It’s the dream of numerous bands and musicians: Load up the van, sell off all of unneeded possessions and travel the country playing music. It’s that initial lunge into the unknown, grueling world of music that can prove a band’s resilience and carve out its place in the world.
Many bands have done it, some succeeded, some disbanded because of it, but the bonds made with bandmates while touring is something greater perhaps. You could sense this close bond almost immediately as the Tennessee-based duo the Harmaleighs took the stage.
Comprised of lead vocalist and guitarist Haley Grant and Kaylee Jasperson on bass and backing vocals, the band took the stage at Muddy Creek Music Hall on July 15, with lead guitarist Myles Baker joining them. And while the usual setup was present — musicians on the stage, the bright lights, amps and instruments in hand — there was a certain connection between Grant and Jasperson that reaches beyond usual bandmates.
Touring to support their latest album Hiraeath, the duo were all smiles as they stood side by side, and as they plucked into their set a veil was lifted; a deep yearning, almost spiritual, took control, guiding the inspired melodies.
Grant’s voice contains and a striking dichotomy, one of gentle airiness, yet powerfully driven all at once. With a style similar to Gillian Welch and Mountain Man, the Harmaleighs’ neatly crafted songs lifted the room into a sphere of nearly hypnotic melodies, both soothing and inspiring. The rhythms were held down and led by Jasperson on bass, with Baker’s ambient guitar adding yet another layer to the simple songs that calls to mind the guitar work of Mark Knopfler.
But while the songs off Hiraeath are well crafted and remain on a familiar plane of folk and indie music, it was the group’s harmonies that were truly remarkable. Well rehearsed and flowing forth naturally, Grant and Jasperson’s voices blended together in melodies that commanded the crowd’s attention.
Between songs, Grant and Jasperson took turns telling stories from their traveling days, family life and charming stage banter. And what appeared to be two women playing simple songs for an excited crowd shifted into something a little deeper.
“In 2015, we decided to sell all of our possessions,” Jasperson told the crowd. “We were just in a rut, so to speak, and decided we would live out of the van and travel all around the country.”
The duo hit the road, playing dozens of shows across the United States. The experiences shared while living together in close quarters became the foundation on which the band was created.
“We were living the dream,” Grant said. “We were playing music, and traveling and it was wonderful for about six months. That’s when we sort of got burnt out and that lost feeling came back.”
It was about this time that they came across the Welsh word hiraeath, which translates to a longing for a home that doesn’t exist.
“It was a restlessness we both felt and we had to go and search for an answer,” Jasperson said.
Through the search, the duo entered into the difficult and trying moments of being a touring band. And after a few years, they have created an album that encapsulated the longing, though came to realize the grueling times of life on the road. With a music video to promote the album’s single “Birds of a Feather,” the duo has been on tour nearly non-stop, playing shows that span the country, from small house parties, to large festivals.
While the group’s dynamic is solid and familial, the music itself tends to fall short. Retracing the familiar territory of songwriting and the sound they have mastered, the only disappointing part of the show was the immediate recall of several other bands whose sound they derive from. While there is originality in both performance and song structure, there was something very affected in their setlist, something that made you feel like you’ve heard these songs many times before.
But while the Harmaleighs’ songs might touch on areas of music which have been well trekked before, it is the poetry of their lyrics that set them apart. With words like, “I scream your name, is this a game, loving me when you want to feel sane / Let me go, get off your throne, you only call me when you are alone,” the duo take popular themes such as love and relationships, yet turn them on their head, delivering them with a sweetness of voice that is enough to bring change and inspiration to any listener.