A decade or so ago, Beck would every so often convene a bunch of musicians to cover one album in full in a single day. The so-called Beck’s Record Club tackled everyone from The Velvet Underground to Yanni during its short run, but it hasn’t been a thing for years.
A new project, though, brings the same spirit from different people. Three prominent experimental musicians who straddle the worlds of indie rock and jazz — Dawn Richards collaborator Spencer Zahn, Nicolas Jaar collaborator Dave Harrington, and Albert Hammond Jr collaborator Jeremy Gustin — have come together to cover an entire Harry Styles album, his recent Album-of-the-Year Grammy winner Harry’s House.
These thirteen songs, which they’ve dubbed A Visit to Harry’s House, sound very little like the originals. For one, they’re all instrumental tracks, drawing on the melodies and harmonies to take the songs into very new directions. It’s one of the most ambitious and interesting covers records of the year, and a terrific listen whether or not you have any context for the original material.
Stream it below, alongside a long but quite interesting note from Zahn about how the project came together.
On a warm Sunday night in August 2022 I was playing bass in the pit for Moulin Rouge on Broadway. After the show I got on the A train downtown and after one stop, the subway car that I was on flooded with a bunch of very excited young people dressed in 70s style clothing. The atmosphere was pure bliss. There was an unbelievable amount of love and camaraderie amongst all of these folks and as I turned down my headphones to eavesdrop on their conversations, I realized they were all coming from the Harry Styles concert at Madison Square Garden. They didn’t know each other before, but now they do. Harry had brought them all together.
In February of 2023 I was sitting alone in a cabin in upstate New York, fresh off the most intense heartbreak of my life. My friend Dave Harrington called out of the blue and booked a couple of gigs for our trio with Jeremy Gustin in Los Angeles. A great excuse to have a change of scenery, play music with friends, and make a record. When Dave texted the group thread about what we should record during our three day session, he prompted the idea that we cover someone’s album, making our own “Harrington, Gustin, & Zahn” version of their music. Jeremy Gustin, having never heard the record before, offered up “Harry’s House” and we all agreed it sounded like fun.
To be honest, I had only heard the singles from Harry’s “Album of the Year” winning record. I didn’t have a real connection with the music but I knew that Harry was really into Haruomi Hosono and his album “Hosono House”. Hosono’s music has been consistently on rotation for me for years so I felt that was at least an initial way to jump into Harry Styles’ record.
I told Dave and Jeremy that I would make charts for all the songs. I would learn all the harmony, melodies, song forms and teach them to the guys during the recording session. This was hardly homework for me–learning music is something I often do to get to know the music I love, so I dove in.
I was quickly struck by how interesting the harmony is across “Harry’s House”. Harry and the other writers are making subtle but deep choices to carry the listener through the songs. Sure there are endless pop hooks that I will probably have in my head for the rest of my life, but the harmony is where I got excited. I will spare you all the details and the finer points of using the IV chord as the I or resolving a ii- V progression to the relative minor, but I was converted into a big Harry fan quickly.
The song forms are clever, clear, and concise. The lyrics are personal, yet universal. Less diaristic and more encapsulating the feelings that we all have when we fall in love and when heartbreak hits. I suddenly felt like Harry knew my life and I knew his. My life was his muse and now his was becoming mine.
When we got into Dave’s studio in LA, we all agreed that a playful yet respectful, and creatively divergent take on this record was the only way to cover it. Jeremy didn’t want to learn any of the songs so that his drumming, tempos, and rhythmic feels didn’t lean too closely to the original. Dave, with a 6- month old baby, didn’t have time to learn the music and at least once was seen doing an overdub on the electric sitar while watching the baby monitor. So it fell to me to steer the ship close enough toward the north-star of “Harry’s House”.
After tracking for three days, we had finished the initial arrangements of all thirteen songs from the album. Though our versions are drastically different, strangely, the run time of our album is the same as Harry’s album. Dave and I got together to mix it in his studio in April 2023 and when sharing it with some close friends and collaborators, it was brought to our attention that we are approaching the year anniversary of the original release. So to celebrate, we would like to share with you, “A Visit to Harry’s House”.