Live at CMJ: Harlem Shakes

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photo by Doron Gild

review and interview by Sheryl Witlen
photos by Doron Gild

Straight off the release of their stellar five song EP Burning Birthdays, Harlem Shakes hit the scene with a spirit that is ready and willing. With positive reviews pouring in from every angel you might guess these kids would relax a little bit, but luck for us Lexy (vocals), Brent (drums and strings), Jose (bass, back up vocals), Todd (guitar) and Kendrick.

Sheryl: The Burning Birthdays EP was just released. It is FANTASTIC. The EP itself covers so many different genres, so i was wondering what the writing process behind such five different sounding songs came about?

After the set, the band talked to Sheryl about their music, tattoos and being viciously persued.

Lexy: They were kind of all written at once.

Brent: “Sickos” is the oldest song.

Lexy: The rest of them were written all within a couple months. There would be sort of this shell of a song and we would all get together and just sort of jam on it and the song would come together.

Todd: We had a bunch of songs, but the ones on the EP were the ones that came together quickly.

Sheryl: So it sounds like you all sit down and write together then?

Brent: We spend a lot of time fitting all of our parts together, making sure everything has it’s own little space.

Todd: Everybody has to sign off on everything.

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Sheryl: Are you all from New York originally?

Lexy: We are (points to Brent). You’re from that “swing state” (points to Kendrick).

Kendrick: Yeah, I’m from Ohio.

Todd: I am from Boston and our bass player Jose is from Connecticut.

Sheryl: Todd, you have a side project called Arms. Would you mind talking about that a little bit?

Todd: I just write songs and I don’t really have much of a band because I tend to play with The Harlem Shakes most of the time. I have a record coming out in the winter that has a band on it, but no shows planned or anything.

Sheryl: Where did the name Burning Birthdays come from?

Kendrick: It just kind of came up.

Todd: You (to Lexy) gave us a list of about 150 songs, and that was one of them.

Lexy: It’s one of those bizarre things that doesn’t seem to make an incredible amount of sense.

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Sheryl: Have you been viciously hunted by the record labels yet?

Todd: It’s been vicious.

Lexy: We’ve talked to a bunch, I’d say some of the less vicious ones are the ones we are leaning towards working with. But a little viciousness goes a long way.

Sheryl: And you are going back into the studio in the winter and then out on tour in spring?

Kendrick: We’ve already started, we have a little bit going, but I guess we will have the rest up within the next six months.

Sheryl: You all still have day jobs, correct?

Todd: Yeah.

Lexy: Kind of, some of US have day jobs.

Brent: Jose has a pretty steady day job and he (Kendrick) has a tattoo, can we talk about that?

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Sheryl: You guys can talk about whatever you want.

Lexy: Show her the tattoo!

Kendrick: It is for my fiancee, I just got engaged.

Sheryl: You have two shows coming up during CMJ, but are there any bands you are excited to check out in your free time?

Everyone: The Islands.

Brent: We played with them at Pop Montreal and they were just great live.

Lexy: I want to see the Fools Gold Record showcase.

Todd: Some hip hop music.

Kendrick: Vampire Weekend.

Todd: I’m going to see a guy named Deer Tick on Wednesday.

Sheryl: So it is interesting you mention Deer Tick and folk music because I feel like one of the songs you played earlier on the air was more of a stripped down, slower song with folk’eske elements, is this something you are looking into developing as part of the sound for the album?

Todd: The record will feature acoustic guitar.

Kendrick: I’d say there is a folky element to it instead of just traditional guitar. It is still upbeat, with some sort of African drum involved. We left our bongos at home today. All I can say about that is never again.

Sheryl: What about cowbell?

Everyone: Laughs.

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