Big Harp's Chris Senseney talks Saddle Creek, pianos from the '70s


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The Los Angeles husband-and-wife pairing of Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney makes for a nice story. As their official bio puts it, in the span of three years, the pair "Met. Fell in love. Made a baby boy. Got married. Made a baby girl. Started a band." That band, Big Harp, released its debut LP, White Hat, on Saddle Creek last year, and it's a breath of fresh air for those a bit inured to the label's plaintive emotionalism. On White Hat, the band's sound is a time warp back to the '70s. Chris recently answered a few of our questions in advance of Big Harp's show at the Jackpot on Monday, March 19, opening for the Mynabirds.

The Pitch: Big Harp's sound certainly hearkens back to piano men of the '70s like Dr. John and Randy Newman, without being a throwback, retro thing. Where does the band's sound come from?

Senseney: Hard to say ... we both like a lot of different kinds of music. It’s interesting — people bring up all the old piano players, but there’s actually only piano on two of the songs. On our last tour, I brought a keyboard, but on this one, I’m just playing guitar. I don’t think our sound is really a settled thing — our new stuff is different than our old stuff, and even the songs off the last record sound different when we play them now. The next record is going to be a lot harder: more blues, less country, more rock and roll, less folk. It’s all the same anyways, ain’t it? Old whiskey, new bottle and everything. After that, who knows? I think our music’s just going to get messier and more disjointed until it collapses under its own weight and all that’s left is feedback and muttering. But that’s not for at least a couple more albums.

How does a band such as yours end up on Saddle Creek? It's certainly a switch-up from the label's more familiar acts like Cursive and Bright Eyes.

Well, we’ve known the folks at the label for a long time. Stef used to tour playing bass in Bright Eyes, and she was also in the Good Life with Tim from Cursive. I played guitar for a minute in one of Orenda Fink’s bands. We sent Saddle Creek the record after we made it, and they liked it, so here we are.

Is this Big Harp's first big tour?

Nope! We did a tour in October.

Do you bring piano with you, a la Ben Folds Five, or do you use keyboards?

No piano. If it doesn’t fit in our minivan, it ain’t coming.

Quite a few bands whose members are parents take their kids on tour — Mates of State, the Get Up Kids, just to name two. Both of your kids are toddler age or younger. Will they be coming on tour with you?

Yep. It’ll be me, Stef, our drummer John, our kids, and my mom all piled in the minivan.

What can you say about Big Harp, for those who might not have heard you?

Who hasn’t heard us? They been living under a rock or something? I’d say if you haven’t heard us, you’d be best served to stay pure and unsullied. But try it, maybe you’ll like it — there’s no accounting for taste. It’s the record we made back when we were grown-ups. We’re a lot younger now, so it’s hard to relate to it. I know somebody on the internet called us post-apocalyptic pop country, if that means anything to anybody. If anyone’s out there thinking, “Why isn’t anybody making music that’s a washed-out rehash of all the old crap I already like?” they’ll probably love it.


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