Rollo & Grady Interview :: Michael Coomer of Harlem

Coomers interview []

Last month I caught up with Michael “Coomers” Coomer of the band Harlem. “We met for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in nearby Beverly Hills. He’s surprisingly petite and ladylike, with beautiful almond-shaped dark brown eyes and full lips that he painted a deep red the day we met. Coomers has a unique tomboy-meets-ghetto-fabulous-meets-exotic-princess look, like his music, manages to combine sexy elements (lingerie peeks out from under his see-through top) with individual flourishes (he designs elaborate patterns for his nails) and ethnic accents (the bright, rich prints of Austin are his wardrobe staple). Coomers studied the menu, deciding on a glass of wine and Truffle French fries…”

Oh shit, that’s from MIA’s interview for the New York Times. Actually, Coomers and I had a less exotic conversation on the phone last month, as the band was preparing for its European tour. This may have been one of his last interviews. According to an article in NME, the band was driving in Barcelona on the way to play the Primavera Sound Festival when a French doctor fell asleep at the wheel and almost crashed straight into their van. Harlem’s driver averted the accident, but the other driver hit the back of the van. He then jumped out of his car and shouted, “I’m a doctor.”

commers snake

During our conversation, we discussed the band’s signing with Matador Records, music critics, and Twitter. Harlem has mad Twitter skills. Here are some of my favorites:

“Smith Westerns are at the grocery trying samples of gelato. Bad boy rep still intact.”

“Whoops I got a little stoned. Highschool embarrassing exchange with pretty girls out front. I’m never going to be cool, bummer.

“the only thing gayer than being into a band is being into a dj.”

“drinking wine all day and when I looked in the mirror a voice inside me said “you look like interview with a vampire” thanks gay me.”

“I have a pitbull in a headlock right now because he tried to get fresh. Weird how dogs go from affectionate to rapey so fast.”

“I have taken like a million whore’s bath this week.”

“accidentally said “thanks mom” to the bartender. played it off as a joke but wtf.”

“South by sou…Damn this place smells like ax body spray.”

coomers splosh

R&G: I’ve read several publications in which you describe yourself as going through a second puberty. Can you elaborate?

Coomers: It’s just when everything goes shit-house crazy again. Somebody else asked me about this the other day: “Do you feel like you’re more afraid of second puberty because you know how bad the first one was?” My answer to that was that puberty wasn’t any more horrible than any other point in my life. It just sort of happens to have been one of those points when I was nervous. I’m a fairly nervous person anyway. It doesn’t mean I’ve had my first period or anything like that. I guess it’s just sort of going through changes, shit, or whatever.

R&G: You mentioned you’re a nervous person; after you guys signed with Matador, did you feel added pressure or anxiety when you began recording Hippies?

Coomers: Nothing from the label. The label was pressuring us, but I didn’t feel, at least personally, any sort of responsibility to them that I didn’t already feel to myself. Those guys are awesome. Questions about them are always slightly reverential and then by not buying into that I sound ungrateful. I definitely don’t want to come across like that. Those guys are fucking rad and we really love them to death, but we just made a record the way we wanted to make it. They didn’t necessarily like all of the choices we made. There were long conversations about who was going to produce our record and then we went and didn’t have anybody produce it; we just had somebody record it. There were a lot of long conversations. They didn’t like the album cover. They didn’t like a lot of stuff. Overall, we just wanted to do the thing that we wanted to do, but there was a lot of pressure from ourselves like, “Is this worthwhile? Is this good? Are we just jacking off?”

R&G: That’s what I meant. Did you feel pressure from within the band to put out the best album for the band? Did you go through some second-guessing having already put out your debut album, Free Drugs, when you were now making Hippies through Matador?

Coomers: Our first record cost $400 to make and then this one cost way more than that. So we knew we weren’t fucking around in a basement anymore and there’s the pressure to utilize that budget. We couldn’t actually utilize a lot of it, because this was sort of a learning process and there were really fucked-up circumstances surrounding our recording process.

R&G: Like what?

harlem

Coomers: The usual bad behavior stuff.

R&G: Partying?

Michael: Yeah, but I don’t like to use that word.

R&G: What would be a better word?

Michael: I don’t know if self-destructive is right. Just doing stuff. Doing stuff that’s not necessarily conducive to working.

R&G: Like not going into the studio and recording on scheduled hours or stuff like that?

Coomers: Clearly, we didn’t sit around checking our email every day and wasting time with that. We’d have the guy show up, the guy who punches fish when he catches them and he had really insane weed . We’d just sit around and talk and laugh and tell stories and shit. Then we’d be not really feeling it for a second, so we’d go to the bar. When we came back and tried to set everything up again, it’d just be all fucked up. We’d say, “Oh well.” I think the next one, the next record we make, is probably going to be different. We’re probably going to lose everybody who’s into the lo-fi thing, if that’s a word. I don’t know how the recording process works. To be honest with you, I don’t know how any of this shit works.

harlem bathroom

R&G: Do you guys have an idea of what direction you want to go in when you make your next record?

