Back in high school, while discovering my identity as self-proclaimed classic rock fanatic, the realization that I would never experience the ’60s and ’70s firsthand saddened me deeply. I found it hard to contain myself, then, upon hearing fresh musicians who managed to embrace an old-timey sound. Not surprisingly at all, Harlan Pepper’s latest album Take Out a Twenty and Live Life to the Fullest had me grinning the second I hit play.
The electric vibes of their latest album adds a psychedelic layer to their earlier folksy tremors. With their newest release, Take Out a Twenty and Live Life to the Fullest, roots revival meets kaleidoscopic rock n’ roll. The opening song, “I’ve Been Dead”, breathes life back into the bluesy notes of Duane Allman’s blues rock, and tracks like “Soulless Boogie” and “TV (Let it Slide)” immediately evoke Creedance Clearwater Revival’s southern-fueled energy.
It is no shock Harlan Pepper turned to producer Colin Linden for Take Out a Twenty, a folk veteran who has notably worked alongside The Band and Bob Dylan. Recorded in Nashville, the album is chock-full of sounds straight out of 1970s Tennessee, but with a cleanly modern twist.
This weekend I had the chance to speak with the band’s singer and guitarist Dan Edmonds about just what makes an antique sound work for this up-and-coming act.
While Edmonds has been incessantly called out for his resemblance to Bob Dylan–he of the haunting voice, curly brown locks and cool demeanor–the 21-year-old songster refuses to let this (most honourable) comparison get to his head.
Instead, Take Out a Twenty and its accompanying tour seem to be Harlan Pepper’s chance to claim their own unique persona. Edmonds explains, “All of us love Bob Dylan, and I definitely get that I look like him a lot, but I don’t really want to be him…that’s just kind of weird.” While the resemblance is surely there, the band’s stimulating sound and versatile range promises a distinctiveness that will dodge potential comparisons in the future.
“I mean we really look up to him, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones. There’s not one individual that I want to be or anything,” Edmonds adds.
And the vibes of Dylan, Young, and The Stones are surely decipherable in Harlan Pepper’s newest music. The Hamilton-born band is made up of four young men, who also happen to be close childhood friends: Edmonds, Thompson Wilson, Jimmy Hayes, and Marlon Nicolle. The foursome has matured considerably since their first release, Young and Old (recorded at the ripe age of 17), and their sound has certainly followed suit.
Edmonds cites the tight-knit bond between bandmates as a vehicle for their continuing success. “We’re all just really, really good friends, and we all love making music together. And that’s all that counts. I just appreciate having three really good friends, and the fact that we can make music together. It’s easy for us, and that’s really nice.”
Three months spent tree planting throughout Northern Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta provided Edmonds and Hayes with an opportunity for their music to blossom. The time away from the hustle and bustle of the city also allowed their instrumental competence to flourish.
“Jimmy and I just played guitar all the time when we weren’t working. When we came back, we were a lot better. Tree planting made us better with our instruments, and we wrote a bunch of songs up there too. It was a nice retreat from the city, to be up in the middle of nowhere, with an acoustic guitar.”
After this, the move to electric guitar propelled this transformation of Harlan Pepper’s sound further. “When we started, we played with acoustic guitars, and I played the banjo. Then when we started playing live, it didn’t really translate well—we really wanted to play like a real rock n’ roll band. So, when we got back from tree planting, with all the money I made, I bought an electric guitar. That was our plan for this record: to make something we could play, that we could perform live, and that would be just as exciting live as it was when we made it.
While patiently awaiting their next album–which, according to Edmonds, should drop sometime in the new year–fans of Harlan Pepper can catch the band on tour, shaking things up with Take Out a Twenty this summer. Harlan Pepper is set to play around British Columbia through May, followed by some shows and festival appearances in Ontario.
Check out Harlan Pepper!
Author: Erin Levitsky