwriter.
Song writing is an integral part to any musician’s creations, and Harriet is no exception. As an artist who has not yet performed a cover song it would seem that it is not just the riffs and melody that express her music’s spirit, but the writing of the song itself. “People say as if I’m anti covers. I never said playing cover songs was bad; I just thought playing your own songs was better. You can feel like you took some kind of good out of a situation if you get a song from it. You may not have had control of the situation but you have control of how you saw things. Most of the time it is pretty much storytelling, rather than, you know, a message or whatever.”
When you listen closely to the words behind any harmony, you gain a deeper acknowledgment and understanding of the journey and process behind the song. Harriet Jones exposes a narrative within the verses of her enchanting melodies: “‘Wounds’, it’s sort of embarrassingly honest”. For all of the non-singer/songwriters out there the process of writing words to fit a melody, to fit a meaning and to perhaps tell a story all within a few short verses seems baffling. So for all of those who are wondering, what does it take to write a piece of lyrical genius: is it in a dedicated notebook, in a tranquil space or scribbled down on the corner of a napkin on a quick coffee break? Harriet Jones shares her secrets. “I don’t have a notebook, I’ve just accepted how unorganised I am with that stuff. I write wherever. Usually two or more a day; not even as a conscious routine, just as something that sort of happened. Some songs have been too long really, a few pages maybe five and I’ve cut them down. The better ones only ever take five minutes. The good ones – the recorded ones – they make it through the typewriter: ‘Final Drafts’”.
Harriet Jones- In The Basement.
For those reading who now wish to treat their ears to the melodious stories of Harriet Jones her music can be sourced on Soundcloud and youtube by typing in ‘harrietjonesmusic’ or “loiter around North Hill [Plymouth] or my gigs, you will probably hear it”. Soon, though, you may be able to pick up an echo of Jones’ sound on a street in Camden as the talented singer/songwriter shares that she is planning to move to London – “the big city!” - later on this year. The capital is known as a creative hub, generating new and refreshing talent daily; people from all over the world admire London for its varied eclectic mix of inspiring individuals with genuine talent. So, it makes sense for a musically gifted Harriet to live in The Big Smoke; but she hasn’t always been blessed with the contacts and opportunities that appear to be a given in the capital. From the distant city of Plymouth, Harriet has battled with the limitations that come with living in a place which many consider to be a tranquil weekend escape. “I was adamant that if you knew enough, played well enough, it didn’t matter who you didn’t know, as they’d find you. But, the clichéd saying has turned out to be truer than I thought. I didn’t really know anyone, but I wrote to a lot of people, I still do. I get kind of nervous but at the end of the day they say no, you can walk away and never see them again”.
As a young artist starting out the in the challenging and competitive world of music Harriet has reached that stepping stone that many amateur musicians aspire to. It hasn’t been easy: she has been knocked back but has managed to brush it off, battle the limitations in order to reach her goals and continue to push forward on her journey. “It’s probably like driving a car; keep focusing on your rusted wing mirror or some driver behind you and you’ll probably crash or take the wrong road. I always tend to take things personally, but it probably makes you play better in the end”. The road is the most important element of any journey, as long you keep focused and moving forward your destination will be reached – Harriet Jones is proof of this.
Harriet says she has not yet had a defining moment in her musical career so far, although I am sure that it will be found one day. Her musical gift is undeniable and with influences such as “Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, the usual” it is obvious her ambitions are high. Who knows what the future holds, but for Harriet it is definitely going to be bright. When asked where she sees herself in 2020 she replies confidently, “Settled, finally content with the way things have gone; still writing songs, but different songs. Maybe I’d have finally written a song where I have found the ‘right’ words; simple and they say all I have been trying to say since 2011”.
As someone who wasn’t sure she could choose the path of music, Harriet Jones has certainly come very far, and things are about to get a lot bigger for this talented musician. So whether it is in London, Plymouth or at various festivals listen out for her husky harmonies and wearyourself promises, you will not be disappointed…
Just to be nosy.
What's you favourite place on earth - your sanctuary?
Harriet: My garden, the beach or when I'm sleeping. That's pretty nice. Or stone circle.
If you could pick one song to sum up your life or you as a person, what would it be and why?
Harriet: I was gonna say 'Like A Rolling Stone' [Bob Dylan], but I'm sure few others would agree. You'd have to ask one of my friends this question; or one of my 'enemies'...
If you were to duet with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?
H: I am gonna sound real obsessed with Bob Dylan by the end of this interview, aren't I?
Of all the songs you have written so far, which holds the most sentimental significance/is closest to your heart and why?
H: I'm not sure. It's hard after you release them because you get a feeling for what people enjoy more, then kid yourself that's your favourite too. Maybe 'Wounds', it's sort of embarrassingly honest. It's gonna sound real stupid but the chorus, it's written exactly how I sort of say things - you know? 'In The Basement' is kind of nice too though. It's the first song I ever went up and played in front of anybody.
What song can you not stop listening to at the moment?
H: Gorillaz - Melancholy Hill.
What is your festival highlight, to date?
H: Maybe seeing Gorillaz at Glastonbury in 2010 with Lou Reed - that was cosmic. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Pulp at Reading 2011 were pretty good though. I always like some of the people you meet too; you don't have a bloody clue who they are or of their place in the world but they are the happiest people alive. I think that's beautiful.
You're going to Outer Space, what five things do you take with you?
H: Outer Space?! An oxygen tank, five of them.