Robert Harrison’s band Cotton Mather proved to be a 1990s indie-pop phenom, even catching the fancy of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher with the critically acclaimed album Kontiki. Their future looked promising.
But the follow-up release, The Big Picture, failed largely because of some unfortunate timing — the record label’s owner was a New York lawyer who became immersed in post-9/11 lawsuits, and the album died on the vine with no support. Cotton Mather disbanded a couple of years later, and Harrison took a few years off to decompress, raise a family and buy a house in the rural outskirts of Austin, Texas.
Amid the peace and quiet, and during some personal rejuvenation, Harrison took up the ukulele, and he used the unlikely instrument to write a double album for his new band, Future Clouds and Radar, which he will be promoting when he plays an acoustic solo show at The Rudyard Kipling this Friday.
The double album Future Clouds and Radar is a majestic pop creation that one reviewer likened to what might happen if Elvis Costello conducted the Beatles. The single “Build Havana” was just released, and the band has launched a Web site called Star Apple Kingdom (www.starapplekingdom.com) that will feature not only videos and exclusive live performances, but even an online variety show. LEO chatted with Harrison recently to talk about his new project.
LEO: In an iTunes-dominated world, why a double album?
Robert Harrison: Because I wrote one. That’s not meant to sound pretentious, it’s just what happened when I picked up the ukulele and created these songs. To make matters worse, everyone around me begged me not to put out a double album. That was like the red flag to the bull. It has made life more challenging from a business perspective; it’s harder to draw people to the idea of a new artist and ask them to listen to all that music. That’s not the way record companies do it, but that’s the way we decided to go.
LEO: I read that your hiatus had to do with a health issue related to a spine condition.
RH: Really, way too much has been made of that. The retreat from Cotton Mather had more to do with the mind and soul. I needed a change of scenery in every respect. It was really about experiencing a new vision and regeneration; I took an interesting journey and came back with Future Clouds and Radar.
LEO: What would you tell a Cotton Mather fan about Future Clouds and Radar?
RH: Well, that they should buy it. If they liked Cotton Mather, they would probably like this. But by the time The Big Picture came out, we were being perceived as a group with a retro sound, which I actually didn’t like. This follows the same artistic avenue but without the same perceptions. This is just a bit of a different trip.
LEO: At The Rud, you’ll be playing solo acoustic, yet the album is filled with all kinds of sounds and layers of instrumentation. How do you approach these songs in an acoustic setting?
RH: I wrote every song on an acoustic instrument, so it made sense at the time. I believe in the power of songs to be moving in a stripped-down form. If a song sounds really great in an elaborate rendering, it has to warrant it; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t have a strong core. My stuff tends to be a little dense, so the acoustic approach might be a kinder way to present Future Clouds and Radar.
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Future Clouds and Radar
w/ Paul Moeller (Digby) and Kirk Kiefer (Yardsale)
Friday, Nov. 23
The Rudyard Kipling
422 W. Oak St.
$5; 9 p.m.