Gypsyhawk is one of those bands that when I first heard them, I knew I was hearing one of my new favorite bands. Their songs are infectious, fun, have tons of melody, and twin harmony guitar face attacks that would have the late, great Phil Lynot sneering over his pint of Guinness in the sky. After putting in a few years of shuffling around as an independent band, Gypsyhawk was finally recognized when they were signed to Metal Blade records to release their 2nd album Rivalry and Resilience. The album showed a significant growth in both the playing and songwriting and really seemed to open up some doors for Gypsyhawk.
Gypsyhawk has been kicking it on the road pretty relentlessly as a support act for bands such as The Sword and most recently Valient Thorr. I had the opportunity to talk with lead singer/bassist/songwriter Eric Harris before their performance here in Atlanta which was a really cool treat. Eric was such a cool guy to talk to and we talked about everything from why they don’t play much off of their debut album Patience and Perseverance and his hatred of making music videos to why he’d love to play in Deep Purple for just one night if he could.
This was a really fun interview and I hope you all enjoy getting to know Eric Harris of Gypsyhawk. Cheers y’all!
Thanks for doing this interview. I know doing press is kind of a drag but we’ll make it fun.
[laughs] No problem man. You’re cool man. We’ve known you for a long time so I don’t mind it at all [laughs].
Last time you guys were here, you were with the Sword and Rivalry and Resilience was a brand new record. How long did it take for you to feel totally comfortable with these newer songs in a live setting?
I feel like that shit happens immediately. Some of the songs we’ll play and just kind of gauge the reaction of the crowd. Right now we’re doing a brand new song that’s not even recorded so what we do is we just play it over and over in a live setting and then we feel like we get to a point to where we’ve got it down so by the time we go to record it, we’ve already played it and tested it out so we don’t really have to get used to playing new stuff on the road.
Because Patience and Perseverance is our first album and it was like any of those first albums where you’re like, “Did we do this right?” I hadn’t listened to that album in so long but I revisited it just the other day while I was driving and I was like, “Good God. All these songs are so slow.” They’re probably not slow to the listeners but to us we might feel like those songs could’ve been sped up a bit. That was just a very experimental album and I try to keep with what I feel are the most cohesively written songs on the album. Songs like “Planet Former” which was almost kind of proggy where were like, “Let’s just keep riffing.” We want to write stuff that’s straighter to the point with some kind of pop hooks in your face that makes people say, “That’s rad. I remember that.” I think we’re getting better at doing that, especially with the new stuff. From that album we do play “Commander…”, “Eyes of Ibad”, “Gypsyhawk”, and “Black Haven.” Those are the four that we feel like we harvested as the cream of the crap [laughs].
You were in Skeletonwitch for some time which musically compared to Gypsyhawk is like night and day. Why the change in your style of playing?
In Skeletonwitch, we had a lot of the shared ideas. I was getting to just exercise my bass playing and writing some more melodic shit with those dudes. I played all that stuff with them but then I started listening to shit like Uriah Heep, a lot more Thin Lizzy and I feel like I found a whole new world. My bread and butter was really just a lot of punk and old dirty hardcore shit and then I heard At The Gates and I was like, “Oh! Metal!” [laughs] I delved into the metal thing and then I discovered that old rock n’ roll and that was my jam. I just wanted to play in a rock n’ roll band. Things got so oppressive with Skeletonwitch that when everything came to a head, I felt like I could start a band where there’s not one asshole telling everybody what to do where everybody can have fun and do what they want. Playing rock n’ roll is just way more fun. That’s why we covered shit like “Rock N’ Roll Hoochie Coo” and “Black Betty.” I want to play music that everybody knows. You’re mom knows it, your dad know it, you’re fucking brother knows it. We try to be universal about it because that’s the only way I feel that you’re going to get any kind of accolades or success as a band. We’re trying to reach out to everyone instead of just one small sect of buttholes who only listen to one record from 1980 something that only had 5 copies pressed.
I have to say that it sounds like what you’re doing is trying to create timeless music as opposed to music that you can like now, and then years down the road be like, “Wow. I liked that?” I mean, when I was 12 I thought Krokus was awesome. Now, not so much but then bands like Maiden and Dio, they still have it.
Krokus. You mean AC/DC junior? [laughs] But yeah, some things stand the test of time. Dio, Sabbath. Those bands had hooks. They had songs that will always be amazing no matter what.
