A self-described old geezer hipster, multi-instrumentalist Harvey Gold releases his solo debut, It’s Messy Vol. 1, tomorrow on Smog Veil Records. “I hope to make as much noise as I can with this,” Gold says of the eclectic album that includes a tribute of sorts to the late Akron-born sax player Ralph Carney. “I just feel that there are some great people, performances, and if I do say so myself, some decent writing on this and want as many people as possible to know about it, whether they buy it or not. It's my first and probably last full solo record, so it's kind of a big deal to me.”
Gold recorded four of the songs with the Waitresses’ Chris Butler and Gold’s Half Cleveland bandmates. Gutiarist Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and Chris Hillman (the Byrds) contributed to the album as well. The original three members of Tin Huey appear too.
In a recent phone call from his Akron home, Gold spoke about the album, a terrific collection of off-kilter New Wave- and punk-inspired tunes.
After 20 years in New York, you moved back to your hometown about 20 years ago. What has that been like?
It’s been great. There are people I care about who I love and who have a lot of talent here. It’s just as interesting and quirky a town as it was when I left.
You have been pretty busy, what with Half Cleveland, Harvey in the Hall, Fancy Legs, the HiFis and Golems of the Red Planet. What made you want to release your first-ever solo album?
The bands I’m in right now have material sources. Chuck Keith is the cleverest of songwriters, and doing his material in the HiFi's allows me to concentrate on becoming a better piano player. The music of John Zorn is the repertoire for Golems of the Red Planet, a band in which I get to just worry about arranging, creating, trying to be a better guitarist. But I had these songs, this music. I recorded four of them with the guys from Half Cleveland, originally formed by my mate in Tin Huey, Chris Butler and myself. We had done our Live at the Wi-Fi Café album, but as far as a studio album, we weren’t headed in that direction. There were also some spontaneous sessions with Debbie Smith Cahan from Chi-Pig and that Wif-Fi Café iteration of Half Cleveland, and Bob Ethington, who drums with me on almost everything, produced by Bruce Hensal on a trip into town to visit family. Bruce produced Chi-Pig’s ‘Miami’ and worked on Inner Visions and Hotel California, so it was an offer we couldn’t refuse! There are other songs that came to this album down other roads, but, to be honest, I simply didn’t want to leave it to someone else to mix and master them if I keeled over!
Do you have a sense that you might keel over sometime soon?
It’s funny. My buddy Chris Butler not that long ago said, “Harvey, you seem to be obsessed with growing older.” Joe Strummer was born the same year I was, and he dropped at 50, and that really made my ears point up. So many more, near and far since. I thought I needed to pay attention to some of this stuff.
I love the title. What inspired it?
Well, in answer to that, my wife Dolli recently said, “It just seems you always came back to that. It applied to everything from world view to what we were having for dinner.” And it totally applies to my way of writing music. I’ve always been considered to be really eclectic. I mean look at the Tin Huey albums, Contents Dislodged During Shipment and disinformation. I always say you are what you eat, and I’ve eaten a lot of interesting stuff. So there are the four songs recorded quite recently with Half Cleveland and another four with Bruce Hensal. We added some tracks and removed some tracks and remixed and remastered, and there are these other pieces, old and very new. In a way, the album is kind of messy. My biggest take away from the experience of making this album is how amazing it was to work with Jeff Koval at Sta-Level Studios. He came from the band The Fifth Wheel, left town and worked as an engineer in Nashville for 13 years. His mixing and mastering helped make this an actual album. If I say, “I need to hear it like this,” he makes it happen without ruining the mix. He’s just the best. I know albums are kind of out of date. I know people download individual tracks. I’m happy with all the tracks, and I’m happy with it as an album.
“The Fence” came out a few years ago. It’s about “a hard, hard world.” Talk about its theme and why you wanted to donate proceeds to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The Fence” came directly as a result of Donald Trump’s election. It’s a real reflection of the dissonance of my life here. I’m so happy with my wife, and my family and my friends. My life in micro is fabulous, but I look out at the rest of the world, and it’s chaos and, here in America it has been careening towards being an openly terrible place. There’s a battle that needs to be fought. You have to get out there and tilt at the windmills. Things have changed because of resistance and opposition, even if on the surface it appears it isn’t doing anything. But seemingly suddenly, the Berlin Wall falls, or Nixon resigns, or we get out of Vietnam. I can’t always speak to the cause and effect, but if you don’t try, how can you live with yourself? The song speaks to that conflict. It's about how happy I am as an individual and unhappy as a public person. Our home was built as a schoolhouse in the 1860s and has an brown picket fence around it. The song served as a great metaphor for this struggle between what’s on either side of it. At my age, I’m not out throwing Molotov Cocktails… not that anybody is, Mr. President and your Storm Troopers. We try to give money to forces of good, and speak to the issues that are important to us. Frankly, I’m not expecting to earn money at this stage of my life from being a musician, so why not get out there and donate everything I make from "The Fence" to supplement the modest amounts we can offer. I picked the Southern Poverty Law Center because so many efforts have failed us legislatively that much needs to happen in the courts.
