Q&A: Harrison on the Timelessness of Migos, Anime as an Escape, and the Album That Made Him a Producer


Toronto's Harrison released his debut album Checkpoint Titanium in 2016, and with it, he would transform into a JUNO-nominated producer. Placed alongside the likes of KAYTRANADA and The Weeknd, it's easy to assume the sort of demeanor of an artist who was catapulted to such grand heights would come to take on. Any such assumptions would prove to be anything but the truth. Upon meeting Harrison in a West Hollywood house where he was zealous to be staying at, as was immediately demonstrated by him running towards a grandstand piano to play a few quick melodies the second our interview wrapped, I discovered an artist who never expected or sought out critical acclaim. Rather, I was introduced to one whose fascination lied in obscure video game samples and capturing a sense of warmth in his music.

It was this idea of encapsulated warmth that led Harrison to his most recent project to date, 2018's Apricity. An eleven-song collection of '80s funk-influenced, futuristic production, it sees Harrison moving past bouts of depressions and feelings of deficiency in his musical caliber to deliver an absolutely radiant sophomore outing. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Harrison to discuss the journey that led him to Apricity and get sidetracked many a time to delve into half-remembered video games of childhood's past and art as a form of escape.

OTW: Tell us a bit about Toronto, which has informed most of your musical upbringing so far.

H: I grew up in Toronto and I plan on staying there. I really like the city. I think I chose a good time to be a musician in Toronto. At this point and time, people are super, super supportive. You get to know people and they are really friendly. There is a lot of stepping on each other's feet and shit, but it is not enough for me to care about it.

OTW: And when did you first realize music was a passion you wanted to pursue?

H: When I went to college; I was only there for like three months. I was like, "This is shit." I went in for recording engineering. It was more on the engineering side, and I realized that I didn't want to be a fucking engineer. I want to make music. So, I left, worried my parents would be upset, but they were really supportive. Luckily enough, Last Gang Records signed me three months after I left.

OTW: Your internet presence really gives off a very video game and anime-inspired aesthetic. For instance, there's your track "100bpm - Gundam/Prologue."

H: I am really into anime and video games, especially those nostalgic games like Gundam. All those clips are from this game I had. It was a Japanese Gundam game on the Dreamcast Sega. I don't know what it was called, but I remember finding all the sound clips on some really dusty forum. I was like, "I remember these sounds!" That's what inspired me to make that song. I have a Sega and shit, but I never boot it up because then I'd get blasted with nostalgia, and then I'd get sad or something. I love using samples from games I played in the past. I have a big ass Nintendo 64 and shit. It's pretty easy to convert and sample the sounds. It's all RCA's so you can plug it into an interface and there you go. That stuff is a blast.

OTW: What part about anime is it that you like so much? Is there something about the particular art form?

H: It's like when I am falling asleep or wanting to go to bed, or I am having a shitty day and am feeling bad. I think it has a lot to do with colors and wanting to be disconnected from reality. And same with videos games! They are a good escape. I play video games all the time 'cause when I am stressed, I want to play with a car simulator; it's 2018! It is not necessarily the art style. Like if it has a good storyline, and it is like colorful and well done then it is just a really good way to relax. I will go through phases where I will just watch movies, but I just don't like movies that much.

OTW: Does music serve the same purpose for you? An escape of sorts?

H: Yes, it is, well it can be. Like no matter what it is still… It is not a job, but it is still a job. Sometimes I say that I will do this edit for someone or work on this beat for someone, and I don't feel like it. But then it's been like a week or so, then it's like, "Fuck." With music, it's either extremes of both sides from, "Fuck this is frustrating," or "This is euphoric." I try to do the ten-thousand hours thing and hopefully get that in, but if it is forced then it always sounds like shit, no matter what. There are different cases, like when I am having a session with someone I've never met and you are in the studio and are like, "Okay I have to work." It's like going to the gym. I can work out at home, but I am at my house, I don't have to work out. You do a push-up and you're like, "Fuck that." But if you are at a gym you are a little more comfortable. It's like, of course, you got to work out. You're here! What else are you going to do?

OTW: So, when you make music, it is mainly a solo effort? I know on your new album you collaborate with a fair amount of people.

H: Luckily enough all these people are very talented, so I can have an unfinished song and send it to someone like Ralph or Daniela Andre. The song I did with a l l i e; I sent it to her and she recorded it on her MacBook and then sent it back. I do like working with people, but I prefer to work alone. But collaborations with vocalists; I am not a good writer, absolutely terrible actually. I'm like, "Goose, Moose. Okay, make that work." So, bringing in talented writers is really helpful. I love collaborating with people like Ryan [Hemsworth], because he is one of those people who doesn't care that much about studios either. So, with an old song I did with him called "Vanilla," he did the intro and did all the stuff, and we sent it back and back and back, even though we are in the same city. 

OTW: Speaking on studios, is where you're recording particularly important to you?

