Published On: Wed, Apr 26th, 2017

Jo Harman – New Artist Showcase

The music industry is not a meritocracy.


Jo Harman

Faced with an album chart crawling with slick, cynical, sausage-machine pop, it’s easy to find yourself doubting if an artist of substance could ever rise to the top. That’s what makes Jo Harman’s rise so heartening.

The Devon-raised singer arrived in 2013 with Dirt On My Tongue, an independently released, zero-budget debut of soaring, shattered soul. The few who heard it were duly smitten. Then something happened that wasn’t in the script. Propelled by word of mouth alone, Harman went stratospheric, signing to V2, scaling festival bills, infiltrating Radio 2’s playlist, regaling the press with her quotable lip. “It’s been,” she reflects, “a fucking whirlwind.”

Even now, Harman doesn’t appear to court the spotlight and the singer has spent almost three years chipping away at second album People We Become. “It took me a while to write,” she shrugs. “I find songwriting very emotionally taxing, and I’m not very fast. Y’know, I have to kind of live it. I can’t write to a brief. It’s not like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna write the song this way because Radio 2 are gonna like it and I’m gonna fit around their format.’ I’m honest, and I’m sincere, and I basically don’t like being told what to do. In my head, I’ve probably gone, y’know, ‘Fuck you all – I’m doing it my way. It’s my way or the highway!’”

For Harman, the highway led to Nashville’s Sound Emporium, where in early 2016, she holed up for three weeks while a freak blizzard blew outside. “When I first got in there,” she says, “I just looked at the recording space and went, ‘Shit the bed’.

I’ve never been into a studio like that in my life. It’s just filled with history.” Harman worked hand-in-glove with producer Fred Mollin, but she credits the crack squad of sessioners for birthing the new material. “Of course, Nashville rubs off on you,” she says, “because you’re surrounded by Nashville musicians.

Y’know, those guys make a lot of albums – they do that all day, every day – and I was really scared that it was just going to be another album-by-numbers. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first track we tackled was When We Were Young: they listened to it once in the control room, then went in and played it in one take. Unbelievable. It’s in their blood. That’s what you get from being in Nashville.”

Leading the line, meanwhile, was Harman herself, with a smoky, intimate vocal that makes you believe every word of this genre-hopping material. “All the songs are very different,” she nods.

“You have a Beatles influence on Changing Of The Guard, and then there’s a Carole King influence on Silhouettes Of You. There’s stuff about relationships, but I never intended this to be a ‘breakup album’. Like most of my work, it’s more about my relationship with myself – which is tortured, at the best of times. It’s a deeply personal record. Even more so than the first one. Making this album was terrifying and exhausting and upsetting and joyful…”

People We Become is surely set to unleash another whirlwind. But however big Jo Harman gets, don’t expect her to change. “Nah, I’m still pretty much myself,” she considers. “I’m not Beyoncé yet, let’s put it that way…”

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