Photo by Ann Van Epps
As Josh Eagle frames an answer, it quickly becomes apparent the response he’s offering has little in common with the question. Eagle pauses, then smiles.
“What was the question?” he inquires. “I’m the king of fucking tangents. Hit the ball in left field and I’ll run in the opposite direction.”
That might be one reason the singer/songwriter’s work with his band, the Harvest City, is so compelling. All the elements you’d expect from an Americana/Roots/Folk outfit are present in Eagle’s songs and the Harvest City’s interpretations, especially on the new album, A Good One is Hard to Find. The players come in from unexpected angles and with different messages and deliveries than the ones that were anticipated.
Eagle has worked steadily since his largely solo debut, 2008’s Truthful Beginnings, which he describes as “a fluke record; it just popped out.” Soon after, Eagle met bassist/engineer Tommy Cappel, who persuaded him to record his songs in the studio. Eagle had already teamed up with guitarist Jeremy Smart, who offered his services after being drawn to Eagle’s tough romanticism. Cappel brought in drummer Mark Becknell. With the Harvest City assembled and christened, the quartet turned out its impressive band debut, last year’s Show Your Teeth.
“I was smoking a lot of pot at the time, young and excited to be making a record,” Eagle says with a laugh on the Northside Tavern patio. “The first time I started paying attention was on Show Your Teeth, and it was the first time being there with a band I really loved. I got more savvy in what was going on. Tommy’s sitting in his big Batman chair and we’re sitting on the couches going, ‘What’s he doing there?’ Well, now I understand what he’s doing.”
That’s not the only difference displayed on A Good One is Hard to Find.
Although Show Your Teeth presented a band with incredible chemistry and a songwriter with an impressive facility for his craft, A Good One finds that same group exhibiting an exponential growth that seems unlikely in less than a year.
“We worked much better together,” Eagle says. “We’re very respectful to each other and if one of us has an opinion, we’d all better listen. It’s like a family. You’d better listen to each other and be able to punch each other and forgive each other. I guess that’s the difference. We’re better at the situation of recording and being together.”
Eagle’s rejuvenated mindset after a 2009 stint in Hawaii had a big impact on the songs on A Good One. A drunken evening with a friend led to a spontaneous decision to relocate to Hawaii, without even the semblance of a plan. The next day’s hangover drove Eagle to a coffee shop where another friend hipped him to the practice of woofing (worldwide opportunities for organic farmers) in Hawaii. He signed up with a raspberry farm and spent some quality time in paradise.
“These songs were hugely a reflection of my time in Hawaii,” Eagle notes. “Taking what I learned there and coming back and realizing, ‘Hey, this town I grew up in is not half bad.’ There’s a lot going on and I’m proud to be part of it. I just love this city, for many reasons. So the songs came easier, and I felt like I was a better writer. That’s all I did in Hawaii. I wrote, I farmed, I was in the ocean. Pretty simple life. I was working on myself. I wasn’t being a derelict, like I have been in the past.”
Eagle’s inspirations were markedly different for A Good One as well. Show Your Teeth’s songs documented a difficult post-break-up time for Eagle, while A Good One finds him in a significantly brighter state of mind.
“The last one was a lot more darkness, hugging a sad song, drinking too much and moaning over a woman that I shouldn’t have for so long,” Eagle says. “With the new record, I’m happier with who I am as a person. Hawaii taught me that. I’m capable of remembering who I once was and I learned to get back to that place. Essentially, I was being harsh to myself. Musicians like to go off the deep end. I’m much more content; I think we all are as a band. We bounce that positive energy off each other constantly.”
Show Your Teeth and A Good One share a soulful ’70s vibe simultaneously reminiscent of Folk/Rock’s heyday while remaining contemporary and relevant. The Harvest City’s shambling warmth could have been fashioned in a Southern California studio with Poco or James Taylor working down the hall, while Eagle’s raspy, engaging vocals could easily front one of today’s hottest Pop bands.
“We wanted to shoot for warmth with this new one,” Eagle says. “All I buy is vinyl, that’s all I listen to. I love when things pop out. Tommy and I were here at Northside Tavern to see (local Psych Pop trio) Buffalo Killers, and I said, ‘What do we have to do make this sound — and I hate to use the cliché, but — organic? How do we make it feel like us live?’
“He said, ‘We’ll need this much money and we need to buy this.’ So we bought a new analog condenser and I feel like it did wonders for us. We got this great new machine, Tommy’s learned so much since last year, the songs are so powerful and we believe in them so much. I’m really happy with this one.”
JOSH EAGLE & THE HARVEST CITY (josheaglemusic.com) performs Sunday at the Whispering Beard Music Festival in Friendship, Ind. Visit www.whisperingbeard.com for festival details.