So now that we’re on to the songwriting topic, I have to ask when did the Game of Thrones obsession start to bleed into the song writing.
That was cool to me because when I started Gypsyhawk I said, “Well, I guess I’ll sing.” [laughs] I had no idea what I was going to do. As far as lyrical content, I feel like a political stance on anything is so futile and stupid to write about. I mean, I’m traveling in a band. I’m just entertaining people. I’m not trying to change the fucking world so I just think it’s so pretentious a lot of times. Books and stories are fucking rad. That’s what I’ve always loved about Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple and any other band where there’s a story going on through the song. You’re already getting a rad song and then you’re getting the added bonus of it being a story. I try to encompass that. I had read the Ice and Fire series of books a long time ago and I just thought it would be some awesome shit to write about. I just didn’t want us to be a preachy band. I mean, we like to party and all but I didn’t want it to be like Andrew W.K shit [laughs].
It was kind of fun [laughs]. It was fun for like half of it. I fucking never want to make a music video ever again. It’s the worst. It takes so long. The director and the camera dude would be like, “Give us 5 minutes” and then they’d go off for like 45 minutes and you’d be like, “What the fuck is going on?” They’d figure out the shot and then give you 5 seconds to do it. You’re running around doing dumb shit and you’re super tired. It’s not like what you would think. We don’t have wardrobe and catering at this level [laughs]. The excitement was there when we started out but it just all died out immediately. I think that’s what the director was going for though. The opening shot in the video when I was sitting there was actually the last thing we shot. I was so fucking tired. I just wanted to go home and eat and not do anything [laughs].
Ian Brown plays a very convincing weird guy.
[laughs] Surprisingly that little fucker is really good at acting except for when you have see his gross little naked body [laughs].
I know you guys were playing “Silver Queen” live but it’s since been dropped from the set list. What gives dude?
[laughs] We just released a video for “Silver Queen” and our management told us we should be playing it on the road. We did that song four times and people just didn’t seem to dig it. It’s good to listen to on record but it’s at one of those tempos that just seemed to slow things down a bit. It’s just so slow and most of the shit we play onstage anyway that’s already upbeat feels slow to us [laughs]. It just doesn’t translate well live.
You guys have been landing some great tours since the release of this album. What other bands would you love to see Gypsyhawk touring with?
I wish we go out with Uncle Acid & The Dead Beats. I like that band a lot. I don’t think our music is the exact same style but I’d love to tour with Graveyard. I want to do some of those more laid back rock n’ roll tour. That tour with The Sword was very chill. A lot of times we get put out with these crazy metal bands. The Ramming Speed dudes are great but it’s so weird to have a thrash band with like death metal vocals going on before us. It just makes me hope that not everyone is expecting us to sound like that and having people yell shit like, “My dad listens to this. This shit sucks!”
GET OFF THE STAGE UNCLE PETE!
[laughs] Yeah. Exactly. But it’s been cool going out with Valient Thorr. So many people had been saying that they wanted to see us tour with them and it’s been really rad.
Oh definitely. It’s huge. We have people working for us who have invested interest in us. First off, without them we would’ve never been able to get on any kind of a package tour. We just don’t have the contacts to reach out and do that.
Eric, let’s get to know you a little bit. At what point did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
When I was 15 I got my first bass guitar. It was a Crate. It was so shitty [laughs]. I got it for Christmas. Prior to that, I was listening to a lot of pop punk. When I was in Lafayette (Louisiana), I was about 18 and I went to this local punk show for a band called Killswitch who I ended up playing for. When I saw them, I was just blown away and thought it was the coolest fucking thing. That was the first moment where I thought, “Yeah, I want to play music.” I didn’t know that I wanted to tour because I didn’t know what touring was but once I found out what touring was, I knew that this was the life I wanted to live.
You are a huge Thin Lizzy fan. What was your thought on Thin Lizzy today with a bunch of new dudes who now call themselves Black Star Riders?
That’s not Thin Lizzy. That’s a shitty Thin Lizzy cover band. I was in a Thin Lizzy cover band in Ohio. The guy who was my singer in that band went and saw this new Thin Lizzy band and he said, “Man, we were way better than them.” It sucks so bad when your shitty Thin Lizzy cover band is better than the band that is going out as Thin Lizzy. You can’t replace Phil Lynott and just got about it like its fine. That’s just one of those things that you can’t do. It’s like having Megadeth without Mustaine. Nobody would go see that shit [laughs]. That person is just the band so yeah, fuck that.
