Roberta Carter-Harrison’s Got Your Back

GeL by Allan Davey
Image by Allan Davey

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut February 1, 2016

Since the late ’80s, high school sweethearts Roberta Carter-Harrison and Ken Harrison have been making beautiful noise as Wild Strawberries. After releasing nine albums with a revolving line up (which occasionally included multi-instrumentalist Ashwin Sood), touring all over the place (including three trips as part of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair) and becoming hit makers in Germany thanks to collaborations with ATB, the pair has again re-teamed with Sood to form GeL. An electro-pop collaboration that has been years in the planning, Carter-Harrison is excited to release some new songs into the world in the form of a five song EP.

“It’s been an adventure on the side from our Wild Strawberries stuff, it’s really just been fun to hang out as the three of us and put weird noises down,” she says over the phone from her home, a converted church in Southwestern Ontario. “I don’t find it super different than Wild Strawberries, less guitar, maybe a little more space for my voice, that sort of mid-range, there’s more programming for sure.”

The difference is subtle, sure, but it’s definitely a showcase for Carter-Harrison’s voice, which sounds bigger and poppier than the indie-electro-jazz-pop Wild Strawberries are known for. The other main difference may be that her husband usually handles the bulk of the writing, whereas this time around he was open to a little more collaboration.

“He doesn’t love ‘writing by committee,’ I know that’s a classic way with people down in Nashville throwing out ideas and lyrics and stuff,” the singer says. “For this he was more open to all of us contributing and just throwing stuff out there. Like with ‘I Got Your Back,’ sometimes I’ll just bring something like that in for a title and say ‘What do you think about that?’ and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I can totally run with that!'”

The title jumped out at Carter-Harrison while at a yoga class, and it positively perked her up.

“This one teacher just said, ‘Go for it, I got your back!’ I just thought it was a great line for a song, in that positive way, just that I’ll be there for ya. Especially since Ash and Ken and I are busy raising kids and that’s how you feel with the kids, I got your back. I’ll do whatever to help you through what you’re going through.”

Yes, the kids. Ken and Roberta have four, and Ash has two with ex-wife Sarah McLachlan. Carter-Harrison has no qualms about how the band handled things as the family grew.

“When we had one kid we kept touring, then we had the second kid and we tried but it got really tricky,” she says. “We really weren’t into nannies and stuff. So Ken, during the end of our Wild Strawberries touring days, he stayed home with our girls, and we hired an extra guitar player and I continued to tour, and that just wasn’t the same. Then we put out a record called Deformative Years in 2005, and we just started the press junket when I found out I was pregnant with twins. It was such a hard pregnancy we just had to cancel everything.”

She is quick to note that the family is healthy and happy (with their eldest off to university soon and the twins turning 10) and even pretty into music. So far, the kids are the only people who have heard GeL perform the songs from the self-titled EP.

“You can imagine the teenage girls are quite dismissive, but the 10-year-old boys are quite interested in what Mom and Dad do,” she says with a laugh. “They all love music, they all play. I’m not sure if any of them would pursue music as a career after hearing us mumble and grumble about the state of the music industry, but who knows.”

The music industry aside (the band had a home on Nettwerk for years, but now releases albums independently), it seems as though Roberta and her crew will be making music no matter what, and having the ability to record at home in a professional studio (built into their church/home in the early 2000s) is the key ingredient.

“Since the early days we’ve always wanted to have a studio at home,” she says. “Definitely the first album we did, we barely had enough money to record a night at some warehouse in Etobicoke, so we realized we had to start getting our own gear.”

That also meant learning the gear, which is a job Roberta is happy to hand over to her husband. “He loves it, he’s intrigued by it. He’s always just trying to learn new software and gear, he’s just a gear head, so I stay out of that.

“I’m still kind of old fashioned, I still have a CD player in my car. I like putting an album in and listening start to finish and listening repeatedly. I just find that there’s so much amazing music out there right now that I almost find it overwhelming. I have to pick an album and listen and if I love it, I’ll just listen to it over and over and over again.”

From the sounds of it, finding the time to collaborate, raise a family, record and have a life has never really been a problem for these musicians, because they believe in a balance between everything and stick to it.

“Obviously there’s up and downs, creatively and in our relationship like with anyone,” she says. “We did find that once we threw the pack of kids into the mess that you have way less time to get precious about stuff, right? We might have two or three hours to work here and there. I think we’re more precise about stuff. I’m probably a better singer than I was 30 years ago so that part is easier. But if something’s not working, we just walk away and go play with the kids. We used to fight in the studio, I won’t tell a lie, but it’s less now.”

Laughing it off, she also notes that after all this time, as musicians they might just be hitting their stride.

“I feel more confident, I think is one part of it. Maybe Ken, after all these years, knows exactly how he wants to record my voice.”

She also notes that Wild Strawberries are not done, and that a new record, the follow up to 2013’s tribute to Toronto Go Trains, Go Project, is on track for release.

“We’ll just keep slogging away because we don’t know what else to do,” she says. “Even if we can’t tour it we’re just gonna keep putting it out there.”

 

Visit gelmusic.com for more information.