Before Ben Harrison became curator of performing arts and public programs at The Andy Warhol Museum, he played guitar in an indie-rock band. Like many local groups, Tourister performed in Pittsburgh regularly and released a single. But members moved on, and Harrison got busy with family and, of course, commissioned projects like 13 Most Beautiful … Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests with Dean and Britta, and landmark performances by Television and Neutral Milk Hotel.
But the allure of playing music never disappeared. “I’ve always wanted to make a real, studio-quality record,” Harrison says. “Not necessarily be in the studio. But I’ve made a lot of bedroom recordings, lo-fi kind of DIY recordings back in the Tourister days, in 1999 or 2000.”
- Abby Warhola
- “Why not try to let people hear it?”: Ben Harrison
Three years ago, he met Jeff Baron, who had played in the bands Essex Green and Ladybug Transistor in New York before returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh. They began rehearsing some of Harrison’s songs. Baron soon convinced him to record, and they enlisted Ladybug Transistor frontman Gary Olson to turn the knobs. Harrison knew where he wanted to record — in the wilderness. To be specific, “a lovely, majestic cabin about a mile back in the woods, near Ligonier,” he says of the pop-up studio. “I had access to it so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to make a record here?’ It was a pretty inspiring place, with cathedral ceilings, wonderful rich, warm acoustics.”
Harrison convinced Tourister keyboardist Cindy Yogmas to fly in from California, joining him, Baron, bassist David Horn and drummer Sean Finn (of The Red Western) for a weekend session. Olson essentially packed up his Marlborough Farms studio and drove from Brooklyn. In three days, they banged out 10 songs. Harrison’s smooth baritone is boosted by Yogmas’ harmonies, while the chiming guitar riffs blend Baron’s approximation of ’70s-era Nashville twang with the composer’s love of New Zealand post-punk pop. Luna’s Dean Wareham, whom Harrison knew from 13 Most Beautiful, contributes a guitar solo, via transatlantic overdub.
Originally, the project was merely an entry on Harrison’s bucket list. “I anticipated it would go into the personal archives,” he says. “My only expectation was to make the record and have that experience. [But] once we made it, everyone felt so good about it — the experience and the results — that we thought, ‘Why not try to let people hear it in some capacity?’”
The project, now known as Stutter Steps, found a home with Pittsburgh-based label Wild Kindness. To mark its release, Yogmas will again return home to perform. Baron now lives in Vermont, so Phil Jacoby (of Sleep Experiments) will add guitar textures.
While he’s not ready to quit his day job and hit the road, Harrison foresees more music. “I don’t necessarily want to think of it as a one-and-done,” he says. “I’m still actively writing, and we probably have another EP’s worth of material.”