Anne Harris of Halo Rider speaks to WOUB Culture ahead of 31st River City Blues Festival

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WOUB) – Halo Rider is one of the acts slated to perform at the 31st annual River City Blues Festival this weekend in Marietta at the Lafayette Hotel (101 Front Street).

WOUB Culture spoke to one half of the musical duo, classically trained violinist and Yellow Springs, OH native Anne Harris. Find a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity, below.  

A promotional image of the band Halo Rider. Members Anne Harris and Markus James are pictured against a white background.
Halo Rider: Anne Harris (left) and Markus James (right). []
Emily Votaw: How would you describe Halo Rider’s music, in one sentence? 

Anne Harris: Well, let me think about this for one second. I want to get it right. It’s so hard when you self-describe things. We’re like blues-infused, American music with folk leanings, and we also venture, kind of, into a sort of psychedelic journey sometimes too. So I guess we’re a blues-infused American roots band – I guess that would be my succinct way of describing it, because we do have a lot of influences and I hate to discount any. Blues is kind of our base, the well from which we draw, but we go on all these other little sonic journeys and American roots is the bigger umbrella that all of that would live under, folk and blues and rock music.

Among those many different influences, you mentioned psychedelic music. Could you talk about that a little bit more?

Anne Harris: Yeah, I would say that element is just like when we have sonic journeys into those genres of rock or into heavy blues when we take it and we kind of make it our own. And the violin isn’t traditionally really heard a whole lot in blues music, perhaps heard a little more in rock. But I think the element of my playing that instrument and it being really part of the bedrock of our sound, sort of takes the ear into a different sonic place. And when I refer to “psychedelic music,” it’s kind of a catchall term, meaning something that draws you down into a journey of sound that has unexpected twists and turns. So we’re not an acid rock band or anything. We’re definitely a blues American roots band, but we are not just that – we journey a little because within those genres, there’s lots space to explore, lots of places to go, and that’s where different genres blend and new things emerge.

You’re a classically trained violinist. Could you talk about using the violin in a context that is maybe kind of unusual?

Anne Harris: Yeah, for sure. It never was my intention when I started playing violin as a kid, I fell in love with the sound of the violin when I was three years old. It happened when my mom took my sister and I to see the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof, and I saw the opening with Isaac Stern silhouetted on a rooftop playing a violin, and I was entranced. My mom told me I stood up in the theater and I pointed to the screen and said, ‘mom, that’s what I want to do.’ And I didn’t stop bugging her about it until she and my dad finally were like, ‘okay, the kid is serious.’

It wasn’t just a passing thing. And I started studying with a private instructor when I was eight. And then I had a really supportive, amazing arts program through where I grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio. So I’m an Ohio native, and during that time arts were in schools. And it was like everyone got to pick an instrument to play. And even if you didn’t like it or you weren’t musically inclined, you had to try something. And so I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that I carry, is that I had a very supportive foundation for music and a very open one. So although I was studying classical music, I was listening to all kinds of different stuff on the radio and in my dad and mom’s record collection and in my older sister’s record collection. I think when you’re young, you don’t differentiate things and put them in categories and boxes in the same way as we get trained to do when we grow up.

Culture kind of tells us to box things in, but kids are really open. And I was listening to all kinds of stuff and I saw no problem being in love with Vivaldi and Parliament Funkadelic at the same time. And so I think the technique of classical training was really great for me because I got a foundation and a structure and a way to handle this instrument. But I also think I was equally informed by this foundation of musical exploration. So that’s kind of what has infused me to this day: having an open ear for how the sound of the instrument can fit into all these different sorts of contexts.

Could you talk more about the impact of growing up in Yellow Springs, from your perspective as a musician?  

Anne Harris: Yeah. I think that everybody is impacted by their childhoods wherever they were, however they were, the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. All of it is kind of how we first figure out how to look at the world. I’m so lucky that my hometown, the place I grew up, was sort of perfect for a weird little art kid. College towns all over the country are often these little hotbeds where people come to explore ideas and learn, and they tend to be more liberal and open.

I feel like my childhood was my greatest gift. I’m blessed that I’m able to tell my parents ‘thank you for raising us, me and my brother and sister, in such a great environment and in a place of great exploration artistically for me.’ And that’s the journey I started on and the journey of my life.

I know Halo Rider is just one of the projects that you do, and I’m curious from your point of view, what makes it unique in the context of all those other various projects?

Anne Harris: Halo Rider is unique because it involves Marcus James. I was a fan of his work for years before I ever actually met him. He’s just an incredible writer and producer, and I just always was a fan of the way he sees the world musically through the art he creates. I never imagined I would actually meet Marcus James when I was consuming his music as a fan.

But the music world is kind of small. And through touring and such our paths, they crossed and it was just such a great opportunity and I was so psyched that he was open to maybe working and experimenting on collaborating on some music together. And that collaboration grew into what is Halo Rider. We’ve been touring now for a couple of years and making music, and we’re releasing music now. We’re going to be releasing the full record later this year. And I think it’s just a really unique sound. I think that it’s got cinematic qualities to me, and it’s an honor to be in a collaborative partnership with someone that I admire and respect so much professionally, musically.

What is up next for Halo Rider? 

Anne Harris: So, we have a few singles, and many of them have videos that go with them. We started dropping those last fall. And we have more in the can. We’re working with all the material we have already recorded, which is probably about two records worth. We’re just sifting through and finding the gems and developing those ideas and producing these videos and getting the music out on social media platforms and streaming platforms. And the idea is that it will culminate in a full length release later this year. And we are in the midst of booking more dates and we just continue to innovate and create new ideas. So there are always things coming down the pipeline, but it’s a creatively fertile project, and we just cannot wait to share the music with live audiences because we love playing live and we’re really – judging by the response we’ve gotten just in the streaming world – we’re really doing well in that regard. So somebody is listening and appreciating what we do and we are so grateful for that.

I’m calling, of course, because as a part of the next several dates Halo Rider has coming up, there is one here in Marietta at the River City Blues Festival, which is organized by the Mid-Ohio Valley Blues Folk and Jazz Music Society, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote blues, jazz, and folk music. From your point of view, why is that mission so important? Why is it important to promote those genres of music?

Harris: Those genres of music are the people’s music. You feel roots music. Well, I mean, I guess you could say that of any genre, but with blues and with folk music, certainly with jazz, these music genres are traditional in that these are songs that get handed down. Oftentimes the original sources were never written down. It’s like these songs are handed from person to person and shared with people, and they’re meant to be enjoyed. I think although we can enjoy recordings of stuff, I feel like these are genres that are living music, if that makes sense, that half of the enjoyment of the music is the music, and then the other half is the performance of the music.

I think that, yeah, you can sit down and listen to a great blues record, and we’re going to mostly enjoy our music through recorded formats, but when there’s an opportunity to take in a genre that’s music of the people, folk or blues or jazz, and just sit down with that live and watch musicians make it and dance and meet your neighbor next to you, that’s having a good time.

There’s nothing like sharing the experience of live music and the dedication that the Blues Society has to upholding that and promoting that and creating a platform where people can come together physically to enjoy that vibration of sound and that exchange of musical ideas and the camaraderie of being among other people enjoying that art form. There’s just nothing like it. It’s invaluable. And we’re so grateful that there are similar organizations in so many cities and places throughout the country which work tirelessly at promoting events such as these because they’re going to bring you experiences that are literally once in a lifetime.