What is the on your mind the minute you take the stage?
So much nervousness that I can’t even keep track of it. I’m just trying to get set up, making sure everyone’s ready, hoping that I’m not going to fuck up. I always get nervous. I don’t really have any coherent thoughts or anything.
I’ve seen you guys live a few times now and I always feel like you have this intense connection to the songs when you’re performing. Do you feel that when you write the songs, it’s kind of more intense and driven then when you’re just playing the song that someone else wrote?
Oh yeah. When you’re playing someone else’s songs and you’re just playing your parts, it’s one thing to enjoy that song and like playing it. When you write a song and you’ve had an agenda behind it and you’ve got lyrical content that means a lot to you, it gets to be a soulful experience. On the last tour, we played a new song that I had written about some personal stuff and our merch guy Art told me that when I when we played that song, he could hear a wavering in my voice like I was about to cry. Thin Lizzy taught me that. In their song “Got To Give it Up” which is about him having to quit his heroin addiction, there’s this one part where he’s singing “Tell my mama I’m comin’ home. Mama I’m comin’ home” and you can hear his voice break like he was about to cry. That shit just goes right into my ears, down into my arms, and I get goose bumps and I feel it. If you’re going to sing something like that, you got to fucking believe in it. It doesn’t always have to be showmanship thing. Sometimes you just have to be real. That in itself can be entertainment. You can’t fake that shit.
I know exactly what you mean. When Graveyard was here earlier this year, they were doing “Slow Motion Countdown” and I was in tears.
Oh yeah. I get physiological reactions to songs like that too which coincidentally most of them are Disney cartoon songs [laughs]. Music is a spiritual thing. People always say things like, “Music is powerful” but I feel like that term gets lost. It’s not powerful as in it can change things. Music is powerful in that it can take you over, jolt your brain, and make you feel things. There are songs that I can hear that will have me fucking weeping. Not because I’m thinking of sad things but I’ll just be crying and not really knowing why. Maybe it’s the inflection of the tones that’s fucking with some sort of chemical in my head that’s making me feel this. It’s amazing.
So with that being said, the live performance is a pretty intense and emotionally exhausting thing. How do you come down from that every night?
That’s one of those things that you just kind of ride out. It’s definitely more of a living in the moment thing for me. I’m here right now, in this song, this feels awesome and then when the set’s done, I just have to go do something else. My brain is just always ticking and clicking.
Man, I totally feel you. I just can’t shut my fucking brain off for anything. It’s just always on.
Yeah, me too. I fucking feel cursed [laughs].
I started going to a therapist every few weeks just because my head is so full of shit.
Man, I need therapy so fucking bad but man, smoking weed and listening to music is my therapy. If I’m feeling bad or I just can’t stop thinking, I just have to find an album that I want to hear, I’ll get high, listen to that album, and just zone out. That shit is more real to me that God.
If I wasn’t a musician, I would be ________.
An artist. Like, an illustrator. I used to draw all the time and used to do cartoons and what not. When I was in school I used to draw caricatures of all the faculty and staff [laughs]. Yeah, so if I was doing music, I would definitely be doing some other art form.
If you could play for any band, of any era, for just one night who would it be?
Not Thin Lizzy surprisingly [laughs]. I think it would be Deep Purple. I love the bass lines that Roger Glover used to hit and I think it would just be awesome to jam with those dudes. Playing with Ian Paice would be a dream. I’d just be like, “Step aside Rog, let me try this out for a second.” [laughs]
Ok, I’m going to ask you a few questions and I want you to tell me which member of Gypsyhawk this would match:
- Who’s most likely to go to bed with a “she” and wake up with a “he”?
- Who’s mostly likely to win $1,000,000.00 off of a scratch and win lottery ticket?
Fucking Ian [laughs].
- Who’s most likely to wake up and find that the band has left him behind accidentally?
What’s in store for you guys for the rest of the year?
We’ve got a couple of tours coming up. We’ll be out for most of September and most of November and December. We’re also going to be busy writing for the next album for next year.
Eric, thanks for doing this interview man and next time you guys come back I’ll bring you another bottle.
[laughs] Awesome man. Thanks a lot Don.