By Keith Sharp
Take a scan at the bio shot of HARKNESS and what springs to mind is one of those costumed assassins from The Squid Game. Now maybe this Toronto musician does not kill people for playing a game of marbles but his ubiquitous 11-track debut album, `The Occasion’ is certainly designed to create a stir with anyone who listens to it and tries to analyze its content.
Launching with an eight-minute opus title track which combines a number of changes in tempo and some eclectic woodwind and string musical arrangements, the remaining 10 compositions are more in the three-four-minute range boasting such oddball titles as “Lure Of The Pollen”, “Shark Fin Soup” and “Defibrillator”.
Reached by phone, HARKNESS (he only goes by his surname) challenges this writer to describe my reaction to his music. Referring to “Lure Of The Pollen” all I could surmise is that it sounded like Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett meets Steely Dan
“I like that comparison”, he laughs. “I think I’ll put that in my next bio.”
The second in a brood of five, HARKNESS comes by his musical prowess honestly, his father fronted the Al Harkness Orchestra and his mother was an accomplished French Horn player at North Toronto Collegiate. HARKNESS was playing piano by the age of four and guitar by the age of 12 but didn’t consider himself to be a protégé. “A protégé is someone who’s super talented at playing these instruments, my older brother was much more proficient than I was”
His desire to become a professional musician pushed HARKNESS to leave school at the age of 17 to tour Canada, the U.S and Europe with a succession of eclectic bands and artists such as Paul Humphrey, Sarah Craig, Chunk O’ Funk, The Stars, The Suns, but his ultimate desire was to take charge of his own career.
This meant spending 10 years in his recording studio perfecting his musicianship and song-writing craft before releasing the end result of his creativity. To make ends meet financially, he worked in the catering industry, first waiting tables and then picking up cooking tips from top chefs as he shaped his own culinary skills.
“I loved working in the food industry, working with other people, serving tables and meeting guests,” HARKNESS noted. “It’s a great environment and there are certain similarities between creating music and creating food dishes”.
Writing all of his own music, playing all the instruments, singing all the vocals and producing the album himself has been a fulfilling challenge and he says he would rather be in the studio creating music rather than performing live. Yet, he has proved to be proficient with his one-man show before a couple of industry and public gatherings around Toronto, “although I probably need a drummer to keep pulling this off,” HARKNESS noted.
So, what’s with the visor and costume that presents HARKNESS as some kind of superhero or supervillain? “I was shown what appeared to be the blissful advantages of leading an imageless life,” he responded. “In an age of look-at-me-selfies, I chose to go in quite a different direction.”
Canada does have a history of disguised musical characters. There was Frank Soda and The Imps who wore a television set on his head. The bandage-covered Nash The Slash and even more recently, Deadmau5, with his Mickey Mouse headgear. But these disguises established an image for the artist rather than deflect away from that image. “Well, the advantage is I roll out of bed, throw on my costume, not worry about hair and be on stage in 10 minutes,” HARKNESS cracked.
He allows that he is not signed to a major label and doesn’t even have management or a booking agent but HARKNESS is determined to move forward on his own terms. “Social Media has been very important in getting the word out,” HARKNESS noted. “I have fans in places like Brazil and France who love what I am doing. It’s a great way to reach a new audience.”
Bands like Crowned Lands and Neon Dreams are current examples of artists who can be creative with two members and HARKNESS is open to adding at least one new member to facilitate future live performances. And there is always the opportunity to combine both his music and culinary skills.
Watch for his Psychedelic Rock And Roll Cooking Show coming to a cable channel near you where HARKNESS presents cooking recipes supported by a background of his own music! He has even created his own hot sauce.