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