As I descend the concrete staircase behind an American Family Insurance building in Lebanon, Ohio, sunny melodies and sweet harmonies dance around me, then float up toward the soft afternoon sky. With each step I take, the music gets louder and the air gets colder. Finally at the bottom, I pause with my hand resting on the icy door handle. The music stops, and I enter the basement.
On any given Sunday afternoon, the members of Cincinnati band Harbour can be found underground writing new songs, jamming out or just laughing and drinking a few beers. Today, they’re doing it all. Lead singer Ryan Green leans over to set down his Magic Hat beer, then turns to Harrison Miller on the drum set.
Miller taps the tempo with a ting ting ting ting on the ride cymbal, and Matt Starcher begins strumming a few chords on his white Fender. Then Green enters the mix with the first chorus of one of the group’s latest songs, ”Oh No!,” singing “See ya, I wouldn’t marry me either/She’d be perfectly fine on her own/Me on the other hand girl I need ya/Oh no.” Bassist Levi Snyder and guitarist Marshall Sallee jump in to complete Harbour’s five-piece sound.
As their name suggests, for the next three minutes, beachy grooves and warm tones fill the concrete basement. Harbour’s new album HEATWAVE, set to release Saturday, “is going to be like a soundtrack of summer,” Starcher says. “It’s something you’d listen to while driving… I could just envision being in a convertible, driving past a beach with all the people I care about the most.”
To celebrate HEATWAVE’s release, Harbour is hosting Sunfest, a music festival featuring seven other local bands at both Madison Theater and Madison Live in Covington, Ky. this Saturday. Performances from CLUBHOUSE, Northbound, Pluto Revolts and others will lead up to Harbour’s set, featuring all of the tracks on HEATWAVE, plus a few from their previous EPs.
As a last chord bounces off the blanket-covered walls, all five members critique each others' performances. For Harbour, writing music isn’t about individual egos. It’s about producing the best sound possible.
“Egos aside down here,” Green says. “If something doesn’t work, we don’t bullshit to each other. We really call it out and don’t waste time playing around with something that’s just not going to work.”
“We wouldn’t have gotten this far if we didn’t have this kind of system in place,” Miller adds.
After rehearsing their newest set list for an hour, the Harbour members file into their lounge area, a dark section of the concrete basement where blankets block out the lighting. They each take a seat on the two couches as if they sit in the same spots for every meeting. Green leans over and opens the mini fridge for another Magic Hat, and Snyder takes a large bite out of his Subway sandwich. They laugh and joke about how they’ve been “friends forever” — or at least since they were 10 years old, Miller says.
Something comforting and inclusive surrounds the group of 20-somethings as they joke around and tease each other. It’s as if they have been playing music with each other for longer than their time as Harbour tells.
With both Sunfest and HEATWAVE, Harbour’s sun-and-sand vision shines through. Green says he wishes the album could’ve been ready in early June, but trips to record in Nashville were sometimes difficult to fit into the musicians’ busy work schedules. Still, he has high hopes that the month of August will be enough summery time for fans to listen to HEATWAVE on repeat.
“When you first get a CD you kind of listen to it a bunch, and it’ll still be summer time while they’re doing that,” Green says. “So hopefully, the idea is that every time they put that CD in in December, it takes them back to warm weather and feeling good.”
HEATWAVE opens with Green’s 1975-equse vocals in “WAITTYN (Who Am I To Tell You No),” kicking the album off on level 10. The following tracks, “Get You High,” “Oh No!” and “Obvious” — which the band will release as singles before the album drops — will have fans singing along by the second chorus. Of the three poppy and adorable tracks, “Oh No!” especially will make you want to hug your significant other.
The first half of the album is driven more by melody than lyrics, with songs that have a bubblegum Pop feel, but HEATWAVE takes a turn with “Prolong.” Listeners get to see a more personal side of Green on the track, something that continues through the rest of the record. “It’s Gettin’ Better” has a distinctively folky vibe that sets it apart from the rest of the album, especially when guest Ian Metzger from Dear and the Headlights jumps in halfway through.
Because its vocal harmonies are so intricate, final track “Judy You Hung The Moon” will rarely, if ever, be played live, which is a shame, because it’s one of the album’s standouts. Green says The Beach Boys- and Johnny Cash-reminiscent track was written about his grandparents. Lines like, “And by my side, my little honey at the drive-in Friday night,” conjure images of ’50s summers full of cruise-ins and jukeboxes.
“I put the ‘my little honey’ part in there because for Christmas every year my grandpa signs my grandma’s presents with ‘M.L.H.,’ which stands for ‘my little honey,’ ” Green says.
Overall, HEATWAVE is a joy to listen to and defines Harbour’s warm, beach-ready sound, which the band has been working toward since its first album release in 2014. If you like bands like Bad Suns or The 1975, you’ll love HEATWAVE.
“This album was us finding our own sound,” drummer Miller says. “We’ve always had a sound that kind of binds us, but now it’s pretty defined.”
“Honestly it’s just the most proud we’ve been of any piece of music that we’ve ever put out,” Green says.
Before they were Harbour, Green, Miller and Snyder were in another local band named The Monument. After winning the Battle of the Bands competition in 2014 at local venue The Underground, the group changed its name to Harbour and added Starcher . Sallee joined the four-piece band a year later.