H:  I am not a big fan of studious because they are dark, and I am just like, "What the fuck? I don't want to be in a goddamn cave." Fuck that shit bro. Like every time I go into a studio and there is a couch, I will be out like a light at only 1pm. Also, the studio culture is not for me. A lot of producers are really good at doing the all-nighters and shit to finish up a track. I am trying to be asleep by 11:30pm. When I am doing it, I am doing it during the day, but when you are doing it during the day and it is nice out, but you are in a cave… I don't know. It's not that big of a deal, but I do not prefer studios. And I have a dog too so…

OTW: Very pertinent question, what type of dog do you have?

H: I have a Korean Jindo. I love that dog very much. I hope someone is walking her right now.

OTW: Speaking of not being a huge fan of the dark and caves - this is my great segue by the way - your new album Apricity, translates to the "warmth of the sun in winter." Where did the title come from?

H: Well you know, Canadian winters are fucking long and cold, but there will be days where, shit it is randomly nice out today, like global warming or something. There's a field in front of my house. I walk my dog and there will be very beautiful moments. When I walk my dog, I try not to have my phone out or anything. Just for the first half hour. When I wake up, I half look at my notifications but won't open them because I'm like, "That's a stressful looking email." But yeah, the field; there will be brief euphoric moments of just a breeze or a quiet moment in just the perfect weather. I think about that a lot, and I also think about the winter and if it will be like that in the winter as well. But yeah, the warmth of the sun. There is nothing better. 


OTW: So, after your debut album, Checkpoint Titanium, you were nominated for a JUNO. What was that like?

H: I was very surprised. That first album was more of a compilation. It was songs that I had made for two years. Songs I like sifted through and was like, "I got to finish these." It wasn't theme-based. It was just songs. I was surprised by that, but they liked it. I was very happy to be nominated. I got beat by KAYTRANADA of course, casually. I didn't feel like I belonged in the same ranks as these guys. My parents were really proud too.

OTW: Two years passed from your debut album to Apricity. Were the two years spent working on this album?

H: After the first album, it was six months of me figuring out what I wanted to do next for a new album. 'Cause I didn't want to start making shit and go back and be like I don't like this anymore. That's a common thing to happen with me, and I am assuming many other people, producers, and musicians. Because you've heard something a million times and can't tell if it is good or not. So, I wanted to sit down and fully figure out what I am committing to when it came to writing something. For Apricity, it was something that I wanted to make three or four years ago, but just didn't really know how. It was a sound that was in my head, but I didn't know how to do that. When I realized what it was and what I wanted to do, that's when I sat down and was like, okay.

OTW: Is there an overarching theme that runs through Apricity?

H: Yeah, I'd say so. It is just supposed to be warm, fuzzy, and shit. I really just want someone to hear it, and then four years down the line, I want them to associate it with maybe a good time in their life or something. I originally made it for like originally the fall, like a fall album. But fall, our fall is fucking short. In Toronto, we don't have a fall. We have one day of reddish leaves and then they all drop off. But yeah it was made for fall or around that time.

OTW: You incorporate a lot of excellent nu disco and funk influences into your music. Is there something about that time period in particular that you're so drawn to?

H: I just can't get over how they did that in the '80s. Producers like Kashif and singers like Melba Moore; they just sounded so 80's. But if you actually paid attention to the production, it was extremely futuristic, extremely technical. They weren't just recording on their laptops and shit. It took a lot of time. I'm so very envious of that. There's something about that technicality from that time period. I don't know what it is. It is funk and '80s funk is just timeless. A lot just revolves around funk, at least pop songs.


OTW: Nostalgia seems to be a big thing, especially now. Is there anything in 20-40 years that you think will be nostalgic about this time period?

H: I already feel nostalgic about Anderson .Paak. I think people are already nostalgic about "boom bap" beats. Like beats. We already have shit like J Dilla and stuff like that. I feel like they probably said that shit like twenty years ago, "How could anyone be nostalgic about this stuff?" But I can see my old ass singing "Bad and Boujee." I want to hear kids sampling Migos and fucking Bruno Mars but not even his funky shit. Just his cornball stuff, like his I don't want to do anything today shit. My favorite album came out in 2010, which was Onra's Long Distance. It basically got me into music and producing future funk. That's eight fucking years ago, and I can be nostalgic about that shit already. I associate that with so many good times and bad times in my life.

OTW: So, Long Distance was what really started your musical journey?

H: I think that was the final push, but realistically it was anime that got me into beats and Onra that got me into that world of future funk. At that time, I had never heard anything like that. Like side-chain, like what the fuck is side-chain? But yeah, it was definitely the album Long Distance that was the final push to be like, "I gotta learn how to do this. This is so cool." And that was that.

OTW: Do you think you we'll ever hear you sing one of your tracks?

H: I can't sing dude. I am fucking tone deaf or some shit. People tell me I have such a deep voice, and that I should sing. Then I give it a go and I'm like, "HHHHEEEE-UUHHHH!" Yup, that's why I don't sing. The enunciation and the tone of my voice weren't made for that. Some people are just so good at that shit, but I am just not good at it. Maybe I'll get into rapping.

OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?

H: Oh! Lapti! I always forget to mention Lapti, and he is like this Russian beat guy. Oh my God dude, he is so good. I love his music. Prince Innocence, my homies. They are really good. Oh, and Matty Tavares, holy cow. His new shit is insane. He is probably one of the best songwriters I've ever heard, easily. He is just so talented. I am so envious of these people's talents, man.