Portland roots-rockers seek their Wilco nirvana
In 2009, when alt-country band the Harmed Brothers left North Carolina to go on tour, they were headed for big changes. At a stop in Portland, Oregon, several members told singer-songwriter Ray Vietti that they wanted to cut the tour short and head home. Vietti wasn’t ready to go home, so he stayed, and the Harmed Brothers disbanded.
Eager to finish the tour, Vietti played a few shows solo, but he asked Alex Salcido and Guthrie McClenny, two local singer-songwriters he had met in Portland, if they’d like to join him for a three-guitar festival performance. The two agreed, but decided it would be better if McClenny played a drum kit and Salcido tried his hand at the banjo.
“It was just a by-chance type thing,” says Vietti. “Alex wasn’t even a banjo player at the time. He told us, ‘I think I can play it.’ Sure enough, he can play it. He can play the hell out of it.”
The three pulled off the show and realized they had struck upon something special. In that moment, a new incarnation of the Harmed Brothers was born.
McClenny eventually left the band, but Vietti and Salcido locked in and are now one of the standout roots acts in Portland. Regularly drawing comparison to Uncle Tupelo—the pioneering alt-country band built around Jeff Tweedy, who now fronts Wilco, and Jay Farrar, who went on to form Son Volt—the Harmed Brothers play folk-inspired, American roots-rock.
Building off of a mutual admiration and a musical chemistry that was apparent from the start, Vietti and Salcido are now six-plus years into their Harmed Brothers collaboration, and there is no end in sight.
“We’re pretty good at making each other a little bit better,” says Vietti “I immediately felt comfortable with Alex, and we share a love for a lot of the same music. There was just an instant bond there.”
A consistently raw and rough-around-the-edges outfit, the Harmed Brothers prioritize emotional authenticity and capturing the soul of a song—especially in the studio. Where popular radio-roots bands such as Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers lean toward slick production and overdubs, the Harmed Brothers are all about recreating the live experience, for themselves and listeners.
From the beginning, the two have gone into recording studios, set up a few feet from each other, and played two or three takes. Sometimes they nail a song in one take. It rarely takes more than three.
Their comfort with quickly laying down tracks came in handy when they recorded a session for Daytrotter, a web-based music project. The popular platform releases tracks by several different artists each day, all recorded at the Horseshack, a studio in Rock Island, Illinois. The live tracks, as well as an instantly recognizable Daytrotter illustration, are posted online for fans and Daytrotter members. The experience helped introduce the Harmed Brothers to a wider audience and sealed their credibility as an underground band to watch.
For their forthcoming album, the Harmed Brothers turned to their community of fans to help them fund the project through crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The album, which is tentatively self-titled, is slated for release in February of 2016. It’s already recorded, but there’s “just the little matter of the bill.”
For the album, Vietti and Salcido kept their raw recording approach, but they brought in more musicians to help. Having toured for years, the two have made a lot of musical friends and they wanted the album to reflect that.
“The production value has gone up slightly,” says Vietti, explaining that each album has been more arranged than the last. “There’s still that raw element, there’s just more instrumentation.”
With a solid foundation and a wide-open future, Vietti and Salcido are open to exploring their musical possibilities. The two are continually improving as songwriters and getting tighter as a band. Like Wilco, from whom they draw inspiration, they push the boundaries of what American roots-rock music is, and will keep doing so indefinitely.
“We’re working toward our Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” says Vietti referencing Wilco’s widely celebrated breakout album. “We’re working toward our great art record.”
The Harmed Brothers will perform at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. 429-6994. BIKE COASTAL The Harmed Brothers started in North Carolina before coming together with a new lineup in Portland.