Photo: Courtney Melahn

LA/San Francisco-based Harry the Nightgown is the creative union between Spencer Harting and Cherry Glazerr bassist Sami Perez. Both producer-musicians worked at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone— it’s no surprise that their technical skill as producers are immediately obvious. Even across the three singles, there’s a ton of variation in the sonic palette and plenty of interesting production choices for the listener to pick through. In a feat that speaks to their talent as both producers and musicians, Perez and Harting are able to draw from all kinds of sounds and styles and still end up with a cohesive, even poppy, final product.

The duo are at their best when their pop sensibilities are at odds with their production choices. Tracks like the dramatically understated “Babbling,” a sweet, guitar-driven song making liberal use of orchestral-sounding synth pads, still have moments of chaos. The guitar shifts from a fingerpicked riff to bright, staccato chords as Perez’s deadpan voice continues to float on top uninterrupted. This is one of the many times on the album where it feels like they’re playing the studio as much as any individual instrument, and these little moments that interrupt traditional pop songwriting are what make this album so addictive. You don’t need to try hard to appreciate it, but it rewards a patient and considerate listen.

I spoke with Perez and Harting about their recording process, the privilege of recording with analog equipment, and the influences they’re embarrassed of.

The Bay Bridged: I did an interview with Abe Hollow, another Tiny Telephone engineer/recording artist last year, and he spoke about how switching between the roles of producer and artist was challenging during recording.

Sami Perez: Yeah, it’s usually just the two of us in the studio, so the lines are pretty clear. If you’re not playing, then you’re producing.

Spencer Harting: There’s definitely a struggle with the two different hats. It’s a very strange thing to be like, “I need to do all of this technical shit, and I need to make sure nothing is objectively wrong, but I also need to write.”

TBB: While the album itself maintains a cohesive vibe, the sonic palette across each song is very diverse. How’d you end up settling on such a wide array of sounds?

SP: For this album, a lot of the songs were written in the studio, so some of the sonic choices came from, “oh, we just got a new piece of equipment” or “we just learned this new technique.” We got a Moog Vocoder, and that’s on two of the songs, and then we never used it again. A lot of the songs were created as a result of the choices we had available.

SH: I think it also just reflects our personalities, like if you spent an hour in a room with us, the album kind of sounds like that. (laughs)

TBB: Can you speak to some of those other techniques you were using?

SP: We recorded the whole album on tape, so we ended up doing a lot of fly-ins since we were limited to 24 tracks. Fly-ins are where you record a bunch of tracks, like 22 tracks of just my voice, and then spin it back in, kind of like sampling yourself. That’s where a lot of the choral stuff on the album comes from.

SH: We also did a lot of trial and error shit. After spending so much time working there, and just hanging out while other engineers are working, you pick up loose ideas. Having the ability to just experiment, and take way too long doing certain things, it lets you get to an unknown territory. (pauses) Did that sound pretentious?

TBB: On the topic of pretense, how much do you each consider yourselves analog purists?

SP: I was raised as an engineer at Tiny [Telephone], so the way that I learned was very analog. I don’t know if you’ve spoken with [John Vanderslice, owner of Tiny Telephone], but he’s pretty intense. One of the first times I spoke to him he was like “Pro Tools is the devil.” I didn’t even originally learn digital, but now at the studio in LA and we’re exploring more with Ableton and plugins. What I love about outboard gear though, is that you can use it all super wrong and come up with new tricks like the fly-in stuff, so I’m trying to explore plugins in the same way.

SH: I’d say I’m like 30% purist. If you asked me two years ago I would’ve said 90 or 100, but especially in the last three months, all of the attention on social justice has kind of changed my view a bit. Having the access to record in an analog environment is such an extreme privilege, and is really only sought after by a certain group of people, usually middle-aged white dudes. It takes so much money to do analog the right way, and luckily it was really accessible to me and Sami, but it just doesn’t feel achievable for regular people who aren’t getting huge studio budgets.

SP: Yeah, I totally agree with you. It’s hard to walk away from the concept of tape as a producer, but you gotta roll with the times. I was never particularly drawn to the analog “warmth” or “feel,” but more so the work flow.

TBB: One of the recurring themes I noticed on this album was tension between instruments, or between vocals and the instruments. Particularly on “The Boid,” there’s a lot of chaos in the instrumental but the vocal parts remain controlled.

SP: I think that tension comes from the recording process. Sometimes we would fly in tracks that weren’t even intended for the song. It was intentional, on “The Boid” I remember sitting down with Spencer and asking, “how do we make the time signature really fucked up and weird?”

SH: Some of it was also noticing that we write a lot of 4/4, verse-chorus-verse songs, and trying to steer away from that.

SP: Yeah, we also hadn’t really written that song yet. We recorded the drums last, and they were super hard to get down, but it ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record, and maybe one of the most coherent. I think it was like half and half, intention and seeing where things end up.

TBB: Yeah, it reminds me a bit of the band The Dismemberment Plan, where the time signature on a lot of songs is off-kilter but the lyrics are straightforward. Are there any bands you could cite as influences on this record?

SH: Nothing that particularly sounds like the record, we were listening to a lot of old bossa nova.

SP: This sounds really stupid, but I know for a fact it influenced us. Last Christmas, we saw Thom Yorke at Bill Graham—

SH: Oh god, this is so cringy admitting that this influenced us, but it kind of did. I hate Radiohead fans so much, but that show was great. All of my cool music-scene friends see citing Thom Yorke as an influence as just the lamest thing ever.

SP: But maybe that means it’s cool again now.

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