Who is Jaimee Harris?
Jaimee Harris is poised to become the next queen of Americana-Folk, a slightly edgier Emmylou Harris for the younger generation. Her soon-to-be-released debut album draws comparisons to Patty Griffin, Ryan Adams, and Kathleen Edwards – all writers who know how to craft a heartbreakingly beautiful song with just enough grit to keep you enthralled. Harris writes about the basic human experience, in a way that is simple, poetic, and often painfully relatable.
Harris isn’t afraid to get personal, but her vulnerability never veers into the self-indulgent. Each little confessional gem she puts out there is something the listener will connect to; these are things we’ve all felt, though many of us are less than likely to admit them. Harris’s songs have a depth to them, and her lyrics betray a wisdom beyond her years. “I write as a way of dealing with things,” she says. “There’s also a lot of acknowledging my own faults. These songs feel pretty vulnerable… to the point where I wonder if people are going to ask me ‘ Are you okay?’ But I really just hope they see a little bit of themselves in the songs and find something they can connect to.”
Jaimee grew up in Waco, Texas, a child to young parents, high school sweethearts. When she was five years old, her father noticed that she had taken an interest in music, and got her a guitar for Christmas. Soon after, she discovered Emmylou Harris and Fleetwood Mac, and before long, the kid was hooked. Harris’s father took her down to Austin for the first ever Austin City Limits Festival, and there she saw Emmylou, Buddy & Julie Miller, and Patty Griffin all perform live. Her father had only brought enough extra money to pay for a hotel in Austin that evening, but when he saw how much Jaimee wanted those CDs in the merch tent, he ponied up the cash and drove all the way back to Waco late that night.
Harris grew up, as kids do, and moved to Austin in 2009. She intended to throw herself into the local music scene, playing shows and singing songs late into the night at friend’s houses, but she fell into a hard-partying crowd, and soon enough, things started to fall apart. “After I got arrested for the second time, I knew I needed to get sober,” said Harris. “By that point, I knew I was really on my own… everyone close to me had stopped enabling me. I knew I had to get myself together in order to stand on my own feet.”
Once she was able to clean up her act, Harris says, everything just seemed easier. That’s when she began writing the songs that would make up her debut record, including “Snow White Knuckles” which chronicles her path to sobriety. It’s also when she started meeting the musicians who would soon join her live band, and the artists, including people like BettySoo and Jimmy LaFave, who would become her creative mentors. “I am especially impressed with some of the new songwriters that have hit town in the last few years, like my new favorite Jaimee Harris,” commented LaFave. And he’s not the only one who was impressed. Peter Blackstock of the Austin-American Statesman has called Harris “one of Austin’s most promising young singer-songwriters.” And all this before she even released her first record.
We’re so excited to have Jaimee Harris as our May 2018 Artist of the Month! Take a listen below and follow her on Facebook HERE, Twitter HERE, and Instagram HERE or visit her website HERE. You can also catch her at Rhapsody in Blue on May 10, opening for Shinyribs at Scoot Inn on May 12, at The Townsend on May 23, and at the Kerrville Folk Festival on May 26.
When did you start playing guitar? Did you always know you wanted to be a full-time musician?
I started playing guitar when I was five. When I was seven, I saw Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance and I knew I wanted to do THAT. Never looked back.
You’re originally from Waco, Texas but have called Austin home since 2009. What made you want to make the move?
I was considering moving to Lewisville, Texas to work in a shoe store. Instead, a friend spent two hours convincing me to move to Austin. His closing argument was “and there’s a place down the street where you can see James McMurtry twice a week!” I moved down four days later. At the time, I was singing background vocals for another artist who relocated to Austin from Nashville in August of 2009. We wanted to be closer to producer Brian Douglas Phillips. Most of my songwriting heroes live in Austin, or spent a considerable amount of time here. I wanted to be close to them, too.
Your song “Snow White Knuckles” chronicles your path to sobriety that happened after you moved to Austin. What helped get you through that experience?
My family, my faith, my friends, and the songs — it all saved me. When I got arrested the second time, I thought I would be in jail for a year. Instead, some friends bailed me out of jail. The first message I received that wasn’t related to that particular incident was from a songwriter I had recently met: BettySoo. I discovered BettySoo at an Antone’s benefit for Will Sexton. I didn’t know who Will Sexton was at the time, but I knew Jimmy LaFave and Patty Griffin were on the bill. I busked on the street for a couple of days to earn the money to get into the show. I immediately became a BettySoo fan. Betty and I didn’t officially meet until 2014 at The Cactus Cafe. Getting that message from Betty? It was a big deal to me. I figured I could stay sober long enough to open the show. I didn’t know how I was going to afford rent, probation fees, court fees, attorney fees, class fees, rehab fees, license fees, etc… I started hanging around Strange Brew. Betty and other musicians – Jeff Plankenhorn, Jon Greene, Seela, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Jon Dee Graham, BettySoo, Noelle Hampton – they all kind of took me under their wing. I found my voice after finally achieving some clarity in sobriety. Perspective. The Austin music community embraced me. People began to connect to the story I was telling. The songs I shared, birthed from personal experience, opened me to a world of kind people who were like me. On the surface, seemingly different. But we’d fought similar battles and suffered similar losses. Songs can break down the walls we put up around ourselves. When those walls are broken down, we have no choice but to acknowledge our common experience. I began feeling like the songs were helping others. That helped me. I want to be helpful. It’s a miracle I’m even alive today. I have no choice but to greet every day just grateful to be alive. Everything else in a bonus round. A second chance — no, more like a fifth chance — to really live. If sharing my story helps one person feel less alone in the world, I’m going to keep living. REALLY living.
