When I first decided I was moving to Austin a couple of years ago, as just a shot in the dark I contacted Billy Harvey who was currently living in Austin, TX. I did not know Billy. I saw him play some solo shows as well as many times as Bob Schneiders‘ guitarist. In my humble opinion Bob has never been able to replace Billy. Billy is a melody genius among many other hard earned gifts.
Billy was nice enough to entertain my ignorant questions about Austin and about the music scene in general. I truly appreciated it.
A few months after I got to Austin, I entertained a fantasy of working with Billy. He had produced many great records and songwriters, including his vast catalog of solo work. I knew working with Billy was far more of a dream than could be a reality.
However, I woke one morning and wrote a silly ass rap song. I was pretty giddy about it to be honest and I honestly thought it was pretty good.
I decided to ask Billy if he wouldn’t mind producing it for me and spending a day recording it. The reason I did this was because, first off I thought it was a decent little rap tune, but more importantly I am not a rapper, nor do I aspire to be a rapper, so if he turned me down my pride could have justified it as, “well I’m not a rapper and this is a silly little song, so it makes sense that he would not be interested in doing it”.
Billy responded that he would certainly be willing to get together and lay down the rap. We set up a date and I was nervous as shit. Mainly nervous about nailing my parts, but also just about everything in general.
When I arrived at his house we sat for a while and just chatted about life. He then showed me around his house and tells me about how he recorded some of the Bob Schneider, Steve Poltz and Charlie Mars tracks.
I tell him I’m not sure on how or where to start on the rap track and he confidently replies, “I do” and we get to it. We sit a while and work on beats, then he laid down a bass line and then it was my turn at rapping. I nailed it first take. I was so happy. I feared so much I would not be able to nail it. We did one more take with a slower and smoother vocal style, but ended up going with the first take.
Originally the chorus (or hook) I had done on the demo was not really possible as we needed another singer for it and the singer I originally had that laid down the part had flaked on coming. we decide to go another direction with it. Billy tweaked on it for hours with some toy piano, keyboard and guitar until we get it to where we are both happy with it.
After sitting in the living room listening to it, doing our best Bevis and Butthead dances, we headed to the car for the car test.
While driving around Billy had a brilliant idea of how to change the hook up, so we went back to the house and he laid down some vocals and toy piano.
We ended up with a tasty little rap track, called “Sesame Street Rap”. You can listen to it here
He has since moved to Los Angeles, but today as SXSW is wrapping up in Austin, TX, I ran into him at a coffee shop. We chatted for a while. Though I can’t say Billy and I are friends in the true sense of the word, I am grateful for him and all of his work and thankful for having crossed paths with him. When I talk to him I can’t help but think he is a true and genuine soul and a truly nice human-being. He is one of those guys that just feels like a friend.
You should do yourself a favor and pick up some of Billy’s work. If you are into just some good solid catchy songwriting pick up “Pie” or “Bearsick”. If you’re into something that digs a little below the skin, get “Everlasting War”. If you’re into records that are experimental and out there, pick up “Grow Garden Grow”. If you are into documentaries, pick up his movie, “Everywhere now”. A harrowing tale of doing a nationwide tour in a car that runs on vegetable oil.
His newest record is “Everlasting War”. This record is deeper than most of his previous work. It’s more real, more revealing and has a ton of heartache and desperation in it.
Billy in general feels like a happy and positive soul. He never wallows in depression like a great deal of songwriters do. He always leaves the door open for happiness, but this record, though I don’t think it was always intended, feels very dark to me.
I feel like in this album he is in love with someone, but had long decided he was moving to LA. There was nothing stopping him no matter how painful. Intertwined in that were hopes for a brighter tomorrow career wise, re-energized dreams that had been more dormant than invigorated in his last days in Austin. He needed to leave for his own sanity, even if it meant losing everything he knew and loved. When I listen to this record I feel this. It is heavy and hurts. I could be wrong about all the blanks I have filled in, but this record hurts when I listen to it. I love it for that.