Ed Harcourt recorded his previous album, The Beautiful Lie, during his final days as a bachelor. Three years later, the British songwriter is a happy husband and proud father, two titles that have wielded considerable influence on his writing.
“Whenever I get free time at home, I immediately get on the piano or pick up the guitar,” Harcourt explains from England, several days before he’s scheduled to fly to Seattle to begin work on a new album. “It’s sort of a race against time. But I’m working every day, maniacally writing three or four songs a week. I’ll have to choose the right songs for the album later, which is a painful process. It keeps me awake at night.”
Harcourt is witty and happily self-deprecating as we talk. He raves about the Langley Sisters, a vocal trio that features his wife, Gita, and her two sisters. Our conversation then shifts to his old label, EMI, which released a greatest hits album in 2007 in order to satisfy his five-album contact. The concept sounds funny to Harcourt, who was 29 years old when the compilation hit U.K. shelves.
“It’s kind of weird doing ‘best of’ albums when you’ve only got four albums to choose from,” he points out, mentioning that he has since inked a new deal with Dovecote Records.
Harcourt is also keen to talk about Roxy, his newborn daughter. During Roxy’s initial stay in the hospital, her father stared into her incubator and became interested in the contraption’s design, which included ultraviolet lights and various tubes. Looking to write an appropriate song that didn’t stray into schmaltzy territory, Harcourt chose to focus on that strange shape.
“She looked really cute in the incubator,” he recalls, “and I thought she looked kind of like a caterpillar. A little witchetty grub or something. So I went home and wrote a song about it.”
“Caterpillar” is one of the brighter songs on Russian Roulette, a six-song EP that was released this summer as “a little stopgap between albums.” Although short in length, the disc touches upon all the elements that make Harcourt a compelling musician: the neo-torch song balladry, the sonic experimentation, the husky vocals, and the sheer amount of musical ground covered. No Harcourt album stays in one place for very long, a rule that apparently translates to his EPs as well.
As for Harcourt’s new album, exploration continues to be the name of the game. The Langley Sisters’ three-part harmonies will likely make a few appearances, as will a number of samples (including the chiming of Tibetan bells and the sound of guns being loaded) that are currently populating his homemade demos.
“I’ve been doing lots of writing using Logic,” he says, referring to Apple’s line of music production software. “I’ll loop samples and write a song around that, although I haven’t gone all hip-hop, if you know what I mean. It’s more about experimenting.”