Having already been a session musician for Paolo Nutini and others, artist and producer Rory Simmons, AKA Harlequiin, is no stranger to the music industry, and his own work reflects everything he’s learnt since he first starting playing instruments at the age of 10. With his third EP due out later this year and as ThisIsTheLatest proudly premiere his new track “Bandit”, he chatted to us about the artist he’d most like to produce for, his upcoming performance plans and his thoughts about the impact of social media in the music business.
TITL: Hi Rory. First of all, what would you say your unique selling point as an artist is? What makes you different from your many other artistic counterparts?
Rory (Harlequiin): I’m a musician who’s come from the jazz world as a performer, but now I really feel I fit into electronic music and alternative pop as a producer. But being an instrumentalist that brings perhaps a different dimension of live performance to the music I make as Harlequiin.
TITL: Has music always been your career plan or did you have other ideas and ambitions growing up?
H: No, music has always been the thing for me really, as a young Cornish slip of a man, I basically just wanted to play in as many different environments as I could. I started playing brass instruments and guitar in local bands and school bands in the small town I grew up in and when I was 18, I got a place at Trinity College of Music in London.
TITL: You’ve been a session musician for the likes of Paolo Nutini and Blur among others, so at what point did you ultimately decide it was time to focus on your own musical ambitions? What did your time working/touring with those artists teach you?
H: Being on the road with any big successful artist is really interesting both in terms of the everyday workings of a large operation like that, i.e. all the different people it takes to keep it rolling, but also the way the artist and management approach the overall arc of their career. It’s really interesting seeing different audiences being cultivated and various territories being prioritised. Quite often this is a more sub-conscious thing; it’s not as if these are always first hand conversations being had with artists – being in that environment is a real eye opener I guess on how you become really successful in the music industry as an artist.
TITL: You’re both an instrumentalist and producer – which of the two did you get into first and is it hard or fun to juggle/work the two?
H: I was an instrumentalist first. I started playing trumpet and guitar at about 10, and then only started getting into production and music tech at about 25. I’ve always been very much into writing but until getting my head into music software, it was always a pencil and manuscript that helped me channel that.
TITL: If you could produce music for any other band or artist, who would it be?
H: There’s an amazing kind of macabre country singer from the US I love called Lera Lynn, I saw her playing on True Detective a while ago and totally fell in love with her vibe. I’d love to do something a bit heavier and produced sounding with her….she lives probably 3000 miles away – but you never know, it might happen.
TITL: Is there a story behind your latest single “Young One”? Can you remember when and where you wrote it, and what made you decide it’d be a good choice for a single release?
H: I wrote “Young One” with an amazing vocalist called Amelka May who also features on the track, and we kind of wrote the track with another artist in mind – but it was languishing on my hard-drive and when I revisited it 6 months later, I felt like – “no, I’m keeping- this is meant to be a Harlequiin track.”
TITL: You’ve released 2 EP’s so far and are soon to release a third. What can you tell me about this latest collection, and how would you say it differs from its predecessors?
H: This third EP is maybe a bit tougher sounding than the others, and perhaps a bit more psych too. I’m just trying to write songs and develop the production in a way that serves the song. I think this EP has twists and turns but still very much sounds like Harlequiin. Caribou, Jamie Liddell and Fourtet are still big influences, but I’m also trying to include as much live instrumentation as possible – as long as it sits sonically within the music.
TITL: You’ve received recognition and support from the likes of BBC Introducing and Wonderland, among others. How much of an impact on your career has such reaction/responses had, and which outlet/individual would you most love to hear praise you and your work?
H: It’s been great getting support from the people you mentioned of course – but really it’s people listening and connecting with the music that’s important. That might sound trite, but that’s what really connects for me. There’s something visceral and exciting about seeing Harlequiin tracks being DJ’d. The idea that people connect with the emotion of the song by moving or dancing is huge for me.
TITL: How do you feel about social media, and do you feel it is still possible for bands and artists to achieve success without being socially interactive with their fans/potential audiences?
H: Difficult to say. Probably if you are big enough, you don’t need to engage with those platforms to remain connected. However, a lot of those people that are big enough probably aren’t of the generation that naturally would use social media in that way. And for those artists it would feel contrived and un-natural. If Thom Yorke starts using Snapchat, I’m out….
TITL: Are there any tour or performance plans in the works?
H: We are playing a show in Paris next month as part of Disquaired Day, and there are a couple of festivals coming up over summer too. We are also planning on a London headline show later in the year, along with another release…. a London headline show has been a long time coming!
If you could play one venue anywhere in the world with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, who would they be and where would you perform?
H: The Filmore in San Francisco is a venue that I’ve already had a chance to play, but would love to go back there. It’s got so much history and it’s an amazing sounding room. It’s pretty difficult to choose 3 musicians, and I want to avoid saying Miles, Hendrix etc., so I’m going to say Slim Harpo, Captain Beefheart and Andy Stott, at the Filmore. That would be a weird gig – but hopefully quite fun!