Listening to Cariad Harmon, it’s hard to believe that the singer-songwriter spent much of her youth galavanting through the streets of London and dancing until the wee hours of the morning to legendary house and techno DJs at West London’s now defunct Club UK. It’s not surprising, however, to learn that after the parties were over, Harmon returned home to secretly throw on a Tracy Chapman or Bob Dylan album and strum her acoustic guitar.
Being caught between two worlds is a common echo in Harmon’s life. She grew up in the crossroads of two cultures: the cynical sensibility of England, and the romantic innocence of the American dream. With an English mother and an American father, Harmon has often struggled with feeling like an outsider in both the English and American worlds; she now embraces this feeling in her folk-inspired songwriting, which can be ironic, cheeky, vulnerable, and euphoric at times. Harmon’s range in style stems from experiences in frustration, confrontation, and new beginnings, with surviving the precariousness of New York City (her current home base) serving as the overarching theme on her upcoming album.
In Harmon’s music, conscientiously-crafted harmonies, sensitivity toward the arc of a song, and drum beats that stray from the typical country ditty complement her writing. Harmon’s lyrics are delivered with emotional directness and effortlessly flow as she splays them over delicate and nuanced guitar work. Influenced as much by contemporary artists Father John Misty and Ray Lamontagne as legends such as The Band and Carole King, Harmon’s most obvious talent lies in her ability to tell stories.
Both of Harmon’s Grandmothers, for example, were talented artists who never had the chance to realize their potential because of the times they lived in; her family’s story feeds Harmon’s no-excuses attitude and readiness to scrap for her dreams. This conviction pushes Harmon to explore the intense emotional lives of others, while also serving as the protagonist of her own work, in which her overwhelming willingness to realize the totality of her art is obvious when she sings I wanna be famous, son of a gun…I want you all to know my name when I’m done. Oh, I wanna be someone. I wanna be someone. (“I Wanna Be Famous”)
Harmon’s debut album Four Letters caught the attention of music mini-mogul Adam Dorn (a.k.a. Mocean Worker), who released the album on his label MOWO! Inc. in 2009. In addition, Harmon’s music has been featured in the film The Hawk is Dying (starring Paul Giamatti), and earned her the semifinalist title in the 2013 International Songwriting Competition.
Cariad Harmon’s self-titled album boasts performances by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius and Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees, and will be released in November 2014. Co-Producers Oli Rockberger and Chris Abell (Mat & Kim, Pete Yorn, Alabama Shakes) heavily influenced the record’s sound, while executive producer Matt Pierson (Grammy nominees Kirk Whalum, Brad Mehldau), who is largely credited in the Jazz community, produced 5 of the album’s 11 tracks, and mixed and mastered the project giving the album a salient voice.
Harmon will perform at the CMJ Music Marathon this fall with a showcase at Rockwood Music Hall, where she performs regularly, in Manhattan. Previously, Harmon has been covered by Verbicide Magazine, New York Magazine, and Rolling Stone’s Mark Kemp, who says, “Like [Joni] Mitchell and [Norah] Jones, the fragile-voiced Harmon endearingly cuts off her words at the ends of her lines; unlike them, her lyrics seem to span many decades.”
In yet another instance of straddling two worlds, Cariad Harmon’s listeners will discover that the performer sings her Americana-inspired music with an English accent — something she avoided doing for years. By using her natural voice, Harmon’s songwriting expands to capture her outlook, which allows her stories to flow more freely, and shows that being of two worlds doesn’t mean splitting oneself in two, but rather living twice-as-fully.