Singer-songwriter and producer David Ryan Harris isn’t quite a household name, but he’s certainly not a fledgling artist. Since forming funk-metal outfit Follow For Now in the late ’80s, the Atlanta-bred, LA-based musician has spent the majority of his time either onstage or in the studio.
In recent years he’s primarily manoeuvred behind the scenes, co-writing a string of hits with Guy Sebastian and teaming up with the likes of John Mayer and India.Arie. Harris is now ready to bring attention back to himself, with a new solo album Light Years due later in the year.
“I really want to try to push this one,” he says. “The last record, Bittersweet, was eight years ago. [Since then] there’s been a lot of stuff that’s gone on for me; a lot of different projects, a lot of different travelling under different people’s umbrellas. I feel like now is the time. I’m really, really proud of the record.”
Harris’ career output covers wide stylistic territory. Following the demise of Follow For Now he dipped into soulful pop-rock with Brand New Immortals, and his solo work encompasses everything from solo-heavy classic rock to acoustic balladry. This exploratory tendency stems from his rich musical upbringing.
“My mum really loved Chicago blues, my dad was really into jazz and bebop, then when we were driving around in our car we’d listen to classic AM radio – and that would be anything from The Doobie Brothers to Wings. I lived in an all-black neighbourhood so I got Parliament-Funkadelic and Rick James and early Run-D.M.C., but I went to an all-white high school so I got Zeppelin and I got Hendrix and Cream.”
With such a broad backlog of influences to draw from, what can be expected from the forthcoming record? Well, Light Years is a more conventional singer-songwriter release, but Harris didn’t impose strict limitations on himself.
“I wanted to be able to have a record that if I wanted to go out and play it solo-acoustic, I could,” he explains. “I don’t ever try to be eclectic necessarily, but I do try not to repeat myself. As much as I love Neil Young or solo acoustic stuff, I don’t think that I could personally listen to 11 songs of a guy just playing solo acoustic. Some of it is to keep myself entertained, because I don’t want a record that’s all vanilla. I honestly love Queens of the Stone Age as much as I love Neil Young as much as I love Bad Brains as much as I love Hank Williams, Sr.”
Harris’ co-writing and producing work over the last couple of decades also provides a point of reference. “When I’m working with a band I’m constantly taking notes on how to approach my stuff as an artist. I feel like the production and writing stuff makes me a better artist and the artist stuff makes me a better writer and producer.”
Harris was in Australia last year supporting Guy Sebastian on the massive Get Along tour and he’s back this month for a couple of headline dates. He’s perceptibly eager to return to his home away from home.
“I never really set out to have this huge love affair with Australia, but since I was a kid – I saw INXS on their first two tours to the States – I just always loved it. The people have been amazing and it’s just sort of grown and grown and grown.”