Ever since The Chainsmokers switched from the brass bounce of “#Selfie” to their more tropical house-centric sound, groups who can transcend the boundary between electronic production and pop-structured vocals have been in demand. From their success, we saw Loud Luxury score an international hit with “Body,” featuring the smooth vocals of Brando. Now, adding variety to this hybrid genre is HARLOR, who lightens up the combination of gossamer synths and breathy, earnest vocals with an uplifting yet more intimate character.
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HARLOR consists of Nick Gerard (singer and songwriter) and Max Anthony (producer), who met while studying at the University of Dayton. Both come from musical backgrounds. Nick started taking piano lessons but transitioned to fiddle and classical violin and eventually guitar. Max also took some piano lessons but built out his skills through more self-guided instruction, and had been studying classical guitar at the University of Dayton. Along with more traditional forms of music-making, Max taught himself to produce, mix, and master all on his laptop.
Their collaboration officially began in 2015, emerging from friendship over modern and classic pop music to eventually jamming out together. Once they started getting serious, they searched for their signature style, before putting together a demo that found its way to Katalyst, the production duo of Ken Lewis and Brent Kolatalo who’ve previously worked with Bruno Mars and Drake. After listening to their recording, Katalyst signed them. Their debut single, “Not Ready to Go” dropped in November last year.
Additional singles – “As a Dream” and “Heart Games” – followed in 2021, along with a growing reputation around their live performances, seen during a TIDAL session and USRN’s The Record and the Channel Sounds: Still Isolated Festival this year. Now, Nick and Max are gearing up for their debut EP.
Titled Letters to an X, the six-track release drops on June 25, showcasing everything that has attracted listeners so far – gentle guitar melodies, seamless blending of acoustic and electronic elements, and Nick’s falsetto vocals. Thematically, the title and subsequent contents reflect on relationships that have since ended, with the usage of “X” signaling a journey to a finite stopping point.
With the release of Letters to an X, we had a chance to speak with HARLOR about the EP.
How did HARLOR form? What drew you two to working together?
We met in college at the University of Dayton. Max had a cool guitar in his dorm, and I asked if he wanted to jam sometime. Then, after too many headaches on Sunday mornings during our freshman year, we decided we’d rather stay in and record music than go out to the bar on the weekends.
Tell us about your individual musical backgrounds: How did you get started with songwriting and production?
Nick: I had been writing songs on guitar since I was 10 years old. In high school, Ed Sheeran was a big inspiration for my songwriting. I wanted to share the music I made with friends and family, so I began learning how to make music in GarageBand, and then started working in Logic just before going off to college.
Max: I had first started learning piano in the 3rd grade, shortly followed by guitar. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what drove me to start producing music, but whatever it was, I’m glad it did. It’s something I’ve been doing for a while and don’t remember much of a time without it. I had first started in GarageBand; however, Nick eventually convinced me to get Logic Pro X, which, luckily, wasn’t much different from GarageBand.
Your sound contains elements of electronic, pop, folk, and alternative. How did your sound come together?
We basically just made whatever we wanted and didn’t worry about the boundaries of genres. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it really doesn’t. My musical inspiration was more acoustic and alternative, while Max’s was more electronic and pop. We just tried to marry the two worlds the best we could.
What is the concept behind your upcoming EP Letters to an X?
After listening to the EP, each track seems to have its own character and vibe. Why did you select each of these tracks?
Most songs aim at coping with a lost love storyline of the title Letters to an X. We have one song “Be Well” that focuses on depression and the struggle of mental health that has been growing a lot since the start of the pandemic and the isolation from our friends and family. Also, it has this dichotomy between these dark lyrics and a very happy and upbeat instrumental; we thought that was a cool contrast.
You’ve mentioned that you want to catch listeners with your instrumentation and then hit them with a message. How does that idea fit into Letters to an X?
That idea is definitely in this EP. Each song has a powerful instrumental, but we don’t compromise the song over that. Sometimes artists just put out something simple for the sake of it getting caught in your heads, but we wanted the songs on this EP to each have a valuable message, and we think they do.
Leading into the EP’s release, you performed at Channel Sounds: Still Isolated Festival in May. Tell us about your experience participating in a digital music festival?
It was a great experience. We’re still fine-tuning our live show and getting the proper equipment, and this is a great step to getting new fans and bringing our shows to a live audience.
In general, you’ve developed a reputation for your live performances. How do you translate your studio work to the stage?
The last few shows have been stripped-down acoustic sets. It has been an interesting new challenge to try and capture our sound and perform our best in that format.
What else, in terms of new music or live performances, do you have planned for the rest of 2021?
We are hoping to get out another song before the end of 2021.