Her direction

Pub date April 15, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


On the collection of platters Liz Harris has put out over the last four years as Grouper, the Portland, Ore., resident sounds like she’s exorcising many ghosts. A new self-released, 7-inch split single with City Center echoes with the sort of psych-drone incantations you’d expect to hear while lurking about a dark forest after midnight. On "False Horizon," accompanied by the murky strum of a guitar, Harris’ vocal loops seep through the cracks of a lost canyon, ricocheting from wall to wall of bedrock.

Big pictures. Yet over the course of her last couple of releases — particularly 2008’s acclaimed Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type) — Harris has stripped away sonic elements. Gone are the amp currents, haunting drones, and tape hiss of earlier explorations like her full-length debut Way Their Crept (Free Porcupine Society, 2005) and 2007’s Cover The Windows and the Walls (Root Strata). In their place are more lulling compositions that have drawn comparisons to late-1980s and early-1990s recordings on the 4AD label. Chatting over the phone, Harris reveals that she doesn’t like to think of herself as "a drone artist," but can see why people categorize her songwriting in that light. She admits she was worried about Dead Deer at the time of its release because she thought it was "too poppy" and thus likely to be "fully rejected."

"I think what I’ve done hasn’t changed so much as the medium or packaging," she explains. "The stuff before was [also] very song-based, it’s just thicker at times and [the song structures] are underneath a lot. Initially I was trying to figure out how to use pedals and playing with sounds, and that’s just what came out."

Raised in the Marin County community of Bolinas, Harris describes a childhood spent "growing up in my own world," running around the woods, contemputf8g the idea of ghosts, and drawing or reading. Although she did take piano lessons for a short time in junior high, the 28-year-old didn’t think of putting her songs down on tape until she was in the late stages of college. "My piano teacher wasn’t really teaching me piano — he was just helping me learn how to write songs," she says. "That was the first time I can remember trying to write my own music. Outside of that, I’ve always been like everyone else, just had songs in my head and had to sing them and work them out."

Aside from a short U.S. tour with Animal Collective in May, Harris is spending the bulk of the coming months re-releasing old material on her own yet-unnamed label and focusing on songwriting. Fans can expect to see a re-pressing of Cover the Windows and a silkscreen edition of Dead Deer. A 3-inch CD-R originally put out by the Collective Jyrk imprint in 2006 titled He Knows, He Knows, He Knows is getting the re-release treatment, too. "I want to do [the releases] so there isn’t some kind of [outside] pressure going on," she says. "I’m still figuring out the logistics, but that is the direction I’m heading."


With Sic Alps, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and Paul Clipson

Sat/25, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923