CHAT – Jo Harman

I confess, I’m not usually one for interviews. I’m awkward and often awkwardly confrontational, so I tend to write from a clear, would-be-difficult-to-throw-things-at-me distance.

However for my piece in February’s Devon Life magazine, I decided to break with this and have a natter with the decidedly lovely Jo Harman. Originally from Exeter, she’s recently become a resounding success following the cross-spectrum approval of her debut Dirt On My Tongue and moved onto more eclectic and often more illustrious pastures (she’s recently shared a stage with likes of Patti Smith and Joan Baez amongst others whom it’s too braggy to mention). In anticipation of the release of her second album People We Become at the Exeter Phoenix on February 2nd, I had a chat with her on all things music, self doubt and home.

Your sound is a very soulful fusion of gospel, jazz, blues and so much more. Why such a melting pot?

Someone described my music as Maxwell meets Kate Bush which I found odd, but it’s probably those British influences merged with black music that gives my work a distinctive if unconscious ‘voice’. I suspect it’s a combination of my love for African-American music and influences from my father’s record collection like The Moody Blues, Bowie and more obscure Folk and Prog. That, merged with my classical background (I was a grade 8 bassoon player) probably most informs my music.

 You’ve lived all over, but primarily grew up in Devon right? Do you think that that Devon itself has influenced your work in any way?

I spent my formative years in an idyllic village on the edge of the moor; looking back I feel extremely lucky to have grown up there. Although I don’t come from a particularly musical family, my school, South Dartmoor CC, had an amazing attitude to the arts and my parents were incredibly supportive of my interests. I think both were really fundamental to me having the confidence to pursue my dreams. 

 People We Become is your second album. Your first was so successful, did you find yourself ever struggling with “difficult second album” syndrome?

Yes, constantly. Because the first album was a surprise ‘success’, the pressures on the second felt very real. I tried to ignore commercial considerations though and to just emulate what I did with my ‘Dirt On My Tongue’ debut, to self-express and make the record that I wanted to make. A lot of people have a lot riding on it – myself included – but, whatever else, I’m really proud of it and I gave 100% of myself in the process.  

 What’s your favourite thing about music?

It’s freeing; like a lot of art, it’s important to the human psyche. Music is challenging, but at its best it takes you into a magical, different world. It can spread meaningful messages all over the globe and reach those who need them, like my work with Amnesty International which informed my song ‘Reformation’. Everybody has a personal relationship with music, however that takes its form. 

What made you choose Exeter Phoenix for your album launch?

It’s a great venue, very central and run by lovely, supportive, people. They’ve invited me to play twice before so it’s something of an obvious choice. Exeter’s a fantastic city – I’ve spent a lot of time there, so I do feel a genuine affection for the place.

 Jo will be performing at Exeter Phoenix on 2nd February for the launch of her second album, People We Become.

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