When I arrived on the Outer Banks, (3½ years ago), I was already familiar with Harry Harrison, having watched a live acoustic performance in California via the long-dead Meerkat live streaming app. I’d also caught an electric show at a pizza joint in Nags Head, while I was on vacation here. I didn’t know at the time that the other guitarist who was onstage with Harrison was Matt Wentz.
Since my arrival here, I have seen Harrison and his compatriots in a variety of settings and configurations. Always good. Always engaging. Always Harry.
So I was extremely interested when I heard about a new musical project by the Tills frontman and one of Zack Mexico’s guitarists, Matt Wentz.
After all, being a big fan of Harry’s and mightily impressed by the collective talents of Zack Mexico at their live shows, I figured this should be given my attention.
I am intrigued by their proposed “Harrison & Wentz Presents: A Bewitching Night of Mystic Tropicalia” moniker. This time, I opted to not proffer my standard interview questions and just attempt to find out what’s up, what’s new and what they have to say about it.
So, here’s Harry’s overview:
Q: I hear you have a new music product. Can you describe it?
A: We started it as a conceptual music and art project together, where Harrison & Wentz could be more like an umbrella brand name so we can have more freedom to do whatever we want and keep it interesting. We want to work towards developing productions that entail more than just showing up, playing songs, and taking a paycheck at the end of the night. We’re shifting gears into something that doesn’t depend on the ‘tried and true’. We share a common belief that, paradoxically, part of being a serious entertainer is not taking it too seriously. We want to make it fun for us, so it will be more fun for everyone else. That’s the gist of the whole thing: Check your expectations at the door.
Q: Is it all originals or covers?
A: It will be both. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Matthew and I will be doing a duet at The Village and at Trio, respectively, where we’ll be covering exotic music from bygone eras and faraway lands, just creating a Tropicalian atmosphere where people can let go of it all. But we also wanted to do more together. For late night Tuesdays at the Brewing Station, we want to go as far out as we can. Hula contests, weather reports, audience participation, anything we can come up with to make it different. We just want to get out of the routine.
Q: Is this strictly a duo, or will you be augmenting it with additional players?
A: Matthew and I have decided to work as creative partners for the time being. So, we have the responsibility of always being present, joined at the hip. But yes, there will be others. Hopefully, lots of people will want to get in on the late-night thing. I know my other main creative partner Joshua Marty King Denny Martin Denny Martier has signed on for Tuesdays at the Brewing Station. Longtime collaborator on the bass, Ed “Stankybone Wrenchfinger” Tupper has also expressed interest. Plus, Joey “The Fountain” La Fontaine, who we’ve all worked with before, is attached. And more will come. So, it’s a familiar cast, but different characters. There is by no means any obligation in this project for anyone to feel like they must “be themselves”. We will still be doing the other stuff too though, with the same passion and vigor as always. I’ve still got The Billy Clams weeklies at Roadside, and Yacht Dogs weeklies there too, and Matthew still has Two Amigos and Mattalica weeklies at Bonzer Shack and Trio, respectively. Everything is available to see this summer, and the odds of it all morphing into a big freak show blob are dangerously good. We are just particularly excited about making something new for the late-night shows and working as a duet. It’s liberating: a blank canvas.
Q: Are you, or will you, be writing songs together?
A: We haven’t written any songs together like John and Paul might have done with She Loves You, but I’ll always be writing songs. And Matthew writes, and has put his hands on a plenty of my stuff, including The Tills last album, and my new solo thing. I think I have a backing track on a Zack Mexico record, which Marty is also omnipresent on. So, we are always doing stuff all together, but we haven’t written exclusively together, nose-to-nose, at a piano, in a room like Rodgers and Hart. Not yet anyway. But this production as a whole is a completely collaborative effort, so I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t happen.
Q: How do you decide what tunes will be included in your song list?
A: We started just talking about abstract ideas and words and phrases we liked. Lots of exotic, dreamlike imagery… then we progressed into what kind of vibe and tone and mood we wanted to set, which of late has been “public access Tropicalia,” then we made a playlist of songs that would help suggest that kind of atmosphere: a surreal, foreign, slightly disorienting or even scary, above all entertaining experience… a trip.