Coomers: We have an idea of what we want to do, I think. We’ve been really contemplating it a lot. The record’s [Hippies] old for us. We recorded it nine months ago. Not that we’re against any of the songs; we totally want people to dig it and hopefully people will, but at the same time, we’ve kind of changed, at least in our brains. It’s all still going to be sort of poppy and rooted in basic music. The problem is that I don’t want people to think that there’s a natural progression from something more raw to something more polished and all of a sudden that means quality change, because I don’t think that. I think most bands’ first record is the sickest one they’ll ever make. They’re sitting around. They have nothing to do. They have all these fucking pent-up ideas and energy, so they’re sitting around saying, “Fuck, I can’t wait to make a record.” That’s why everybody’s first record’s fucking awesome. Then you can’t do the same thing. We happen to be in this place where our first record had very few tracks and was done really quickly and sort of on the cheap; the second one had a few more tracks and wasn’t necessarily done on the cheap, but it could have been. Now, where do we go from here other than to fuck around with it and see what else we can find inside of noise and rhythm?

R&G: Give me an example of something that you would like to try, not pre-planned, but something that you and Jose and Curtis have talked about.

Coomers: We went through a sort of stoner period on this one. We have a really shitty stereo and it skips, but it skips in such a way that it doesn’t stop. It just plays the same millisecond over and over until it goes on to the next millisecond, and then plays that over and over. We said, “This is really fucked up, but we’re into this.” We were thinking, “If you did this on purpose and you had an attempt at melody and did this…” It might be really fucking obnoxious, so we’re not going to use it a ton, but using a big skip that’s like a melodic skip has definitely been talked about. I don’t know. We’re not Animal Collective, so it’s not going to sound like that.

harlem gun

R&G: I find it pretty funny, reading some of your reviews, Pitchfork wrote, “They are committed to crafting bubblegum choruses flavored with booze and cigarettes.” Do you think that’s kind of gay or a fair assessment?

Coomers: I don’t know if anybody’s ever really caught on to what it really is that we’re trying to do and what it is that we’re excited about. I’m not saying, “Wow, people are so stupid and they really just don’t get who we are and what we’re trying to do,” but people will mention the Black Lips or the Pixies and we never listen to those bands. Ever. The Pixies are cool. The Black Lips are fine. All that shit’s good. But we don’t listen to that music, so I never really feel like reviews really get it. I might not get our own record. Fuck, maybe they’re right [laughs].

R&G: Even though every critic or writer wants a reference point, I understand that using one sometimes undermines what bands are all about. You don’t want to be labeled Black Lips or Strange Boys or anything like that.

Coomers: It’s understandable, but I don’t think it’s accurate. Reviews are fucking bizarre. I’ve read reviews that are disparaging about us that say, “If you wanted to hear what the Beatles sounded like in the Cavern Club, then you might want to check this out.” It’s like, who in the fucking universe would say the Beatles in the Cavern Club is not something you’d want to check out. You know? It’s funny, I kind of read them and constantly wish I could just stop reading them. Even if they’re positive, most of it doesn’t seem to make any sense. I’m sorry to say this to somebody who writes for a blog. It’s cool. It’s awesome that you guys care enough and that we’re in this position where people actually give a shit and think about it. Still, whether somebody’s saying we’re the worst band in the world or that we’re the hope of rock and roll, there’s no possible way for me to agree with them. At the same time, there are a lot of writers that I like a lot who do stuff like this, so it’s not like a burn on the entire group of people that have a desire to talk about stuff that they are either interested in or dislike. It’s just that when they try to get inside of your brain, it usually ends up being wrong.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Michael Coomer of Harlem

R&G: Have you guys considered licensing your music for commercials or TV or movies?

Coomers: We’d do a movie, but we haven’t been asked to. As long as the project is content-based. We had a big sad day at the office one time when T-Mobile was asking us if we would do a commercial and they just kept throwing dollar bills in our faces until we were like, “Fuck, man!” I kind of thought about that. There’s that Winston Churchill thing where he asked some lady, “Would you have sex with me for a million pounds?” And she goes, “Yes.” He says, “Would you have sex with me for one pound?” She goes, “No.” He says, “Alright, now that we’ve established that you’re a whore, can we negotiate price?” It’s like, “Aw, man. I don’t think I want to do that.”

R&G: I read one of your Tweets where you ragged on Hunx for doing a Lenscrafter commercial.

Coomers: Yeah, I did. By the way, this makes me sound like there’s a political motivation. I’m not saying anybody else has to buy into this. Do whatever you want. Hunx is awesome, and if he’s pulling in Benjamins for doing that kind of shit, that’s fucking awesome, because I’m sure he’ll spend that money on something really fucking cool, but for us, it’s kind of like, eh, I don’t know. I met one of the guys in Of Montreal and I mentioned the Outback Steakhouse commercial where the lyrics of their song were actually changed. The guy got kind of bummed.

R&G: Bummed that they did it or bummed that you called them out?

Coomers: It’s not like I even called them out on it. It’s just like I think I said something like, “Hey man, I’m really hungry. Do you know where I could get a blooming onion around here?” And they were like, “Fuck you, man.” Whatever. They’re crying all the way to the bank for that shit. They’re cool. They don’t have to worry about it.

R&G: You’ve gained some notoriety for your Twitter skills. Is Twitter a way to communicate with your fans or is it just an outlet for you?

Coomers: I don’t really think about fans when I write any of that stuff. I have a feeling that it’s like a sketchbook or something. When I’m trying to think of lyrics, I might go back to some of those things. It’s weird rambling. If people think it’s funny or cool or whatever, that’s their fucking problem.

You catch Harlem this Friday, July 9th @ The Echo. We are giving away two pairs of tickets to the show. Please email us at rollogrady@gmail.com to claim the tickets. For further show info (click here).

harlemv

Download:
Harlem – Free Drugs (emusic)
Harlem – Hippies (emusic)