What did Dan Auerbach contribute?
He helped me out on two songs, “Alleghany Lode” and “Lazy Boy.” One day, I asked Dan to come sit in. He came over and played acoustic guitar through my old Gibson Falcon amp from the '60s... which I had, interestingly, bought on a shopping trip with his mate, [Black Keys drummer] Pat Carney. It’s a walking guitar part with bottleneck on a tune I describe as “West Akron Appalachian.” On “Lazy Boy,” I forced him into what he described as something outside his comfort zone back then, making him do an extended guitar solo at the end of it. We did this screaming guitar duel, and it came out great. He was still living in Akron at the time, and it was just having a friend come over and play around.
“Eidola” is dedicated to the late Ralph Carney. What did he mean to you?
I still have trouble with Ralph’s passing. I loved him unremittingly and deeply, and he was like my little brother. It was not written for him originally, but it is indeed about our time passing and my reaction to all the ghosts I’m collecting as it does. I was doing an experiment in writing lyrics in reverse haiku, as a response to a challenge from my brilliant New York friend, Bianca Bob Miller. I laid them over an analog synthesizer track, something I hadn’t done since my Huey days. About two weeks before Ralph passed, he had suggested we do an album together. He had just done one with Chris [Butler], “Songs for Unsung Holidays” really fun and funny and I think he very much liked the idea of collaborating with his old Tin Huey boys. About a week later, I sent him “Eidola.” It wasn’t meant to do as a song with him. We would just send tracks to each other. He responded, “I love this.” And that constituted our last conversation. That’s why I call it “inadvertently for Ralph.” I added a quick “ghost” of a couple of tenor saxes. If you don’t pay attention, you don’t even notice it. That was for Ralph. He and our lost comrade, [Tin Huey bassist] Mark Price, each influenced me as much as The Beatles, The Velvets or any other band or artist.
What inspired “Song for Joanne,” a whimsical song about breakfast foods?
I just mentioned Bianca Bob Miller. A pain in my ass. One morning, she texted me and said, “Hi. What are you doing?” I said, “I’m sitting here with a hard-boiled egg up against my eye.” Her response was, “That’s your next song.” I had a problem with my eye. It was a stye. I had to deal with it for about a year. My opthamologist, Joanne Briggs, said I needed to put hot compresses on it, and she wanted me to use a hard-boiled egg in a sock. I spent a good part of the year with a lot of egg salad. It took me an hour and a half to write and record it. When I realized it sounded a bit like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah BandI was really happy. My friend, Tracey Thomas, came in and did the back-up vocals and that was that. One of the days when Ed Hammell and his son, Detroit, were in town on tour, Detroit shot all this footage for a video of it, including a scene with 35 people in my living room, singing along to the song holding hard-boiled eggs. In another, Hammell was sitting on my lap like a Charlie McCarthy dummy as I was singing about breakfast foods. All the digital files from that shoot were corrupted, and we never saw them. It's reinforces the idea that the magic’s in the journey.
With the inability to tour to support the album, what do you plan to do to help get the word out?
We’re just going to release it on Smog Veil. Promos to radio stations, writers and influencers. That’s it, for the most part. There’s a music video, produced with my wife, Dolli, and super-talented friend and Luxuria Music DJ, Michael Toth, already on Youtube for “Eidola (inadvertently for Ralph),” and I have a wonderful video artist as a friend in New York who is working on ideas for some of the songs, so we’ll see. At the moment, I’m having a great time just being a piano player and a guitarist in my two bands. I’ve always had a role where I multitasked singing, playing guitar and playing keys. Ralph once described me, in an interview, as being the “leader guy.” I mean there’s another project, another combo which, if it happens, could perform some of these tunes, but I’m not looking to get out there to promote the album in the traditional manner. Couldn’t really if I wanted to with this pandemic, of course. There’s a bit of a “been there, done that” mindset going on right now, and I have performed a lot of the songs with Half Cleveland. There’s a Half Cleveland YouTube channel which has more than 40 iPhone clips of us performing live and that includes versions of many of these songs. I have no expectations of rock stardom or grand ideas of where it’s going to go. I just simply needed to do this. Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]