Jaimee Harris Finds Strength On Her Own With New Album ‘Boomerang Town’ [INTERVIEW]
Jaimee Harris looked quite at home in the hotel room she called in from last week. She was in Santa Monica, having just played at McCabe's, the guitar shop and venue. She'd made a fan of Frank, the legendary folk singer, and was buzzing with her praise.
"It's just the tour that never ends, which I love," she says. "I like to be on the road."
Harris loves pinball almost as much as touring. If you hit the pinball machine at Tulsa's Mercury Lounge, you'll find her initials at the top of the high score chart as of two weeks ago.
A road warrior, Harris has been performing in and around Texas since she was a teenager, hitting the same circuit as Maren Morris, who, at 13, Harris recalls as having "star power like crazy."
Even with those bona fides and the success of her 2018 album Red Rescue, Harris feels that her latest release Boomerang Town is her first "real" album.
"There was a handful of people last night who said, 'I never heard of you before, but I was driving and heard you on the radio, so I came to this show,'" Harris recalls excitedly. "As of last night, I feel I'm a real musician!"
In addition to working with a team for the first time, Harris is also taking on the burden of performing solo for the first time and honing her troubadour skillset.
"It's like that nightmare that you have about going to the first day of school and you're totally naked," she laughs. "The troubadour skill is totally different than being a band leader."
Harris explains that her anxiety, combined with a brain injury from a car accident in 2016, can keep her in her head and give her difficulty communicating verbally. Being on stage by herself has forced her to find ways to speak with the audience. To be fair, she's had quite the apprenticeship — touring with her partner Mary Gauthier, a gifted songwriter and storyteller in her own right.
She's also taken note of fellow Texan Ray Wiley Hubbard's style: while certain portions of his stage banter are pre-rehearsed, others are more off-the-cuff. Harris also worked with a performance coach to help her hone her stage routine.
That's only half the battle, of course. The songs on Boomerang Town resonate because of their intense vulnerability. That's largely due to Harris' patient approach to her craft, as well as some of the changes she made to her writing this time around.
"I do consider songwriting a spiritual practice. This is an incredible alchemy. You're being of service. This is useful," Harris observes. "It feels like I'm channeling the song. And then you think to yourself, 'Oh, okay. Well, maybe I followed this rabbit into the gutter to see what's in there."
This time around, Harris found that writing songs from another narrator's viewpoint helped her "get closer to the truth of my emotional experience."
Creating that third party helped her find new perspectives for her songs. Harris rewrote the title song, "Boomerang Town," several times.
"I tried it from the perspective of a veteran that has returned home after seeing combat in the Middle East. I tried it from the perspective of a waitress that works at the George Bush Coffee House in Crawford, Texas," she explains. "I tried it from my own perspective, too, but the best way I could articulate my experience of growing up in that town was from behind the eyes of a 17-year-old boy that works at Walmart. I don't fully understand how it works other than I just go, 'Okay, I guess this is the person that wants to talk and just let them come through.'"
In spite of what may seem like an outside perspective, Harris has found that writing these songs through others' eyes has helped her surface her own wounds.
"I have so many more questions than I do answers, and I feel like the songs, what they did is they showed me where the work needs to be done in my life."
Boomerang Town began to take shape in 2016, but even if the events of 2020 had not unfolded, Harris thinks it would have taken some time to gather these themes together. Her refinement has paid off with an album that speaks deeply to its listeners. "Fall (Devon's Song)" is a standout example of how Harris' storytelling can lead to healing.
The song opens to a graduation ceremony with one student missing — and is based on actual events. Devon's best friend had received a gun for Christmas and accidentally discharged it while showing the weapon to him. Since then, Devon's mother has written regular op-eds in the Waco Tribune about the dangers of gun violence and the need for gun safety laws. Harris wrote the song in keeping with that spirit.
"There's this saying that you can't talk about the war because it's too big, but you can tell the story of the soldier. And so, for me, I felt compelled to really write that song to express that mother's grief. It's allowed me to open up the conversation about gun violence in this country without finger-pointing."
As a queer singer-songwriter with an upbringing in the Evangelical movement, Harris feels it is vital to address the political divide in the United States. Harris was never in the closet as a young person but was not out to her peers either.
"I thought I was bisexual for a long time. I guess I would consider myself queer," she notes. "I consider myself non-binary, and now I understand why I liked hanging out with dudes. I feel internally like a classic dude."
Harris found herself caught inbetween: "I knew pretty, pretty young that I was very, very interested in girls and, but I loved being involved in the church."
However, the Church placed many demands on its youth leaders and their time, causing Harris to burn out on it and college. Harris doesn't recall a specific moment of breaking away — she thinks of it as more of a slow fade.
"I just kind of backed out of the room slowly, and it wasn't until I got into a more of a public relationship with a woman in 2010 or so that things started happening on Facebook," Harris says. "It was so weird that they would express concern for me in a Facebook post but not call me. I've had the same number since I was 15."
It wasn't until Trump was elected in 2016 and Harris' community in Austin began commenting on the Christian right that Harris began exploring her dissonance with the Church.
"I thought to myself, 'I'm a Christian. Is that what I believe? My mom doesn't vote that way [Republican.] She doesn't behave that way. She's one of the most loving people of all time. I felt like the lack of nuance was concerning to me."
But it also made Harris realize how bittersweet her severance from the Church was: how much was ingrained into her behavior, what she's lost — and, importantly, what she's won — since breaking away.
"Exploring that in these songs and in the work has made me realize I need a professional person to talk this out."
We'll likely learn more about Harris' experiences on her next album, whenever that comes. Much like performing on her own for the first time, it appears Harris needs to process what it means to stand outside the community that raised her. That album will certainly be out when she's good and ready.
"My responsibility is to face the blank page and to get the best possible song I can every time."