An introduction for the uninitiated: Harriet Brown (née Aaron Valenzuela) is a Bay Area-born artist, songwriter, vocalist, instrumentalist and producer. A disciple of late ‘80s/early ‘90s soul, Brown’s idiosyncratic songs are revealed in supple vocals and lacerating lead guitar over spectral electronic orchestration and fabulously funky grooves.
Growing up in a devoutly Christian Filipino-American family in Fairfield, CA, Brown sang in church, studied piano, switched to guitar, played in bands and developed an affinity for jazz. As a teen, he would board the BART train to hang out in nearby Berkeley where he eventually enrolled to study architecture at the University of California.
Appropriating his artist name from the title of a song by the ‘80s band Opal, the concept of Harriet Brown came into focus and he became part of a vibrant scene in nearby Oakland. “My friend convinced me to do a show when I didn’t think I had anything to play,” Brown relates. “I kept performing at house shows and warehouses, often with punk bands, all part of the local lo-fi community. My friend Willie connected me with these guys who had started Feel so Real, a small label in Los Angeles, where I released my first EP, New Era. I came down and recorded with Alex Talan who was part of the band Rare Times. I liked the vibe. I was in school at Berkeley, but I decided to move down to Los Angeles with the lady, and met all of these musical artists and DJ’s who are part of a niche music community.”
Onstage with an electric guitar slung around his neck, the sleekly stylish Brown is surrounded by synths, drum machines and assorted hardware with no laptop in sight. “There are tons of artists who I love and respect who use laptops, but I think it helps that I don’t use a computer on stage,” he says. “I’m using all of these synths and drums machines, but I am programming them on the fly. It might seem impractical, but I need a tight rope for myself to walk when I’m playing, which keeps it more fun and exciting for me. I could have it really easy and not have to worry, but I think it helps that I’m doing this little dance––this tightrope walk––onstage.”
Paying homage to the Prince-era Minneapolis vibe, Brown reveals the influence of producers and songwriters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis whom he deems, “…my heroes. Obviously it’s their history, the fact that they could separate themselves from the pack and do their own thing over the years. I love all the work they’ve done with Janet, and the way they are able to evolve with the times. It always sounds like Jam and Lewis.”
Brown says that he continually contemplates song concepts. “It’s a list that is with me all of the time and is ongoing with ideas for themes, hooks, or subjects. I will set up my sequencer and make some loops. I have a cache of musical ideas as well, but I never let myself get in too deep; I just lay down the idea until it’s time to really write. But I have to completely finish a song, or realize it’s not going to work, before I move on to the next one. I don’t want to have hundreds of 50 or 60 percent finished ideas.”
From a tour bus rolling across North America, Harriet Brown notes that he has been on the road for almost two months, supporting the Classixx (also with Neon Indian on select dates) for the electronic duo’s Faraway Reach Tour. Now playing for national audiences and performing in successively larger venues, Brown creates remixes and adds his multi-octave voice to tracks for others, including “Eyes on Me” with his current tour mates.
He is looking forward to unpacking his road cases upon his return to L.A. “Home is where the lady and the studio are,” he confirms. And Brown gives props to a supportive collective of musicians, producers, artists and DJ's in the City of the Angels. “Doing music and hanging out with my buds,” he concludes, “I like to think we are all influencing each other.”
Find out more at harrietbrownmusic.com.