ALL EARS “Am I still black? Yes. Am I still gay? Yes. Am I still making music for the children? Oh yes, honey. And there’s your interview.”
David Harness and I had that brief, hilarious kiki when I ran into him a few days ago, but I still wanted to pin him down to talk about his lovely new album, Friends in Harmony, more tha two years in the making. Harness is our guru of soulful house music — the kind of melodic, multi-instrumental, take-a-puff, put-your-hands up sound that draws the dance floor family together and, always giving new life to that old cliche, “takes you on a journey.”
Friends with Frankie Knuckles, DJ for more than two decades (and music-maker for 15), Harness held it down for many an early morning at the End Up with the Fag Fridays and Sunday T-Dance parties, and late nights at legendary Club Universe in the 1990s. His own roving club Taboo, one of the most intimate and diverse dance floor experiences I’ve known, went on for almost 10 years. And his Mighty Real parties at Club Mighty (now Great Northern) and poolside at the Phoenix Hotel brought absolute house legends to adoring SF crowds.
Now, he he’s finally releasing Friends in Harmony—featuring some of those house legends—and of course a throwing a big Friends in Harmony Record Release party, Sat/27 at Halcyon, with special guests Ultra Nate and Mark de Clive-Lowe.
I spoke with Harness over the phone about making the album, gathering so many musical friends, and the meaning of “soulful house” in a post-EDM dance music world.
48 HILLS Listening to the new album I can tell a lot of care went into it. I know it’s been a journey…
DAVID HARNESS Yes, almost two-and-a-half, three years of care. [Laughs] Some of the tracks I’ve sat on for a long time. It was definitely a labor of love, and I wanted it to be something that represented me, to be the essence of what I’m all about when I play the Bay Area — and even all over the world — now. I’m all things soulful whether I’m playing for the progressive kids, or the black kids, or the gay kids, the Burning Man children, or the circuit kids, or all of it at once. All these different facets of my musical journey, I wanted to reflect on this album.
48H How did you record the album? It’s out on the legendary Moulton Music label, which I know you’ve been a part of for a long time. But Moulton recently had to leave its headquarters in SF …
DH Moulton Studios is here in Oakland now — and it’s funny to recall I’ve been making music with Moulton since it was at its original location, on Moulton Street in Cow Hollow in SF.
There were a few of the tracks that I worked on at the studio itself, but for the most part everything was recorded in my home studio. I worked directly with singers Tobirus Mozelle and Mark de Clive-Lowe. With pretty much everyone else I sent the music to them and they sent me back their contributions and ideas. And then I did my “I want this, I don’t want that” thing on it, with remixing and producing.
I learned so much watching my musical partner Chris Lum from the time we were producing together as Harlum Muziq. I would bring in the ideas and he would execute everything. So I would sit and watch him. And when he decided that he wasn’t going to do any more music production is when I had to put on my big boy shoes and test my knowledge. You know, I’m still learning things as I go, and maybe in some cases I’m using the basics of basics. But with my ear and my eye on the industry and the music scene, I’ve been able to project the ideas into reality.
48H The album is called Friends in Harmony and it’s obvious that you have so many friends in harmony on this. You worked with some amazing people like Inaya Day, Ultra Nate, Capital A, Joi Cardwell, Homero Espinosa, even Eric Kupper, who produced RuPaul’s “Supermodel.”
DH I loved working with so many people, and there are multiple stories of how it all came together. As far as people in this industry go, I’m pretty humble and often stay in my own lane—so it was a joy to reach out to people I dreamed of working with and getting so much love and enthusiasm for this project back. Certain people I’ve done projects with, like Ultra and Inaya, but I just never acted upon the friendship. I never just opened my mouth and asked. And that’s all I had to do!
The first one was Ultra Nate, and believe me I think I was biting nails. But once I asked her, she was like, “Yes honey, of course! I don’t know what took you so long!” And of course she laid some amazing vocals, and from there it was just a domino effect; the more people I would tell about this album, the more people wanted to contribute something. And to me, that really showed the value of friendship and love we can form through this music, and so the album was also a journey, my journey, in seeing that in real life.
48H You’ve got a big release party on Saturday — have you played a lot of these tracks out?
DH I have been playing a few of them out, but this is the first time that I’m really going to showcase everything from this album. Mark de Clive-Lowe and I performed the “Harmony” track together at a Moulton party from last year. And I’m going to leave it up to Ultra Nate if she wants to perform our track or not. If she wants to do it or not, I’m just going to play it between the live sets and have the kids gag over it, because honey, Ultra Nate is leeeegendary, she can do whatever she wants to do.
48H You talked about how you wanted the album to showcase what you do because you stay true to soulfulness when you play out to certain crowds. In the past two decades, we’ve gone from a lot of people playing soulful house to really just a handful, especially San Francisco. At this point, it seems “soulful house” is a brand more than an actual scene. What do you see as the place for this music now, and the power it can have over all the different crowds you play for?
DH I think kids within the EDM culture are growing up a bit, and it never fails: different music genres always experience a re-emergence of a scene and a sound. One thing I can say is that the soulful scene has always been around, but it’s had its ups downs. Those diehards are there because they live the music, and they really feel it. That’s how you know it’s a real thing for people.
What makes me unique from the bunch is that no one can bring it on a level of how I do. It’s my roots, my culture, my history. A lot of young people hear music differently, and I think with how I hear music and how I’ve brought it to the table for people is what distinguishes me. With a party like Saturday’s — which is kind of like a relaunch of our big Mighty Real parties — I’m bringing more of the big-room soulful sound.
And that’s the thing: Don’t just think when you hear soulful that’s it’s going to be all church-wailing mamas, because we can go deep, we can go dark, we can go very sexy. Soul is a feeling, and it’s whatever moves you. It can be disco, it can be classic, it can be New Wave. It can be very old or the latest thing. With me, you get all of that. I am all of that.
DAVID HARNESS: FRIENDS IN HARMONY RECORD RELEASE PARTY
Sat/27, 10pm-4am, $10-$20
Tickets and more info here