THE STREET IS THEIR STAGE
Harrod & Funck <-> mathEmatics <-> My New Zealand Experience <-> My Niece
Article: The Street Is Their Stage
Author: Scott Alarik, Globe Correspondent
Source: The Boston Globe
Date: June 7, 1998
Section: City Weekly
Jason Harrod and Brian Funck add a whole new dimension to the term "underground stars." The local acoustic duo, known as Harrod and Funck, are among the hottest acts on the local folk scene, handily selling out recent shows at Harvard Square's prestigious Club Passim. They have more than 4,000 names on their mailing list, two self-released CDs, and a third live-in-concert disc due this summer.
But Harrod and Funck have built their careers quite literally from the underground up; singing in subway stops on the Red Line, on bustling corners in Harvard Square and Faneuil Hall. Following a trail marked by street singing alum Tracy Chapman in the late '80s and Martin Sexton in the early '90s, they are turning our subways and streets into launching pads to stardom. Last Monday, the Red Auerbach statue in Quincy Market was attracting more attention than Harrod and Funck as they set up their tiny sound system under a dwindling Memorial Day sun. As children climbed on the old coach's knees and tourists took snapshots, Harrod, 26, ran off for bottled water, while Funck, 28, hunkered over his amplifier, tuning and plucking the ornate, open chords that make their sound so moody and alluring.
The moment they began to sing, however, people drew near, tossing dollars into their open guitar case and crouching to inspect their CDs and tapes. Tourists may think they are some sort of quaint Boston novelty, but fans of Boston's burgeoning young songwriter scene recognize at once that these are serious players. Before their fourth song, they had sold three CDs.
Around the kitchen table in Funck's modest Somerville apartment a few nights before, the two had compared the merits of the Faneuil Hall area and Harvard Square the way golf pros might discuss their favorite greens. Subway stops are mainly reserved for bad weather days, with Davis Square ranking best due to its boomy acoustics and lingering patrons. Park Street rated worst because, well, everyone is in such a hurry.
"The money is better at Faneuil Hall," said Funck, who seems more the businessman of the two. "When you're living on the margins, it's nice to know you have work. At Faneuil Hall, we're scheduled by the management; we get three spots a week. In Harvard Square, we never know if we're going to find a spot."
Harrod seems more the philosopher. He nodded while Funck spoke, then said, "But in Harvard Square, you get your bums and homeless people listening. A lot of times, we feel like we're making more of an impact on people's lives somehow."
"I agree," said Funck. "We also made more of an impact professionally. Our mailing list just ballooned in Harvard Square. At Faneuil Hall, people are not as accustomed to seeing street performers as part of the local music scene. In Harvard Square, we get more affirmation from the local people; they encourage us, ask where we're going to be playing next. And they come see us when we play the Nameless Coffeehouse or Club Passim. Our careers really started to grow there."
Harrod said, "It seemed like our songs mean more to people in Harvard Square. The things they say, they way they look at you. You can tell they're listening. That means a lot to me."
Funck grinned. "I remember a homeless guy doing a running somersault, and ending up sitting Indian-style right in front of our guitar case. I mean, he's the local color there, and he wanted us to be there. We felt like we really belonged."
The first thing most people notice about Harrod and Funck is their soft, pretty harmonies. The close meld of Funck's whispery baritone and Harrod's airy tenor immediately evoke memories of Simon and Garfunkel, which is no accident. Though they grew up miles apart -- Funck in Illinois, Harrod in North Carolina -- each recalls long hours spent alone, pulling apart the harmonies and singing along to Simon and Garfunkel records.
They met at Wheaton College in Illinois, and were campus coffeehouse favorites months after teaming up. Spurred on by Massachusetts songwriter Brooks Williams, for whom they opened a show, they went to Los Angeles to record a self-financed CD.
In 1993, they moved to Boston to pursue songwriting careers. They found the competitive local folk scene tough to crack, however. Before resorting to the streets, Funck spent a year teaching dyslexic students at the Landmark School in Manchester-by-the-Sea, while Harrod, who had dropped out of Wheaton, worked at local malls.
The songs they sing on the streets are nearly all original, with infectious folk-pop melodies supporting obscurely personal lyrics. What makes them so riveting to passersby, though, is their emotional eloquence. The lyrics describe intimate moments, with crucial details nearly always left out. What remains is the essential emotion or mood of the moment. It is not important why the lover left, but how that moment of parting felt.
"I hate music that's didactic, emotionally manipulative, that tells you how you're supposed to think and feel," Harrod said. "I think art is always more about what you don't say. If you just say in a song, `Oh, I`m so happy,' I mean, so what? But if you just describe a situation or a moment, then the audience is left to decide how that would make them feel. Then they're not just listening; they're experiencing it for themselves."
The streets have been hard but sage teachers for Harrod and Funck. What gets people's attention? What keeps them listening? What moves them? On every street and subway stop, they receive lessons that cannot be learned in the privacy of the recording studio or the distant glare of the concert stage, and they have poured them all into their increasingly sure and alluring songs.
After their live CD is released this summer, they plan to take a year, persue solo projects and reevaluate the tremendous commitment it takes to have a bona fide career in the fickle world of pop music. They have a way of glancing at one another before speaking that suggests some personal issues may also need ironing out. But when they discuss street performing, it is hard to believe the palpable passion they share for the life will not lead them back to Brattle Street on soft summer nights, Faneuil Hall on sunny afternoons, and, when the days turn cold, underground to the Red Line.
"When you're playing the streets, the best times all come in moments," said Harrod. "Like when you've got your first cup of coffee and you're just starting to warm up and sound good. You're singing with your buddy and people are starting to get into it, and that makes you get into it. I love those moments. You're giving yourself to people, and when they give you money, it's almost like you're getting yourself back."
Added Funck, "Sometimes people sign your mailing list and say you made their day or cheered them up or, best of all, that they'd heard you before and didn't have time to stop, and came back just to say thank you."
"I don't want to go on about the healing power of art, the transformative power of music or anything like that," Harrod said. "It sounds almost arrogant. I don't want to say, oh, we're healing people with our songs. But I know what a good song can do for me, and that's why I love playing the streets; giving a little of that back to people."
For more on Harrod and Funck, visit www.harrodandfunck.com or call 625-1712.
Harrod & Funck <-> mathEmatics <-> My New Zealand Experience <-> My Niece
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