Writing and recording comes easy for some. Iceland-born Hera Hjartardottir, for instance, already has half a dozen albums to her name at just 30. A decade younger, Jed Parsons hasn’t yet had time to be so prolific, but having teamed up to become Jed & Hera, has been set on the fast track. The pair self-released ‘Live At York St’ mid-May, talking to NZM’s Silke Hartung just ahead of the album’s official launch in Christchurch.
Before we start our interview Hera warns me that the copy of their debut album, ‘Live At York St’, that I was sent is only “…almost like” the one they eventually got printed.
“You’ve got a copy without the swear word!”
Awww, no swear word – hang on, swear word?! That’s surely the last thing you’d expect from the kind of music Christchurch-based mates Jed & Hera make, but do listen out for it – on the final track Issues. Who’da thought!
Christchurch collective Fledge used to be a bunch of creative people who would come together every once in a while to create music and art, Jed Parsons tells me. Jed’s rock band House Of Mountain was first part of one of those sessions about two years ago, as was Hera – who is by now one of the “head honchos” at Fledge, according to Jed.
“I can’t believe you just called me ‘honcho’,” exclaims Hera, bursting into laughter.
Although she has six solo albums under her belt, and has won numerous songwriting awards (mainly in her native Iceland) Hera Hjartardóttir might be best known to non-Cantabrians from regularly supporting American singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer on her NZ tours. Born in Iceland, she has lived here since she was 13.
Back with the Fledge story, House of Mountain soon became Hera’s backing band, touring with her around the South Island. One day the two happened to find themselves together on a couch before a gig at Fox Glacier, with a little time on their hands, and started writing a track.
“It was nearly too easy”, recalls Hera.
The resulting song was the one with the swear word mentioned above, Issues, that subsequently received NZ On Air Making Tracks funding for a video and recording, last October.
“Sometimes things just work.”
One song soon became three, and those quickly turned into an entire show worth of songs. ‘Street folk’, they call the genre and Jed says it quickly became clear that they musically compliment each other. He usually finds the lyric-writing with someone else a challenge, because it’s the personal part.
“A lot of people would find it hard to share writing lyrics for a song 50/50 with someone else, but they’ve come to us easily – that’s probably pretty unique.”
Soon enough Jed & Hera had a live set they were ready to record as an album. The 15-track result has nine songs written by Hera, two of Jed’s and four co-writes.
“For the recording we went up to Auckland’s York St Studios, set up in one room, and Hayden Taylor was our engineer. He mixed us and he was wonderful.”
Taylor is also credited with mastering of the live recording. The songs were mostly self-produced simply because they were recorded very true to the way Jed and Hera perform them live. I want to know more about how they recorded the album, the geeky stuff, but there was nothing to tell.
“We just played it,” laughs Hera. Hence the title, ‘Live At York St’.
“Yeah we literally just went there and played for 15 hours on the one day we were there. We smashed out 22 songs live, that we narrowed down to 14,” adds Jed. “That was an intense process, but that’s why it sounds so live and so raw. We didn’t want to go for an overly produced sound.”
As Hera explains another aim was to record in a way that captured the moment in time; the way they sound right now, with the set up they’re using. A little bit like the album was a first chapter of the story of Jed & Hera.
Unfortunately Jed was fighting off a cold.
“I thought I’d be fine, but for the first four songs , when I got in there to sing and the pressure was on, that was quite a challenge.
Ben Campbell (ex Atlas and Zed, currently Hera’s partner at Fledge and also Jed’s bandmate in House Of Mountain), who joined the band for the trip to Auckland, gave him some vocal exercises to help clear out his system. They ended up re-recording the first four songs again at the end of the day and all vocals , both Hera’s and Jed’s, sound extremely fine.
‘Live At York St’ is a charming album full of bitter sweet songs sung in beautiful harmonies that really does sound exactly like the band when they play live. A great chemistry is evident in the music as is when you hear them chatter and laugh in person. Probably a little too poppy and cute for student radio and too indie and live for the mainstream ones, Jed and Hera confirm the album wasn’t recorded with commercial and airplay success in mind, though already some of the songs have made it into tourism ads for Canterbury and Akaroa.
Begun as creative collective, Fledge has evolved into an agency that plans and administrates events, not just for musicians but across the broader creative industries. Events like last summer’s Art Beat where around 400 musicians performed between December and February at Christchurch’s Re-Start mall. Fledge also mentors and manages artists, operates as a production company and, according to Hera, tries to make creative things happen around town.
Jed describes Fledge as philanthropic and selfless, that Hera and Ben Campbell mostly organise events for the benefit of the artists and the Christchurch music scene, and out of the necessity for someone to organise something, without expecting the enormous profits we all know we can make with music in NZ.
Hera concludes that a lot of it is “… doing stuff because we love doing it.”