Graphic by Celeste McAtee

Music and Mayhem with Maddie

In this weekly column, our managing editor Maddie Walters talks to musicians about their craft.

Music and Mayhem with Maddie continues with Philadelphia’s Roger Harvey. Harvey’s first two albums, “Twelve Houses” and “Two Coyotes,” show his journey as an artist, working his way through the genres of punk, alt-rock and indie. In 2019, he found his niche in the sweet twang of folk and country music with the perfect marriage of the best aspects of each genre.

Since then, he has released 12 folk and country singles, tackling important political issues like immigration and non-violent drug offenses with concept songs such as “Two Coyotes” and “Last Prisoner.” What’s his inspiration for songs like this, you ask? Understanding. “Songs like these are important to me because I’m trying to make sense of life just like everybody else,” Harvey says, “Music to me is about togetherness; capturing a feeling, a moment in time &/or making our own sense out of life.”

One of his newest releases, “What a Weird Hill to Die On,” is from the perspective of a Capitol Insurrection participant’s progression from an idle supporter to partaking in the riot after the results of the 2020 election. The song ends with the rioter sitting in his federal jail cell with a refrain of the chorus, “Have you considered maybe you’ve been fooled by the people you swore were telling the truth, even though they’ve never done nothing for you.”

In the past, country and punk music have received a lot of backlash for their exclusivity, meaning you had to fit into extremely constrictive molds largely excluding women, POC and LGBTQ+ individuals. While the punk scene has made progress in regards to these issues, it seems like country music is still finding its way down this long road. Roger Harvey doesn’t deny the not-so-great aspects of the genre. “Country music as an industry has a racist & exclusive past that cannot be ignored or rewritten but there are so many of us, who have long been considered outsiders, that are participating & in turn building new communities that are more interesting, more inclusive & in my opinion better,” he says, “I’m honored to be connected to so many people who are sharing a different story to the one that the industry of country music has been selling & reselling for the past hundred years.”

One of Harvey’s first and biggest heroes is Woody Guthrie, who has inspired him time and time again. In fact, his newest record will consist of rewritten versions of traditional folk music with a large number of those songs being Woody Guthrie’s. During the recording of this album in Fort Worth, TX, Harvey made sure to visit the Woody Guthrie Center here in Tulsa. “I’ve always wanted to see the Archives & the Woody Guthrie Center. I was glad to see them carrying on the legacy of its namesake through community work in Tulsa to develop a space of inclusivity,” he says.

He even visited Guthrie’s hometown, Okemah, to pay respects to the late songwriter’s memorial in Highland Cemetery. “Okemah was a trip. The folks I met in town were happy to talk about Woody with me. I hope to have the opportunity to play the Woody Guthrie Festival someday there.” He also explored Pampa, where Guthrie lived and worked as a teenager before being displaced by the Dust Bowl. “ He credits this journey with connecting him even closer to Guthrie.

Upon returning to Texas, his friend Simon Flory talked about Harvey’s anomalous life, saying “You know Roger, most people don’t do this kinda thing with their lives.” Harvey takes this in his stride. “I’ve been out here for about 25 years chasing Woody Guthrie’s ghost.”

During those 25 years, Harvey has more-or-less stayed on the road touring the U.S. and even internationally. “Life on the road ain’t for everyone but for me it’s where I’ve always felt the most at home,” he says. Recently, he started a viral Twitter thread encouraging other musicians to share their wildest tour stories. When asked about this conversation and why so many unbelievable things happen to musicians, he says, “I always say that the more you look the more you’re bound to see. Something about the road either invites chaos or just makes it more visible.”

So what does music mean to Roger Harvey? It’s a chance to make a community. Though he grew up around the punk scene, he doesn’t limit himself to the title of “punk-rocker,” nor does he simply call himself a country singer because he’s from rural Pennsylvania and likes to sing about it. “I think the only thing I’ve ever truly related to is being an outsider but over the years I’ve met & built a network of so many beautiful outsiders I don’t know if I can even call myself an outsider anymore,” he says, “I guess, I’m an outsider but I’m not alone anymore.”

To him, music is love. He writes songs because he has a love for people. “[Music] has brought me together with so many people & I love that because being together with people gives me hope & there are so many more I’ve yet to meet,” he says candidly.

Since the pandemic started, DIY musicians like Harvey have taken a hit as they have been unable to go out on the road to perform and gain new listeners. Harvey voices the struggle, “For those of us that work in music, we’ve watched an already difficult industry turn into a nearly impossible one. As artists, we have had to adapt & diversify how we see & do the work.” As a way of funding his next full length album, Harvey started a Patreon called “Record Club” where supporters will receive 7” vinyls quarterly, digital downloads and a monthly review. Other ways of supporting musicians in this transition period is by buying advance tickets for concerts, purchasing merch online or at shows and simply sharing music on social media.

If you’re looking for a way to support musicians during this time, consider becoming a patreon to Roger Harvey’s “Record Club” on Patreon at the following link

Post Author: Madison Walters