Andrew and Julie Thoreen are quite the power couple. They started a production company, formed a band, released an EP, and started a fundraising campaign for the Sioux City Conservatory of Music–and this is all in the past year. Their band Har-di-Har is out touring now, writing more music, and bringing their “four on the floor-atonal Americana” (a term Andrew made up for this interview) to audiences around the country. Make sure to stop out and see these Iowa natives next time they’re in your town!
BB: You and your band mate are married. What came first for you two: love or music?
AT: Music. No wait, love. Can we say love of music? But, honestly, music was the force that flung us together, so music came first. Let’s just say we loved music before we fell in love with each other. But in our relationship to each other, love was first of course. In terms of the band, we were married first before we started playing in Har-di-Har together.
BB: Did you grow up playing music? Was it always something you wanted to pursue?
AT: Yes and always. I made the decision in the 8th grade that I wanted to pursue being a working musician as a career. I had grown up singing, playing the piano, and bass from the age of 6. I loved music and my parents were always really encouraging; my dad was a songwriter and my mom was an accomplished guitarist and pianist in their day. Later, when I was older, I took up the trombone, guitar, and by college I took up the drums as well. I ended up completing a college degree in trombone and jazz studies from UNI.
BB: You guys decided to start a band together last December while visiting family in Colorado. Was this something you’d been talking about doing for awhile?
AT: Not really. The trip to Colorado is what inspired the decision. We had always played music together and had played in bands together before, but those always seemed to fall apart for one reason or another. Earlier in our relationship we were always too busy with our own lives to work on anything together full-time. I was playing in and managing my other band, Lick it Ticket as well as teaching music, and Julie was working full-time at UNI in the Study Abroad Center. We always had such a ball traveling together, so while in Colorado it kind of dawned on us, we could travel and play music together as long as we really commit to the idea of doing it right and committing to the project. When you are married to your band-mate, it makes it easy to commit to something.
BB: You founded the Iowa-based record label Slimbeast Productions inMarch. What do you hope to accomplish through your label?
AT: Well, every DIY musician or artist (which is different than “Independent” artist) acts as their own label in many ways; producing their music out of pocket, promoting their music, distributing their music, booking shows for themselves, paying for travel expenses etc. We just decided to take every one of these roles very seriously and approach each with time, energy, and care. Since we are now working full-time for ourselves and don’t have day-jobs, our first goal is to make back the cost of our production and living expenses. First things first, right? For the future, our goal as a Label/Production company is to create a model through our own trial and error for promotion, management, and booking so that we can continue to create music as a self-sustaining, viable career and eventually give aid and support to other bands that are in need of assistance getting started.
BB: You released your first EP words(s) of whim in August, only 8 months after deciding to form a band. What was the process of producing your first EP like?
AT: It was nothing but a grand experience. We got back from the trip to Colorado super motivated and excited. During the entire month of January, we attempted to write a song a day together and basically force ourselves to learn how to best work with each other. When you are pressured to create something worthwhile every day you find ways to get along and put pride and control aside. You learn to just say yes to any and every idea the other person has, as well as being understanding when the other says they don’t like something you’ve written. Some days we wrote crap and some days we wrote non-crap. I think we wrote 22 songs in January. Not everyday, but damn close! Some of the better songs from the 22 ended up being the material for our first EP. We immediately started polishing and arranging everything and went into the studio by March, recording the first EP with Jon Chamberlain (formerly of Catamount Studios) in Cedar Falls at his home studio. We had the forms of songs completely done as well as the vocal parts, but did most of the arranging of percussion and horn sections all in the studio;. We came into the studio with an idea of what the EP was going to be and came out of the process with something that was almost completely different–different, but pleasantly surprising. The process of crafting these short EPs is something that Julie and I have come to really love. We will be releasing another one on December 7th and another in the spring.
BB: How would you describe your sound? What influences your music?
AT: We describe our music differently to different people. There is the weird description, the genre-centric term, and the made up term. The weird description is trans-genre (not gender) multi-instrumental acoustic duo. The genre-centric description is experimental indie-folk/pop. Our made-up term is four on the floor-atonal Americana, which I just made up for this interview.
As most musicians, we are influenced by a many things, friends, bands, food, culture, babies, nature, teachers, relatives, livestock… you name it. Man, I think that I’ve personally have been influenced by any music I have ever listened to, good or bad. A few bands that come to mind when thinking of Har-di-Har’s music are Leo Kottke, Joni Mitchell, Dirty Projectors, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, Hundred Waters, The Antlers, Mt. Eerie, The Books, Trails and Ways, Beach House, and Maps & Atlases. I’m sure there are many more If I thought about it a little longer.
BB: You’re touring now. What other plans do you have coming up?
AT: We have a bunch of plans. We have an amazing EP release show coming up on the 7th of December at the Hub in Cedar Falls with The Daredevil Christopher Wright and Brooks Strause. We also just heard that we will be playing the Little BIG Festival in Des Moines on November 17th at the House of Bricks. We are also going to be releasing a few videos in the next two months, including an animation for “Craze” off word(s) of whim, as well as videos for our second EP, Feudal Kind. At the same time, we are going to be working on our song-writing campaign as well as forming plans for a west coast tour starting in January.
BB: You recently visited your hometown of Sioux City where you did a fundraising campaign show to raise money for low-income kids to attend the Sioux City Conservatory of Music. Where did this idea come from?
AT: Well, Julie and I really enjoy writing music together, and we are busy with a lot of different projects. To help support tour and productions costs, we decided to have our own on-going song-writing campaign through our website. Basically this takes the middle man out of the equation. You can pay us directly through Pay Pal and instead of 8% or 9% of the contributions going to kick-starter, 10% goes to the Sioux City Conservatory of Music to fund scholarships. Our goal is to write 100 songs in one year and raise $500 for the SCCM.
BB: What do you love about the Iowa music scene? What are some of your favorite local bands?
AT: The Iowa music scene is egoless, friendly, supportive, passionate, and vast… at least in my experience. Every day it seems that I hear of another great venue to play or another great Iowa band. From Daytrotter to the Des Moines Music Coalition to Maximum Ames, there seems to be an ever growing support of music in Iowa and an emergence of digital culture around it. The potential that exists here is what I like the most about the scene. Also, most Iowans are humble people, which makes working with them easy.
“Favorite” is a weird word and a word that I try to stay away from, but here are some Iowa bands that I like (p.s. there are much more than this): Tallgrass, Brooks Strause, The Host Country, Christopher the Conquered, Little Ruckus, Flo’ Sho’, Tires, Bright Giant, Love Songs for Lonely Monsters, Uniphonics, OSG, and Haunter (from CF).