Dance Through the Pain with How Sad

Harris Shper in How Sad at Pianos in NYC. Photo by Eric Weiner Harris Shper in How Sad at Pianos in NYC. Photo by Eric Weiner

Harris Shper is the mastermind behind upbeat synth project How Sad. The music made isn’t especially sad. It’s danceable, upbeat, cheery stuff, the kind of stuff that makes you want to put on your cutest outfit and throw your arms to the sky in wild, geek abandon. Shper took the time to talk to me about how his project got started and where it’s headed to next.

To begin, the band started about a year and a half ago as a bedroom project. Shper was tinkering around and ended up with the EP Indian Summer. “I’m playing all the different instruments and programming the drums and things,” he says. “It’s kind of like a solo project with extra members at a live show. I wrote the music as a bedroom project and get different people to play live.”

[bandcamp width=350 height=470 album=235102826 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false]

Shper enjoys the freedom of having a rotating cast of characters to play with. “The first tour we did, the band was comprised of my younger brother and old friends from growing up,” says Shper. “We played for half a year like that and went on tour. Then my bro moved away and my friend got busy, so I just asked people here and there to play the live shows.”

Shper even manages to do this when he’s out of Canada as well. “When we’re in NY, there’s someone who joins us and sings with us,” he says.

This flexibility allows How Sad to keep up an ambitious tour schedule. The band played a number of festivals in its short existence: NXNE, Sled Island, and Pop Montreal. They’re headed to SXSW after an upcoming show at Divan Orange at the end of the month.

I asked him what drives him to create How Sad’s particular sound. “I work as a music engineer and producer and I wanted to start a project where we could play parties and loft shows, and that’s how it started out, but it got to where we were playing regular venues too. The shows are energetic with a good, fun, party-time kind of vibe.”

The lyrics aren’t as light-hearted. “For some reason when I write, I write in an up-beat musical style,” he says, “But then I write kind of sad depressing lyrics. It’s fun because everyone is dancing and singing along with the songs, but the actual songs are on the more somber side when you listen to the lyrics. Those things interspersed together create fun. You can dance away the pain.”

Shper’s lyrics come from personal experiences and from the experiences of his friends. “They’re autobiographical,” he says. In particular, when the project got started, the first song he wrote was Bad Time. “I was having a bad time and wrote it in a couple of hours. I sat down and thought that this was a bad time right now, but I’m going to try and make some dancey, pop music.” Shper is a little bit ambiguous about the cause of his bad time. “It was probably relationship woes and stuff like that. Maybe it was coming out of winter. Winter in Montreal is always enough to make everyone have a bad time. A lot of music in Montreal is created in this space of desperation for the nice weather to come back around”

How Sad. Photo by Ted Greenberg.

How Sad. Photo by Ted Greenberg.

I asked Shper how writing music compares with his other life as a producer. He has been an engineer for 8 years in a studio, recording and writing music for different projects, including some jazz albums.

“I think that it’s all fun, both producing and writing,” he says. “It boils down to the people you are working with and the music you make. Working with good people is just as much fun as making my own music.”

How Sad has a full length album in the works. “The new one is in preproduction, but I’m going to include some people I play with. It’s a small knit community here. It’s so easy to ask people to play guitar or drums.”

As for the future, Shper is intent on finishing up the album and figuring out what to do with it when it’s ready. “There’s definitely more touring in the works,” he says. “The people I play with are into touring. We’re hoping to tour more in the States and overseas too. Hopefully people will enjoy it.”

How Sad and Seoul play at Divan Orange (4234 St. Laurent) on February 23. 9 p.m. $10.

About Rachel Levine

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