What has been the biggest inspiration in your life and music?
Unhealthy romantic relationships. Haha – kidding (kind of). I find that I sometimes / often have difficulty expressing exactly what I want to say verbally. Writing helps me take power back in situations in which I may feel powerless. I’m able to release darkness within me and work through trauma by writing though it. I’m hoping in a way if I share my story — a native Texan, God-fearing, addict / alcoholic, criminal, depressed, anxious, complicated, queer, Woody Guthrie-loving, folk singer – maybe it will help others feel less alone. Just like all of those great songs and artists that help me feel less alone. Less insane. Like, I belong. I recently fell in love. So, right now, I’m writing a whole bunch of love songs. INSPIRED.
If you could collaborate or perform with any artist (dead or alive) who would it be?
Eliza Gilkyson. She’s my number one hero. I love her writing, guitar playing, and her background vocal skills. I’ve learned so much even by watching her sound check — I swear.
What is your favorite venue to play in Austin and why?
Can’t pick a favorite. Way too hard. This is Austin, for crying out loud.
What’s been your biggest musical accomplishment to date?
I am extremely proud of my team, for which I can not truly take credit. Every single person in the band and on my team does what he / she does with love. One of the benefits of taking so long to put out a record is I’ve really been able to build our team with people I trust. I can trust if any fan interacts with any member of our team, he / she will have a positive experience. The goal is to leave behind a trail of kindness. We want people to feel safe, accepted, and loved. It’s why we all do what we do. I had the incredible opportunity to hang out backstage at a Jason Isbell show recently. Deep cats in that crew. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to see an artist at that level run his business that way. It reinforced my belief that it can be done.
How did you get involved with Austin Music Foundation?
I was first made aware of AMF by my roommate / close friend Jane Ellen Bryant. I’m not very cool. If I know something cool, it’s likely because Jane Ellen Bryant or Lizzy Lehman told me about it.
What does it mean to be named AMF Artist of the Month?
I’m so grateful to be the AMF artist this month! I read every email you guys send, and I’m a fan of your work. I hope that I’m able to raise awareness about the great work you are doing in Austin. My consult with Einar helped relieve so much of my anxiety. I want all of my musician friends to know help is available to them with AMF. So many musicians in Austin are DIY. I wear many hats in my own career – singer, songwriter, BGVS singer, guitar player, driver, travel agent, administrative professional, booking agent, bookkeeper, web designer, social media manager, event planner…. you get the idea. It was so nice to have a fresh set of ears and eyes to help me work through my challenges. Perspective.
Now that the album is close to release, what’s next for you? Any big shows we can catch you at in the next few months?
We thought we would release the record in June, but there has been some industry interest. So, we have pushed the release date back. I really believe in this record and want to give these songs the best chance to take flight. So, I’m okay continuing to wait. I’d love to see y’all at a live show soon! Working on some new merch right now, y’all. Come check it out!
05/23: Austin, TX – The Townsend (10 PM) w/ Nichole Wagner & Ben de La Cour
05/26: Kerrville, TX – Kerrville Folk Festival
06/13: Austin, TX – Sun Radio’s Texas Radio Live at Guero’s
06/13: Austin, TX – House of Songs Presents: A Tribute to John Prine (Benefiting HAAM), Threadgill’s
06/14: Austin, TX – TOKEN TEXANS TOUR KICK OFF SHOW w/ Alice Spencer & Western Youth, Antone’s (9:30 PM)
07/05: Austin, TX – SAD GIRLS GO WEST TOUR KICK OFF SHOW w/ Bonnie Whitmore, The Continental Club Gallery (10:30 PM)
09/20: Austin, TX – One-2-One w/ The Flying A’s, The Traveling Ones, & The Watters
June 5th – 9th: SOUTHEASTERN TOUR w/ Grant Peeples
June 13th – 30th: Token Texans Tour w/ Graham Weber (US NE)
July 5th – 31st: Sad Girls Go West Tour w/ Bonnie Whitmore (US West Coast)