Jesse Harris has been entrenched in Kansas City’s Americana music scene since discovering it as a teenager at BB’s Lawnside BBQ. He has brought that approach to his songwriting, along with a soulful country edge. He has found success as a solo artist and with his band, The Gypsy Sparrows. But after several years of playing and touring, the group has decided to call it quits. This Thursday, they will play a farewell show. We talk with Harris about the group, his music, and what’s in store for the future.
The Deli: Down and dirty: one sentence to describe your music.
Jesse Harris: Songs that are true to the soul that tell tales of both triumph and tribulation.
The Deli: Give me some background on your music; talk about your solo material and The Gypsy Sparrows. Why have you decided to end The Gypsy Sparrows?
Harris:I found the blues in my early teens and luckily, living in Kansas City, the blues scene was at my fingertips. Once I started to write songs, my blues roots really became evident. My songs tend to be on the depressing side but I promise there are a few upbeat ones too. The Sparrows really came together as naturally as possible. I had been writing songs for a few years and playing out in KC with Sean DeCourcy sitting in on harmonica. I got word that Jeff Perkins had recently moved back to Kansas City from New York. Sean and I had both worked on earlier projects with Jeff and we both were eager to get him involved with what we were doing. Crazy to think about but that was almost 10 years ago.
As the frontman for The Sparrows, I started getting booked often for song swaps and singer-songwriter nights in venues around the Midwest. These were new to me because song swaps in Kansas City were almost nonexistent. I got hooked on them. They were organic and lent room for stories and camaraderie between the performer and the audience. The more I did, the more I loved them, and I began to write songs that would fit that type of show. That is how my solo album As I Am came to be.
We decided to call an end to The Gypsy Sparrows for many reasons but mainly just one big reason. We had a great run, wrote some great songs, shared millions of laughs, only a few fights, traveled near and far and we did it all just how we wanted to. It was our way or no way at all and in true Gypsy Sparrow fashion we wanted to be the one who said we were done. We didn’t want to fade away or burn out, just simply say farewell.
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting?
Harris: My inspiration almost always comes from real-life events. For me, to write the song I have to feel the meaning, emotion, or the story. I feel connected to my songs like they are a part of me. Even if they have been fabricated to fit the song better, I can still tell you how the lyric came about. I feel that is what makes a song true, and truth is what I look for in any song.
The Deli: What is your songwriting process?
Harris: My process varies. Sometimes I’ll come up with a melody on my guitar and go from that, but every now and then I’ll start with lyrics first. If I start with lyrics first, it’s almost always right after a long drive.
The Deli: What have been your greatest musical accomplishments?
Harris: I went and saw a band play at Knuckleheads Saloon a year or so before I started to play music live and I remember how great the venue was. Everything about the show was perfect and I remember telling myself how great it would be to play a show there. A year after forming The Gypsy Sparrows, I finally got my chance to play there, and it was everything I had hoped for. Two years after my first appearance, my solo CD release show sold out Knuckleheads’ Gospel Lounge, and that winter I was asked to host a songwriter night there, called The Troubadour Sessions. Those are definitely top accomplishments to me, and I’m honored to be back this winter to host The Troubadour Sessions again!
The Deli: Tell me about your latest solo album As I Am. What can we expect?
Harris: As I Am was a challenge to myself. I wanted to give a true perspective to my sound as an individual musician. As I Am is the best representation of that. Nothing was altered, auto-tuned or digitally changed at all. This is me and my guitar. I am sometimes off-key, my guitar buzzes at times, and I even change lyrics on the fly. It is not perfect because I am not. The songs of the album cover many topics. From heartbreaking loss in “Love, Money, & Redemption” to songs of hope and guidance in “Boots On,” you are bound to find at least one song you can relate to in some way. That is what I was shooting for anyway.
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
Harris: The local music scene in KC has been growing like crazy over the last few years. When I started out, there were hardly any venues that supported original songwriters. We have been very lucky that the trend is ending. Venues like the recordBar, The Westport Saloon and The Tank Room have really made a name for themselves in the local music community. For me, supporting local music means supporting the venues that host and pays local musicians. This is just a hobby without those venues that pay their performers.
The Deli: Who are your favorite local and non-local musicians right now?
Harris: Local: John Goolsby has the voice of an angel and has written some great tunes. Also a new favorite is Tyler Giles, who is a regular at The Westport Saloon.
Non-local: Jason Isbell is a must in my CD rotation. A newer songwriter to my favorites is John Moreland. I played before him in Tulsa and have been hooked ever since! Both of them are the most truthful lyricists I’ve heard in a while.
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
Harris: Alive: Jason Isbell, Amos Lee, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Black Crowes, Willie Nelson. Dead: B.B. King, Ray Charles, Levon Helm, Jerry Garcia.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
Harris: Willie Nelson - A true road troubadour.
David Gilmore - Got me hooked on the sound of the guitar.
Robert Hunter - Because songwriters get little credit.
Levon Helm - Had a true passion and heart for music.
The Deli: What does the future hold for you as a musician?
Harris: I am heading to the recording studio to record my second full-length solo album this winter. I have some of the best songs I’ve ever written in hand and a fresh (and sober) new perspective on love, life and music. I’m not sure exactly where music will take me, but I know it’s going to be a great ride!
The Deli Magazine was born in NYC's Attorney Street in 2004, in the shape of a print issue with a then unknown band on its cover, called Grizzly Bear. Ths NYC blog came in 2005, then the SF one in 2006, and then 9 more in the following years. The Deli is focused on the coverage of emerging bands and solo artists with a 100% local focus - no exceptions!