PLAYLIST: Harlem’s Michael Coomers Sets the Nine Years Between “Hippies” and “Oh Boy” to Music
Charting the vast distance from their Matador–released sophomore record to the present day, the Harlem co-songwriter gives us his soundtrack to the hiatus.
Hey, did you hear Harlem’s back? The Tucson–bred garage-rockers who gave us such jangly classics as “Gay Human Bones” and “Psychedelic Tits” at the turn of last decade are gearing up for the release of their third LP, Oh Boy, next month—their first since 2010’s Hippies. Because nine years is obviously a very long time to have not heard from someone (although Michael Coomers has kept busy with his Lace Curtains project, Curtis O’Mara with Grape St.), some insight into the band’s familiar-yet-tranquilized new release feels warranted. Rather than spying on Coomers’ Spotify profile, FLOOD opted to reach out to the co-songwriter to get a better idea of how his musical taste has evolved since Hippies—beyond what’s provided on Oh Boy’s ode to the healing powers of Lana and Beyoncé, that is.
It’s no easy task, though, working your way back from the last playlist you compiled to the one you were jamming on your brand new iPod Touch while KStew was cheating on Bob Pattinson like a dog. Often times it comes down to the odd associations between songs and the notable life experiences simultaneously playing out in the foreground.
“One of my favorite things about music is how you contextualize it into your own life,” Coomers explains. “It’s not the artist’s work at that point—it has been interwoven into your memories to the point that you can’t imagine someone else not seeing the same things when they hear it.” For me, “Beautiful and Very Smart” and “Friendly Ghost” are songs inextricably tied to staying up too late discovering bands on a now-defunct industry stepping stone called “music blogs.” For Coomers, I imagine they mean something totally different.
“I have an entire summer in my early twenties that is just Crazy Frog playing in the background constantly,” Coomers admits. “That said, as I was making this list I realized that I’m not sure if everything happened the way I remember it.” What follows is a playlist as chronologically organized as Coomers’ memory permits. Considering the brief-but-eventful near-decade he recaps below, we don’t fault him.
Lana Del Rey — “Blue Jeans” (2012)
Toward the end of Harlem I was burned out and disillusioned with everything. I remember everyone making a fuss about the dubious pedigree and sincerity of some new singer. I couldn’t understand what the drama was about because everyone I had met through “indie” music was fake as shit. Lana had better songs than anyone else, and that seemed like the realest thing to me.
After taking some time off to have a nervous breakdown (?), I started working on the first Lace Curtains record. I had a lot of the same influences from the Harlem records, but was starting to try to say something without screaming it. I wanted to tell someone that I loved them even if I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
Sharon Van Etten — “Your Love Is Killing Me” (2014)
I moved to San Francisco for a bit after finishing Garden of Joy. My friend Alexis ran a couple nights at Aunt Charlie’s. I was there basically every night with him and other friends. We were taking a lot of hallucinogens and I got to see a million great drag performers. There were really amazing people doing fun, exciting, new stuff, but sometimes a kinda classic torch song would hit the hardest. Alexis performed “Your Love Is Killing Me” one night and it struck me as modern and timeless.
Sly & the Family Stone — “Just Like a Baby” (1971)
I moved to Los Angeles to be with someone I was falling in love with. She has the best taste in music. She was really into ’70s funk. We’d hang out in her apartment listening to records and drinking wine every night.
The Manhattans — “There’s No Me Without You” (1973)
Pretty quickly we moved in together. She lived in a tiny studio in Koreatown, so we would go on day trips around LA and listen to the radio. LA has the best radio in the world. Most of the time we had LA’s party music station on, but that was remixes, and I wouldn’t know where to find them. I remember hearing The Manhattans on Art Laboe and it sounded like how I felt.
Grape St. — “Girlfriend” (2015)
Our apartment building got bed bugs and that started a stressful and hard time. My girlfriend took a job in Cape Cod for the winter and so we moved out of LA. I wasn’t sure where to go, but it was near Mardi Gras, so I got a sublet and moved to New Orleans. My sublet turned out to be a crazy scam where I was supposed to live in a shack with some old person. I met this couple for drinks one night and explained the situation and the girlfriend offered her apartment for as long as I needed it. We became friends and would go out together a lot. The boyfriend was a fan of Curtis’s solo project, Grape St., so I remember driving down the narrow roads, way too fast, blasting his music—and it sounded great.
I feel like there are time periods where music doesn’t play a big role in your life. After New Orleans, I moved to a farm in Florida. My girlfriend eventually came and joined me there. We found a kitten that had been abandoned by the mom and nursed it from the day it was born (his name is Miracle). All three of us drove cross-country to live in Arizona. This time period was intense and important, but I can’t think of any music again until recording the second Lace Curtains album—although I know I covered Aretha on tour, so I must have been listening to her. “Boardwalk” was a love song to Sly Stone.
It became pretty obvious I was gonna have to get a real job, because music was not making any money anymore. I started going to community college in Tucson. Going to school meant I could use the gym, so I started listening to music there a lot. I’ve always loved pop music, but I think the gym really shows you what is filler and what’s not.
I found a house for rent and bought a record player. I was living a pretty domestic life, going to school, and still with the same woman. I found these two records at a thrift store. We’d have dinner parties where the Jeanette record played all night.
The Zombies — “She’s Not There” (1965)
I went to Austin to make Oh Boy with Curtis in the spring. I had a record player and all my old records in storage there. It was fun to listen to all the stuff I hadn’t heard in years. I’ve owned the same Zombies record (a cheap Best Of) since I was thirteen. This song is how I got into songwriting. I’m still stealing ideas off of it this many years later.
We finished mixing the record in Joshua Tree. Afterwards, I was supposed to move to New York City with my girl to finish school. As sometimes happens, it didn’t work out that way. I ended up moving to New York alone. There are millions of songs for when you’re heartbroken. Lana is almost preternaturally gifted at saying something abstract but pointed enough that it feels like she is singing from your perspective. Music can be great like that. FL