Jason Anthony Harris (Public Speaking) has spent a majority of his adult life at the Museum of Modern Art where he was employed for 12 years. When the MoMA went under a major reconstruction a few years ago, Jason Harris watched this place he became so familiar with become disrupted and reassembled. It was this act of destruction and reconstruction that not only served as the musical sound bed in the field recordings Harris took on An Apple Lodged in My Back but also the main narrative thrust of the album considering gender, sexuality and identity as always in flux.
In conversation with Jason Harris he describes his relationship to the source material stating, “The extensive renovation and expansion of a building I know intimately made me think about how we destroy and regenerate ourselves. At such a prominent institution, only a small fraction of what they own can be displayed at any time. What do we show, and what do we hide? As we grow, do we have to be more open and share more of ourselves? Are we more exposed? I was thinking about identity and how malleable it can be. How much of what we think of as who we are is inextricably us? Crews would tear up layers of the building, smash walls, carve out floors, and load the debris into big metal bins that were wheeled away. What within ourselves can we truly get rid of, and if not entirely expunge, how can we transform it into something that serves us better? I’ve lived most of my life dealing with depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, childhood trauma, and suicidal thoughts. I spend so much time and energy trying to tame, soothe, and heal these parts of myself so I can be better to those around me – and so that I can survive. I am a construction site that is constantly in noisy flux.”
As the content of An Apple Lodged in My Back proceeds in this “noisy flux”, Harris also looks outside of himself to attempt to understand the state of change that our collective identity as a country is seething with. As Harris finds his own sexual and gender identity frequently used as currency for the latest cycle of reactionary moral panic, songs like “What a Proud Boy” and “My Enemy is Dead” resist the kind of guilt by implication and instead fearlessly examines the kind of bloodlust inherent in all of us that, when triggered and exploited, can solidify itself as a world view and identity. This kind of turning the lens back on the self sets these “political” songs apart from self-righteous excoriations that we now look back on and cringe. Harris states, “”My Enemy Is Dead” is about how fostering hate rots us from the inside out. I have a fiery hatred for the forty-fifth president, and I know that it mostly just harms me. What happens when the target of our hate dies though? Are we suddenly free of its heat? When a person dies, the memory and legacy of their actions still remains. And it lives on within us. We are tragically permeable beings with vault-like consciousnesses. I wonder how the Italians who beat the mangled corpses of Mussolini and his family in the Roman Square held those memories.”
Musically Harris is adept at uncovering and conveying those shadow parts of his psyche through Public Speaking’s deft arrangements that weaves his songwriting in with explicit avant-garde tendencies. Raster Norton influenced IDM percussive arrangements, samples from MoMA construction, free jazz saxophones, buzzing synthesizers and concussive blasts of noise all at the service of Harris’s songwriting and distinctive croon. Each element either hammering home the dire straits the subjects and objects that Harris’s songs find themselves in or serving as a counterweight’s juxtaposition.
As construction on the MOMA reveals the inner workings of a storied and conflicted institution, An Apple Lodged in My Back is similarly choosy about how much it reveals and how much it holds back. Bright blasts of jackhammers are done behind white flowing tarps while other times the interaction with the public is unavoidable. As a performer and songwriter Public Speaking has been walking this line since the project’s inception. What parts of ourselves are fixed and what does inner work actually mean when the processing tool of choice is public confession, public inquiry and public speaking?
Releases September 15, 2023
All music by Jason Anthony Harris
Mastered by Matt Ibarra
Johnny Butler: Saxophone on 2, 4, 9, 10
Zach Ryalls: Electric guitar on 3, 5, 11
Jonah Parzen-Johnson: Saxophone on 7
Lenna Pierce: Cello on 2