Official Biography: Harris Tweed

2006-12-14 16:03's podcast interview with the Cherilyn
Includes song clips from the album The Younger

(OFFICIAL BIOG from Just Music, quoted in full)

Titled The Younger, the recording delivers, incontestably, one of the most special listening experiences of 2006. It also introduces Cherilyn MacNeil and Darryl Torr as two of the music world's brightest prospects who have, in their first album, crafted a set of songs that reclaim pop as a thing of beauty yet have enough of an edge to elevate Harris Tweed into a duo of real substance.

For many radio listeners, Harris Tweed's splendid sound has already etched itself into their hearts, mostly on the wings of "Superfly", the song that heralded Harris Tweed's arrival on radio.

Armed with a hook that grabs you straight out of the gate, the song's electronica, 80s infused bedrock lends "Superfly" an astonishing energy that butts up against its gut-wrenching lyrical content ("starting to wonder/wonder if I'm able to love again/don't dare come near me/I'm very dangerous/you'll walk away with a black eye and two broken legs"), making for a potent combination that spares no-one who comes within earshot. But if "Superfly" – and the likes of 'Easy To Leave" - occupies pop's centreground, there's much on 'The Younger' that veers off into less easily identifiable terrain: 'Le Musketeer est Brave' lets an Americana aesthetic surface, through quite lovely guitarwork and MacNeil's plaintive vocals, and its hard not to be drawn in by the distinctly 21st century folk threads that work their way through 'Stuck On This Course', a song that spotlights MacNeil's unerring ear for a melody, here delivered on the piano.

Proof that MacNeil is a songwriter in possession of a real gift comes on 'Don't Forget', a song of desolation ("cause love forgot me when she passed through/seems I wasn't deemed worthy/but I know that she'll be round again soon/don't forget me, don't forget me") that unmasks her particular way of wrapping words around music that seems to make its way up from an almost other-worldly place.

But for all MacNeil's compositional capabilities, Harris Tweed is a duo in every sense of the word.

While MacNeil's elegantly crafted songs form the fulcrum, listen closely and it's her co-production with Torr that gives the material its force. The spaces between the sound and the percussive beat that supports a repetitive piano melody on 'Hurt Enough' are evidence of an intuitive approach to producing. And the delicacy with which a song like 'Better Than This' is treated adds a weightiness to this terrific cut. "I may write the songs but the production changes everything," MacNeil testifies.

Twenty-three-year-old MacNeil is, like her songs, all intensity and quirkiness (it was her 'Eureka' idea to make Bernard the goldfish a part of Harris Tweed), yet also very accessible.

She declares, "Harris Tweed's musical vision is about excellence. We are desperate to be excellent – and we're ambitious. We don't want to be rock stars because we are very hard working. People want to be a rock stars and want to have everything done for them because what they are doing is 'art' and I think that is weird. Everyone has to work. We understand this is art but it's also a business and we are working hard at making it work."

Part of that devotion to their particular cause includes ensuring Harris Tweed is available to their fans. Says MacNeil: "We didn't go out to make a radio-friendly or commercial album but at least for me, art is about communication and accessibility and I think we are very available to our fans. Some bands are all about the mystique – but we're not."

Sometimes - in spite of being a distinctly "all-or-nothing" individual - it seems as if MacNeil herself can't believe that she's taken the leap of faith into being a fulltime musician. "I went from varsity straight into fulltime music. I had gone there to study English and French and politics – all things I thought would help the world.

"But that man (pointing to Torr) kept saying 'come on, you need to be making music' – at first I wasn't really open to the idea because writing songs was something that I did in my bedroom. Something private. But then we recorded the song 'Stone' together and before we knew it, we were playing a small regional festival."
MacNeil and Torr in fact played more than a festival during 2005. Between the 31st of December 2004 and the 31st of December 2005, they gigged a fair bit as Pilot. "The name came because we never thought of ourselves as a band at that time – we thought we would just do that one festival as a 'pilot'," explains Torr.

Admitting to being "absolutely terrified" at that first gig, MacNeil soon realised she was not meant to save the world through politics but rather transform people's lives – even for just a moment – through music. "I walked off that stage like I was walking on a cloud. I loved it and knew it was what I had been searching for, for a long time!"

But Pilot, as its name suggests, was never meant to be the vehicle for Torr and MacNeil's musical vision and after a year of gigging (including an appearance at Oppikoppi 2005), "we wanted to push more and the other guys in the band weren't in that head space so Darryl and I decided to do something on our own," MacNeil recounts.

As this decision suggests, the multi-talented, bass-playing Torr is the perfect counterpoint to his bandmate –he brings a decade of experience in the studio to Harris Tweed and an unbridled passion for music as well as a solidness that anchors MacNeil. (Also, while Bernard may have been McNeil's brainwave, it was Torr's meticulous research into how to revive an ailing goldfish – peas, if you must know – that saved the fish's life recently!)

Says Torr: "I've always been in music. I ran away from school in my last year to be in a band." It may sound like a soundbite dreamed up for a biog but Torr in fact did flee from his boarding school to play guitar in a band and when the band broke up, he found himself working in the studio. Many years on Torr now owns his own production company, Openroom Productions assisting bands with "a total production solution".

Harris Tweed came into being at the beginning of 2006 but it took MacNeil and Torr an intensive search to find a name. Deploying friends and more to help hunt for a name, Harris Tweed (found while randomly looking in an encyclopedia) just felt right. But since the name is a trademark, the duo had to phone 'The Harris Tweed Authority' in Scotland and ask for permission to use it. "They simply said it was fine and that we were to have fun," MacNeil reports.

Fun is something that wades its way into the songs on 'The Younger' only intermittently.

Mostly the 10-tracks on the album waste no time in laying into intimate and affecting tales of love lost and won, hearts twisted and made whole, all delivered off the foundation of MacNeil's peerless piano-driven melodies and wrapped up in Torr's production vision. It's a compelling combination and it's one that's set to take the Harris Tweed name into far more households than those with a liking for beautifully spun cloth.

The Younger's tracklisting:

beautiful mystery
easy to leave
stuck on this course
better than this
don't forget
hurt enough
turning in
le musketeer est brave

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Harris Tweed. It's a name that conjures up impeccably crafted, highly individual, classics-in-the-making creations – much like the debut full-length recording by the duo of the same name. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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