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X Ambassadors Keyboardist Casey Harris On New Album 'The Beautiful Liar,' Creating Music In The New Norm & Making Music Tech Accessible For All

Casey Harris

Photo: Tyler Jay Hanson

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X Ambassadors Keyboardist Casey Harris On New Album 'The Beautiful Liar,' Creating Music In The New Norm & Making Music Tech Accessible For All

Ahead of October's National Disability Awareness Month and the next X Ambassadors album, 'The Beautiful Liar,' Casey Harris chronicles his journey as an artist with visual impairment and the bold new projects XA will be dropping this fall

GRAMMYs/Aug 17, 2021 - 10:51 pm

Casey Harris is one third of the alt-rock trio X Ambassadors, a band he formed with his brother and lead vocalist, Sam Harris. He's also been legally blind since birth.

In the band, Harris plays keyboards, but the lifelong musician also plays a fundamental role in their songwriting, producing and engineering. At times, he even provides the primary motivation for the direction XA takes with their projects.

That's no exception when it comes to their third full-length album, The Beautiful Liar, which will be released September 24th. In tribute to the sci-fi and fantasy audio dramas the brothers listened to growing up, The Beautiful Liar tells the story of Clementine, a blind teenager who struggles with anxiety, discovers her long-dormant superpowers and, eventually, attains self-acceptance.

Read More: X Ambassadors Want To Redefine What It Means To Be A Band

The band also took songwriting inspiration from the state of the world during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the political unrest that unfolded in the U.S. under Trump's presidency, having to face an unpredictable future for their own careers as musicians and the entertainment industry overall.

We connected with Harris to learn more about X Ambassadors' creative process during the pandemic, pushing for inclusivity in the music industry and the satellite projects of The Beautiful Liar.

Casey Harris. Photo: Tyler Jay Hanson

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How have you been managing throughout the last year and change during one of the most difficult times in our history?

Yeah, I'm doing pretty good. I'm just sort of adjusting to not knowing things yet again. I mean it's crazy, you know, obviously everyone's dealing with this whole Delta variant and the lack of information on anything and everything, but [I'm] just trying to handle being safe with that.

Obviously, we're trying to get back to business, trying to get back to playing music, and that sort of thing, so it's a juggling act. It's been a while, too, because it's pretty much just been within this last month that we've suddenly kicked it back into gear. So, it's kind of zero to 100, but it's really, really been nice to rehearse and play music together again. I've forgotten how much I love doing that. It's really been great.

Despite that XA created and released several projects. What was it like going through the creative process during a global pandemic and political turmoil? Sam has said that was the inspiration for some of the songs on the new album.

Yeah very much so. Both [our multi-part, collaborative series] (Eg) and the EP were largely material that we were lucky enough to have recorded right before the pandemic hit—like, months to weeks beforehand. 

And then, we all three know how to produce music, at least fairly well on our computers. Probably not me quite as well as, say, Adam, but we're all at least good enough that we can record ideas and cool-sounding parts and send them back and forth to each other and build a song out of it.

So we did a lot of that, taking the foundations of what we started before the pandemic and just doing that remotely. There have been technological ways to work around it, and to listen to what each other is doing. But it's still not that real time. It's not in the same room, seeing each other, so it's been a lot of adjusting there.

Honestly, that was so very much our writing style to have everyone in the room together. But yeah, we adapted it. I think for all of us, if anything it improved our skills as producers and as audio engineers and that kind of thing, which is probably something I needed to brush up on anyways, but yeah, we've been fairly productive I'd say over the last year, surprisingly so considering everything.

I think it's just because it's an outlet. When you're feeling trapped, claustrophobic, like the world is a dangerous, threatening place, at least you can go write music, go play music, and it makes you feel at least somewhat better. It helps you escape that for a minute.

I think that's one of the reasons why no matter what we're all three always making music. [Those technologies] made it at least possible to keep putting out material and keep putting material together.

This new album was phone calls and ironing out the details, and again, sending tracks back and forth for final production notes. Just a lot of back and forth. A lot of it was very much shaped by how kind of crazy and unpredictable and unknown everything was and that's very much how this album goes.

And the fact that everything just felt so bleak. This album, there's some hopeful moments on it, but a lot of it is kind of not bleak, but it very much does not shy away from the darkness of everything, of life, of love, of everything we've all been going through.

I think it's very representative of where we've all been over the past year-plus.

It seems like the inspiration behind this most recent body of work comes from some of your experiences growing up as a blind person. How do you translate your personal experiences into music and visual art? There's a companion podcast with this latest release. Tell me how that came about.

It varies so much. The songwriting always comes before any of the stuff surrounding it. But I think a lot of the time, the songwriting draws on some themes that me and my brother in particular have experienced throughout our lives.

