Bon Harris from Nitzer Ebb
The current Corona pandemic situation has had a strong impact on our lives. But our favourite musicians and the whole showbiz industry were hardest hit by the Corona crisis. Postponed releases, cancelled and postponed tours, songs recorded and arranged in home office studios. As THE HUMAN LEAGUE confirmed on their 81 B-side song, these are ‘Hard Times’. Bon Harris from NITZER EBB told us about how a musician can work through all this and what he does with his suddenly arising free time.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: I was already looking forward to seeing you again with great pleasure when you announced the NITZER EBB concert dates for 2020 and then suddenly this crisis came and now we can only hope that we can meet in November. Provided that no large second wave of Covid-19 comes. What were your first reactions to the pandemic news?
Bon Harris [BH]: Honestly, my first reaction to the pandemic was a feeling of inevitability. Human overpopulation is a serious issue, and has been since the mid-1970s. The 21st century standard of cramming more and more people into smaller and smaller spaces always seemed to be unsustainable and I feared there would be a natural backlash at some point. Well - here we are. I also fear that it may just be the first of many instances of nature adapting to the conditions that the human race has created, adaptations which may well have adverse consequences for humans. This takes me back to my initial statement about human overpopulation. Nature often finds a way to self-correct and bring itself back into balance. We have to start respecting that.
RoD: Both you and your wife work as artists, and you haven’t been able to continue your work for months now. Will you reinforce each other in these difficult times? And do you have regular contact with your band and label colleagues? Can you even talk about future plans at the moment?
BH: Yes, my wife and I both work in the entertainment industry, which has been halted by the pandemic. We were initially on opposite sides of the USA when the lockdown happened - so the distance was hard and a bit scary at first. Now we are back together in LA. We are blessed with a lovely house, a beautiful garden and wonderful neighbours. We have all come together to help and support each other as much as we can. We stay creative during the days, and enjoy cooking and spending time together in the evenings. Basically making the best of what we have and aiming to stay positive. It’s not possible to talk about future plans for live music right now, so I continue to plan and use what resources I have available outside of live shows.
RoD: Dave from DEPECHE MODE talked online about the importance of saving the Indie-record shops, Vince and Andy from ERASURE have had a nice online chat in front of the internet viewers so that the fans could see that they are still alive and that they are also involved in music during these times. You recorded a mini concert in your garden in the shade of the lemon tree and performed a few cover songs live. How did you come up with this idea?
BH: The idea for the “Lemon Tree” mini concerts came from simple beginnings. I had resolved to get back to singing more in 2020. I started by posting small clips of me practicing singing whilst walking around my garden. It was in the height of the lockdown, so I wanted to sing songs that were light-hearted and optimistic - outdoors among the trees in the sunshine. Those little clips were received very well online. I had some requests to post full length songs, and some requests to do electronic versions. People seemed to be enjoying it, so I thought it would be nice to put together a small concert to entertain people locked down and, in the process, hopefully bring some cheer and hope during troubled times.
RoD: Two of those covers have also been recorded by your Mute label mates. ‘True Love Ways’ has been covered by ERASURE on their ‘Other People’s Songs’ album and ‘Compulsion’ has also been sung by Martin Gore on his first solo EP. Had you known these versions before? And what can you tell us about your versions? What personal stories are behind these covers?
BH: Of course I knew Martin’s version of ‘Compulsion’. I have loved the ‘Counterfeit EP’ since it came out, and have sung along privately for many years. I was not aware of ERASURE’s version of ‘True Love Ways’, but that makes sense, Andy has such a beautiful voice and it’s a lovely song. In putting together ‘Episode 01’ of songs: from the lemon tree, I wanted songs that had been influential in my life, songs that had stayed with me over the years. Also songs that were positive, uplifting or motivational in some way, and songs that did have some kind of resonance for the current times and trials that we are facing. I wanted people to be able to escape a little from their worries and troubles when they watch or listen to the concert.
RoD: The way you did those covers shows a bit of an unknown, rather feminine side of you, which I think is provocatively exciting. Weren’t you afraid that the old-school EBM fans can’t deal with what they hear and see from you? Your solo project with MAVEN sounded a bit harder than these “Lemon Tree” songs.
BH: I was not worried about anything other than creating honest, loving and respectful versions of those amazing songs when planning “Songs From The Lemon Tree”. The only guarantee that any of us can give to anything in life is that we will do our best, our very best - and do it with love and our best intentions. How those efforts are received and judged in the wider world is totally beyond our control - there is no point worrying about it. The only contract I need to make with myself as a creative person is to do my best, be proud of the work, and be sure that it fully represents my true self and what I want to express. The rest is out of my hands.
RoD: As mentioned before, you can currently plan only a few days, maximum weeks in advance. Anyway, could you please tell us about your next plans? And maybe a few words about the future of NITZER EBB?
BH: I plan to do a series of “Songs From The Lemon Tree” episodes. Episode 02 is currently in development. The aim is to do roughly one per month as that is how long it takes to rework the songs and gather the crew to shoot. Initially I will do more cover versions, but plan to do episodes with new original material and perhaps some guest performers in the future. As for NITZER EBB - the situation is always changing due to the pandemic. We continue to talk about plans in place and potential alternative plans. We have ideas that we are working on. Either we will be able to resume with rescheduled shows at some point, or we will create alternatives and announce accordingly. The current situation is forcing everyone to rethink and be creative, and we are working away on that currently.
RoD: Mr. Bon Harris, many thanks for the conversation!
All pictures by Marinella Len