Interview – Jim Harker of Coastal

Coastal

I went to a couple shows at this wonderful place called the Dojo while attending BYU.  Its spacious interior was well-furnished with comfy couches and plenty of floor space; ideal for hosting mellow concerts.  (I believe the building was recently renovated as an entrepreneurial office space. You can read about it here. If I’m wrong, someone tell me. Otherwise, I’m thrilled to see this place back in operation, even for a different purpose).

Around November 2000, I went to the Dojo to hear this band I had read about in the Daily Universe called Infrared.  They were reputed to sound very different from what was typical in Provo. Infrared was described as “sedate, even reverent.”   I was intrigued.  Soon after I read about Infrared, they changed their name to Coastal to avoid name conflict with another band (I think they actually announced this at the show I was at).  Their melancholy sound was a good fit for my final days in college.  It launched a psychic process whereby I have sought out recordings by other slowcore and shoegaze bands and grafted them into my college memories.  (I don’t know how I missed their later show with Low – good grief!)

Later, I found out that Coastal’s drummer, Jim Harker, married the sister of a childhood friend of mine in Minnesota.  Just recently, I found out that Jim is related to a distant cousin-in-law, not to mention my own wife!  Oh, small Mormon world!  Jim agreed to share his perspective on Coastal and what he has been up to lately.

 

When I first read about Infrared in the Daily Universe, I found it ironic that sounding “reverent” should put you so far out of the “typical” Provo sound. Jason (Coastal’s vocalist) mentions in several interviews that he had grown up listening to mellow music.  How did you get into it?

Growing up, my older brother and I would sit and draw pictures for hours and listen to music. I remember being really into the Cure, Duran Duran, and Midnight Oil. My favorite Cure album was “Disintegration,” which has some amazing mellow moments on it. Early Radiohead was also a good gateway into mellow.

 

How much do you keep in touch with other bands you’ve recorded or toured with?

Not too much, unfortunately. I’ve met some really great people recording and playing out. For some reason I really hit it off with the band “Midsummer” and still keep in touch. Drummers aren’t exactly the first to go on people’s Rolodex.

 

Jason mentioned that you were hoping to revive the band with Josh moving back. Do you have any set plans?

Nothing set in stone, but my expectations are really high. I’m going to be bummed out if we don’t get something going. Coastal is amazing to play in when we are all together. I’ve never seen a group of people more on the same page musically.

 

If you were to play again would it be mostly local? Where’s the most distant place you’d consider going?

The goal is to go to Europe. I’d say there are people who appreciate our kind of music all over the place, but it seems like the appreciation is more concentrated in Europe. I’d also love to play locally. Provo is, after all, the Europe of Utah.

 

Do you think shoegaze and slowcore have caught on more in the US over the past few years?

I think mellow music in general has caught on. The commercial success of Sigur Ros and the large influence of musicians like Mark Kozelek, Low, the Innocence Mission, etc. on modern indie music are good examples of that. I do, however, feel like minimalist slowcore will always be criticized in the US for being too melancholy or unexciting.  Judging by current European music I’ve been listening to, it seems like shoegaze and slocore are still important, at least as musical influences if not specifically as music genres.

 

If Coastal started playing around town again do you expect you’d draw larger audiences?

I’m a little on the skeptical side as far as Coastal ever reaching that kind of local status just because it’s too different. I think it would be a lot like it’s always been, with a few solid fans who are really into music. I’ve come to terms with the possibility that it’s near impossible to gain wide appeal in Provo with a sound as non-universal as ours.

 

If you played in Provo this year, who would you want to share the stage with?

I really like Coup de Grace, the Weak Men, and Eden Express.

 

How have your songwriting practices progressed over the years?

We used to just sit down and start playing. Jason would bring something he’d been working on and we’d build around it. That’s how songs were written. With “Halfway to You”, it was done recording track by track out of necessity. That is a very different (and more difficult) way to write a song, but that’s how we’ve operated with our geographic challenges.

 

The usual Linescratchers question: how does your faith affect your music? Besides a reverent sound, I remember reading somewhere that “Paris Radio” was inspired by one of Jason’s mission experiences. Are there other religious or spiritual influences that you want to comment on?

When we, as disciples of Christ, create music, I think that a bit of who we are is naturally transferred into the spirit of the music we create.

 

Did you start playing drums or guitar first?

I was a percussionist in the 7th and 8th grade school symphonic bands. It was all symphonic-style drumming but I learned drumming rudiments and how to read rhythms. I didn’t really start practicing on a full kit until high school when I could work enough to buy one. I started on the guitar when I was 21 yrs old. I had a roommate at BYU who taught me how to play. I played guitar in a rock band before I ever played drums in a rock band. As far as which I enjoy better, I like the creativity of song writing, and drums are limiting in that aspect. So, guitar. But drumming is fun because it’s low stress and somewhat therapeutic.

 

Do you have any instrumental influences?

I met Jason when I’d only been playing guitar for a couple of years, and he’s had a huge influence on the way I play guitar. Other big influences are Mark Kozelek and Jeremy Enigk. I’ve never been one who enjoyed sitting down and learning songs that other people have written. I would mostly learn or make up new chords or scales and try to write a song using what I’d learned. My technical abilities have probably suffered from learning to play guitar this way, but I like to think it has made me stylistically unique.

For drums it’s Mimi from Low and the drummers from American Analog Set, Codeine, and if I’m honest with myself, a little bit of the Cranberries.

 

How is your approach to playing and writing affected by playing both instruments?

I think being able to play multiple instruments gives you a broader perspective when writing music. The overall sound is more important than individual parts. I think that’s why I’m really comfortable playing so restrained, because I love how the sparse drumming interacts with the other instruments. For a band like Coastal to work, you have to be musically unselfish. Jason is a great drummer (in fact the first time I saw him perform live he was drumming), and Josh plays guitar, so we all approach our songwriting with that perspective of the sound as a whole.

 

Has anyone in the band been doing any side projects over the years that we should know about?

I sang and played guitar in a band called The Melody Tree with my brother, Danny. I also sang and played guitar in a band called “Lyra” for a while before my son was born. Right now I’m drumming in a rock band called “Knife Show.”

If you would like to hear Knife Show and various other recordings, go to http://jeremyharker.com/music/.

Interview – Jim Harker of Coastal

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