Since Harbour’s inception, the band has released a self-titled album, two singles and an EP, while performing more than 80 shows. Even though they haven’t been a band for very long, they have some memorable experiences in the books. Some of their favorites include performing at the 2014 Bunbury Music Festival and selling out Madison Live.
Green remembers Bunbury as a hot and sweaty, but ultimately enjoyable, experience.
“Dude, we had a crazy day,” he says. “We got there, there was this huge rainstorm, and we had to move all of our equipment under this tent, and then it flooded and all of our equipment was sitting in this giant puddle, and we were like… ”
“He says puddle, but it was like inches deep,” Starcher adds.
“Yeah, like, ‘Oh my god, are we even going to be able to play?' But everything worked fine,” Green says.
Last August, after building up a loyal fan base and reputation, Harbour sold out Madison Live, which holds about 350 people. Out of all their performances, it was its biggest yet.
“(The Madison Live) show was really (an attempt) to put on the best show we’ve ever put on, and I think for this show we tried to go well above and beyond whatever we’ve done in the past,” Starcher says in a promotional video on the band’s Facebook page. “We changed up our set quite a bit, had these new lights, had a new banner, and we wanted to see how well we could promote it and see how many people in our hometown would be involved in Harbour.”
At the Madison Live concert, the room was packed from front to back. Everyone jumped in unison to Harbour’s upbeat, feel-good music, and some fans even sang along. Green danced around on stage, interacting with fans and other band members like the energetic frontman he is. Miller, his long hair soaked with sweat, gave it his all behind the drum set. And Snyder, Sallee and Starcher played in sync with laser focus while having a blast performing in front of their largest crowd yet.
“Right before we went on stage (I was) so nervous — like ‘I’m gonna throw up’ nervous,” Starcher remembers.
“For me, it was literally just show time. Let’s freaking go. I’m ready. This is what we’ve been working for,” Snyder says.
Kimberlea Czulewicz, one of Harbour’s biggest fans, remembers that night clearly. Front and center, she even got to share a moment with Green while he was jumping around on stage.
“There was so much energy and the crowd was wild, and this moment I had with Ryan was a part of it, where he grabbed my hand on stage while singing “So Good” and it's just a show I won't ever forget,” Czulewicz says.
She started listening to Harbour over three and a half years ago, when they still called themselves The Monument. Since then, she’s followed the band faithfully through its stylistic changes and is excited to see what the band will do next.
“Their sound is just so unique to me,” says Czulewicz. “Their combination of guitar, Ryan's killer vocals, Harry's drumming is just out of this world, and their lyrics are just so relatable and just fun to listen to. Harbour is a group of just wonderful people who are so passionate about what they do, and they are the most respectful for their fans and I don't think I've ever really connected more with a band than I do with them.”
On March 30, Harbour had a chance to gain even more fans when it traveled to Minnesota to perform at another event that could possibly change their career for the better — a closed-door music festival hosted by the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) for college talent buyers.
Over 900 college freshmen gathered around the stage to watch Harbour perform fan-favorites like “Splendidly,” “Yachts & Canoes” and “It’s Gettin’ Better.” Although there were many different entertainment acts present at the NACA showcase, including dancers, magicians and comedians, Harbour was one of only three bands to perform that day.
“We were the first ones to go on, and it was just incredible,” Miller says. “Everyone rushed to the front of the stage when we started playing.”
“I asked everyone to come up and dance with us, and a whole bunch of kids ran to the front of the stage,” Green adds. “We weren’t expecting that at all.”
After the concert, Harbour participated in the more professional part of the festival, which NACA calls “Camp.” Each performer sets up a booth and waits for representatives from colleges around the area to walk by and book them for their schools. Harbour already has 17 offers and four shows booked for the rest of 2017 and into 2018. With shows booked for performance at colleges in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, Harbour is hoping to spread the word about its feel-good music and energetic stage presence.
“We talked to another band at the show, and they said after three years of doing (NACA shows), they only have had 25 offers total,” says Green. “So I guess with 17, we’re doing pretty alright.”
Although they won’t explicitly say it, the band members’ actions up until this point show that they all hope to make it big enough to support themselves as musicians. Besides, as Green says, they don’t know how to do anything else.
Sallee dropped out of college to fully commit to Harbour after he realized how much potential the band has. Green lays down hardwood floors for a living. Miller delivers pizza. Snyder renovates homes. Starcher works as a machinist. Each musician has sacrificed in order to put the band first.
“You can’t half-ass what we’re doing here,” Green says. “We have to put it first, otherwise we’re just not gonna get there.
“It’s either all in or not in at all. It’s a team effort,” Miller adds.
“It’s easier to do because you have four other guys that are on the same page with you. It’s not like you’re by yourself completely,” Sallee says.
Regardless of where they’ve been or where they’re going, all five members agree that 2017 will be Harbour’s biggest year yet. With the new release and Sunfest, plus the abundance of concerts to follow, they’re all hoping to break out from the underground and into the mainstream soon.
HARBOUR headlines Sunfest this Saturday at Madison Theater and Madison Live. Tickets/more info: madisontheateronline.com.