Harry Nichols unveils his latest solo album, ‘Songs for the Rich and Beautiful'
For the past decade, Harry Nichols has been one of the most prolific members of the Ithaca music scene. A versatile singer and instrumentalist, Nichols has been a key member of several excellent bands – Noon Fifteen, The Funx, Julia Felice and the Whiskey Crisis, Baku – and also developed a one-man show built around his live looping and beatboxing. Most recently, he’s co-written a few songs with Ariel Arbisser, including her latest singles "Bloodshed" and “Rabbit Hole.”
Nichols also has released several solo projects, including two albums – 2012’s “Love en Route” and 2014’s “This Isn’t The Album You’re Looking For…” – and a few singles and EPs. And last week, he dropped his latest solo album, “Songs for the Rich and Beautiful.”
Friday, Nichols will play an album release show at Hopshire Farm and Brewery in Freeville. He’ll be joined by several of the contributors to the new album, including drummer Phil Shay, bassist Jeremy Betterley, guitarist Joe Massa, and keyboardist Samuel B. Lupowitz.
Nichols’ new album came out of a back-and-forth with Lupowitz, his bandmate in Noon Fifteen and the Whiskey Crisis. In the early days of the pandemic, when everything was shutting down, they each began listening to each other’s 2012 solo albums: Nichols to Lupowitz’s “Songs to Make You Wealthier and More Attractive,” and Lupowitz to Nichols’ “Love en Route.”
“Discussing those albums, Sam casually tossed out that we respond to each other’s old records by writing entirely new ones– each song reflecting on and inspired by the other’s 2012 album. Song for song responses,” Nichols writes in the liner notes to his new album. “What you need to understand about Sam and my relationship is that we are each other’s creative enablers. We both like to dream big, and rely on each other for encouragement, regardless of how outlandish or grandiose those dreams may be. Predictably, we found ourselves readily agreeing to the task of composing a brand new 10-track album.”
Lupowitz struck first, releasing “No Man is An Island” in September 2021. (Read an extensive Q&A with Sam here). Now Nichols has responded in kind, with “Songs for the Rich and Beautiful,” which he tracked at Sunwood Recording in Trumansburg.
“I waited for a while to get started on mine, I had a lot of a couple of other things I was working on at the time,” Nichols said in a recent interview. “And for a while there, I only thought I was just going to be making demos; I didn't have a ton of motivation to make a polished, new, full-length album. But as I started finishing the demos, and listening back to them, I felt like they were good quality and it was going to bother me that there were not nicer recordings of them. And so, right around the time that Sam was putting out his album, I was just starting to gear up with that and hit the studio for the first session or so at about that time.”
Nichols described the recording sessions as “a blast,” adding that “having done a lot of recording in the past, I now like feel like I had accumulated a bunch of knowledge about the process and a bunch of friends who are good at it. And now I could just pick and choose who I wanted where,” he said.
He enlisted Phil Shay (Noon Fifteen, Kitestring) and Dan Collins (Thru Spectrums) on drums, Jeremy Betterley (Kitestring, Viva Mayhem) on bass, Joe Massa (Noon Fifteen, Whiskey Crisis) for a guitar solo, and his wife, Katherina Nichols, to play some viola parts. Sunwood owner Chris Ploss, who mixed the album, added percussion, vocals, and piano, and Arbisser and Mandy Goldman (Noon Fifteen) contributed vocals as well.
“It was just like a real party of, you know, who do I want to play on this?” he said. “And I got to do it at Sunwood Recording, which has been my favorite spot to track big projects like that. It really was a delight – it was just me doing it all on my own terms, and yeah, it was a blast.”
Lupowitz noted that having to respond to “Love en Route” on a song-by-song basis helped to focus his album by setting some constraints. It was the same for Nichols, to an extent.
“At the start, I was certain that I set additional rules for myself that I slowly abandoned over the course of the project,” he said. “For instance, I really wanted there to be a clear musical element from each of Sam's songs that worked its way into my responses. And I did that on some songs. But by the end, I kind of just decided to more make them conceptual responses, at the very least.
“I did a lot of learning about what Sam's songs were about – we would text back and forth; I would ask him, ‘Hey, what was “Face to Face” about?’ And then often based on those stories, I would craft my own fiction or tell the story of something related in my life in some way, and so it did help to have that focus narrowed a little bit.”
Nichols is a master of many musical styles, which also came in handy. “I tried not worry so much about trying to create a certain sound,” he said. “I do so much writing for other groups, like for Noon Fifteen, and for my a capella group, The Funx, and those all have very specific sounds that I tried to create. For this one, it was fun to just worry about the concept, and let the sound be what the sound is. And for that reason, it's actually quite a patchwork of an album – there are a lot of different sounds on it, which I like about it. But it's also pretty weird.”
One prime example: “I Spent the Entire Pandemic Listening to Metal and Now I Don't Know Who I Am Anymore.”
“I played that song for my five-year-old daughter in the car. When it came on, it starts with a minute of incoherent noise. And she goes, ‘Dad, is this supposed to sound this way?’ Which is like, yeah, that's about what I expected from people about that one,” he said with a laugh.
Nichols, whose day job is teaching English to eighth graders at DeWitt Middle School, is looking forward to Friday’s release show.
“I'm not only playing these new songs live, I'm also playing songs that I released previously that have never had a live-band treatment to them, which is very exciting for me,” he said. “Between my last full-length album, which came out in 2014, and this new full-length one, I released a bunch of singles and EPs that I never played live. Maybe I would play a tune here and there solo acoustic, but never like a full band thing. So it’s really exciting for me to give life to not only these new songs that I'm putting out, but also a few of the older ones that never had that treatment before.”
If you go
Who: Harry Nichols
What: Album release show for “Songs for the Rich and Beautiful”
When: 6-8 p.m. Friday
Where: Hopshire Farm and Brewery, 1771 Dryden Road, Freeville, New York
Cost: free; donations welcome