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Sarah Harmer - photo by Dustin Rabin

A Conversation with Sarah Harmer

Puremusic: Hey, Sarah. How are you?

Sarah Harmer: I'm good, thanks. Just finally got through Customs and made it into your fine country.

PM: Ah. So you've been home for some days?

SH: Yeah, we had about a week off.

PM: Is it hard to get back out?

SH: Not really. We're on the same bus, and we just were out for three weeks, so it's nice--I have such a great band, and everybody is on such good terms, and it's great to see everybody again. And we're back in the saddle. This is really the first touring that I've done in a bus. It's just because it's a six piece, and we want to--I just toured for so long in a van and a trailer.

PM: Yeah, I remember crossing Canada in a bus one time. I was guitar tech-ing for a buddy of mine [Kenny Vaughan, now with Marty Stuart] who was playing with the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and that was a beautiful six weeks. Canada is so amazing in a tour bus.

SH: There are longer and more stretches in between cities than in the States, that's for sure. Fewer billboards, I guess, up there.

PM: [laughs] Where are you tonight?

SH: We're playing Ann Arbor tonight.

PM: So you've been in a band with your sister, Mary, and you sing with your dad on this new record. I think being close to one's family is such a blessing. Would you tell us something about yours, and growing up on the farm where some of them still live?

SH: Yeah, my mom and dad still live on the farm. I'm the youngest of six, so I felt pretty lucky as a kid, just because I had so many older sisters and an older brother who were kind of looking out for me. And being the youngest, after they all went off and did stuff, I did get to spend a lot of time on my own, even though we have a big family. I spent a lot of time outside. I had some chickens, lots of cats, it was a beautiful place to grow up.

PM: Wow. How many boys were in the six?

SH: One.

PM: Oh, wow.

SH: [laughs] I don't think he's too scarred by it. I think he's okay. All the girls are kind of tomboys. My brother is the second oldest, and he's ten years older than me, so he went to school--he didn't live at home for some time as well. But it's great, because now everybody lives pretty much in Toronto. It's crazy, my family used to be a lot more dispersed, west coast, and my sisters used to live in England. But now everyone pretty much has come back and lives in and around Toronto. So we see each other all the time. My parents' farm is still weekend headquarters. And yeah, I mean, lots of music. We were made to go to church every Sunday, and we had the Harmer pew, pretty much.

PM: Oh, really?

SH: Yeah, well, just the one you always go to. We would take up a lot of space. And so, lots of singing. And my sisters--not everybody likes to sing, but probably half of us do, Mary and Barb, and my brother likes to sing. And he plays guitar, too.

PM: What about your dad? Was he a musician, or I see him singing with you here. Is he a player as well?

SH: No, he's not. His dad, my grandfather, played violin in a string quartet. But my dad is a farmer, and only sang kind of in the last--he doesn't go to church anymore, but he sang in the church choir. But no, typically, he was just a fan of music, and has a beautiful voice, loves to sing, but is also quite shy, so he never really did anything too much. Occasionally he would do something in church, a solo or something, like very rarely he would do a part, because there was only about two men in the church choir.


SH: It was a small church. But no, he sings on this album, and he also sings on a duet where you can actually really hear his voice, because I kind of mixed him, I think, a bit low in the two songs on the album. But he's on--we covered "Spanish Eyes."

PM: Ah, yeah. It's lovely, too.

SH: Oh, good. You've heard it.

PM: Yes.

SH: I'm glad. Yeah, good. Because that's where you can hear him sing.

PM: It's really very good. So it had to be kind of a kick for him, I mean, getting into the studio with his famous daughter and all that, right?

SH: Yeah. It was a kick. We poured him a nice bracer, because he was a little bit nervous. But he had a great time.

PM: Wow. What kind of a girl were you in school?

SH: I was probably one that thought it was a handicap to be a girl.

PM: Ah.

SH: I've since come to my senses and realized kind of--

PM: Good for you.

SH: Yeah. I think I wasn't quite as tough as a couple of my older sisters. They were kind of the toughies. But I don't know, I think I liked--I was doing school musicals, and I did like to--I was in the choir for a while. I was athletic until I started to smoke, it would be grade ten, and then that all went out the window.

By the time I was sixteen, my older sister Mary took me to see the Tragically Hip. And they were just--I mean, they were still playing to five people in tiny little cottage towns around southern Ontario, and putting on sweat-soaked amazing shows. They were just writing their own songs, but they were also covering Van Morrison and, like, Chuck Berry, and songs I didn't know. They really were my introduction to rock 'n' roll up close. And so that had a big influence on me one summer, going to see them play in all these little dives, because Mary was friends with them. That was kind of a turning point where I started to, as you do when you're a teenager, you kind of start to be a bit more of an individual and a bit more of a renegade, or whatever.

PM: Hopefully.

SH: Yeah, hopefully. I started to play guitar, and really get into music more, live music, and stuff like that.    continue

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