[The Beautiful Liar companion] podcast and the whole theme of this girl with superpowers—me and my brother, ever since we were little, have been obsessed with superheroes and Marvel and all that. It's been kind of a lifelong thing. 

We've always wanted to make our own comic series or something like that. I obviously have been more of an audio books and podcast kind of person, so it wasn't one of those "ah-ha" moments. It was a no-brainer moment when we thought, "Oh why don't we make a podcast that's like a comic book?"

The story just organically came together. I mean we knew we wanted it to be about someone who was blind, a blind character, mainly because no one has really done that since Daredevil. We wanted it to be sort of a coming of age story, something very personal and very relatable, but also have this superhero element to it.

A lot of the story just came from the songs. We didn't necessarily have the story in mind while we were writing the songs. But when you listen to them in a certain order, they string together and they tell a natural story.

It's really a story of, I guess when you come right down to it, trust, betrayal, and finding out who you can and cannot trust, and who really does care about you. Also, finding out what harm, unfortunately, people who do care about you but make the wrong choices can do.

A lot of it is a story about self-discovery and discovery about where you fit in the world. I'm really proud of it. It's been a long, arduous process getting it together, but we finally started recording. We're actually getting actors' voices on audio files now, so it's really exciting.

It's a separate piece from the album but it's a companion piece, it uses the songs from the album throughout as a soundtrack and as part of the storyline as well. We're still working on plans of how we want to release it, but it will be available on all major streaming platforms. It'll be a way to deepen people's understanding of the album and the stories behind it between the songs. It's really coming together and I'm excited for the world to hear it.

It seems like you guys really got your creative juices flowing during the pandemic and that you were able to find ways to pursue projects that you'd maybe dreamt of doing but previously didn't have the time to do.  

If anything, the pandemic has forced us all to spend more time focused on our personal and private lives. In a weird way, especially when it comes to music, I think spending some time with your nose not to the grindstone somehow results in more creative, more inspired material.

We're just around the corner from National Disability Awareness Month. How do you think being an artist with accessibility needs has shaped and impacted your experience in the music industry?

It sounds funny to say, but oddly, it wasn't quite as much of an issue in the olden days. Back when we were just a band slugging it out on the road, I would schlep my keyboards around. Obviously there were challenges like finding my way around venues and that sort of thing, but we all made do.

One thing I really started to discover during the pandemic is how inaccessible a lot of audio recording and production tools are for blind and visually impaired people in particular. Because, ironically enough, it's all incredibly visual. Even though you're ostensibly doing something with an auditory medium, the way the programs and most audio tools are laid out is extremely visualized.

A few months back, I did an interview with Vision Australia Radio. Afterward, one of the hosts asked me what my tips and tricks and techniques were for editing audio and audio processing on the computer when you can't really see very well. We had a whole back-and-forth discussion.

That's unfortunately become one of my biggest gripes with, I suppose, the music industry, but the music tech industry in particular. I've actually been throwing around the idea of trying to team up with a software company to try to address this.

It really is crazy how difficult it is to do professional audio production and editing when you're visually impaired.

Do you have any suggestions for companies who are trying to lead the charge in making the industry more inclusive? It sounds like a good place to start would be organizing and leading conversations with music tech industry executives about the current limitations on their tools and how that's impacting creators with disabilities.

Absolutely. I know that with current technology, it's very possible and very doable. It just takes the motivation and having those conversations and getting those people to actually pay some attention and focus coding on these issues. So, yeah, I think that's a good place to start.

The Beautiful Liar tour this fall is said to feature a "multi-sensory live show." What can fans expect to experience at one of these shows?

Unfortunately, right now, I can't give any specifics. First, because I don't want to give anything away, but also with the Delta variant, tour planning is very much in flux right now.

We have started to do rehearsals to prepare for it. We've always toyed with this idea as a band to have dramatic sets, in the sense of where it's almost kind of like a Broadway show with different sections and themes and vibes to it. I think that's even more the case this time.

For instance, we're going to have two separate sections to the set. The first section will be the brighter—not necessarily more optimistic—but the brighter more upbeat section, and lighting and music will all reflect that.

And as the story progresses, we'll get to the second half of the set where the lighting and the vibe and the music will all change. That half is focused more on the shadow and the slightly more sinister side of the album and the story.

It's going to be a whole journey. I can't wait to play this tour. You'll walk out of there feeling like you've taken a trip.

Any last thoughts you'd like to share with readers?

Stay tuned for upcoming releases. We've got songs coming out. We've got so many songs we've been sitting on, just waiting for proper music videos and other material like that to go with them and we're finishing all that up right now. So, be prepared!  

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

Alicia Keys

Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2020 - 04:07 am

After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression."  You can pre-order the title here.

The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.

Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.

This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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