Checking In: Kana Harris Reveals Her Vulcan Side
Live wire wax healer wants to sell you a record for your health
By Raoul Hernandez,
10:10AM, Wed. Oct. 21, 2020
Before Xetas’ three tripwire LPs and now frontwoman Kana Harris’ musical apothacarium in Lockhart, Bluebonnet Records – but after the steely local used to sling wax at Waterloo Records – her trio Foreign Mothers turned Red River roost Beerland into its CBGB. Their 2012 LP Duh materialized here during C-19 cleaning and still analogs post-riot grrl punch.
Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?
Kana Harris: I’ve been living out in Lockhart for the past couple years with my partner Cody Kimbell (Super Thief, and more recently, he made all the beats for Mama Duke's upcoming album Ballsy) and Jana Horn. Jana had plans to move out in April to prepare for grad school, but once the news started spreading about COVID-19, she expedited her move to March and our current roommate moved in with us so we could all begin the initial quarantine period together. It made me sad because Jana was one of my favorite roommates ever and it felt weird to just say goodbye with no party or night out to commemorate it.
Our current roommate is Cody's bandmate from Super Thief, Jordan Emmert. Super Thief and Xetas have toured together and shared a drummer and practice space for a while, so we were already an extended family unit in a lot of ways, and used to operating in close and shared quarters. Some people close to our household contracted COVID pretty early on, and we’ve been taking all precautions very seriously so we don't have to feel that fear again.
AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?
KH: The months leading up to March were a very intense time for me: Xetas released our third and best LP in late January, did a run of Texas dates, and then our drummer quit three days into the tour. [Guitarist] David [Petro] spent a week scrambling to program a drum machine and we did our Florida/South tour dates in February as a cyborg duo. I found a replacement drummer and she stayed with me for a week in early March while we rehearsed and got to know each other, only for the entire tour to be cancelled after our second full-band practice.
After she left, we decided to close the store, Bluebonnet Records, on March 16, which was supposed to be the store’s 1-year anniversary party. Tours and album releases take months of planning and as a completely DIY and self-managed band, that meant that hundreds of hours of our personal, sacrificed time just completely went down the drain. The shop is my job and main source of income, but also my connection to Lockhart and the music community, and all of that was temporarily suspended.
I felt very discombobulated and regressed to a teenage state of moping around the house with my records and books. I felt like I was grounded on summer vacation. I feel like a part of me definitely died, but I also feel like a lost part of myself was reborn.
By being forced to be alone and face my innermost thoughts, I reclaimed a part of myself that I had been pushing aside for the sake of the band, or my job, or other bids for my time. Depression and chaos are old friends in my house, but I no longer fight with them. I just accommodate them until they decide to move on. When they arrived in late April through May, I was ready and armed with all my healthy coping mechanisms.
Another helpful element was that I had recently (around October) started quilting as a new hobby. So much of my life revolves around music, I thought I should develop a hobby that is outside of that world. The first couple months of the shutdown, I finished my second quilt top and some quilted pillows, as well as lots of face masks for family and friends.
The act of taking small scraps of fabric that seemingly have no value on their own and sewing them into something whole and lovingly crafted helped me process my grief about what was happening to all of us as a community and kept me from doom scrolling on Twitter all day. Quilting tutorial videos are also very soothing.
AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?
KH: While it's difficult and sad to not be able to convene at the church of music like we did in the past, I truly believe that music ALWAYS FINDS A WAY and that just because one thing ends, that never means music is over. This might be seen as a nihilistic answer in regards to the precarious situation of venues all over the country right now, and I do not mean it to be callous or rude to anyone’s hardships, but it’s part of the life cycle of scenes and generations for bands to end, venues to close, get knocked down, and rebuilt again. I think in recent decades, we have shifted our mindset from, “How do I keep this thing going and pass it on?” to “How can I profit or gain from this before it’s over?"
I see the knowledge gaps between the younger generations and older generations because we are so obsessed with instant gratification and less with continuing and passing along the great American tradition – one of the VERY FEW CULTURAL TRADITIONS that we can say is uniquely American and positive – of live music, touring, venue culture, rock & roll, etc. I am hoping this time of strife will give everyone renewed perspective on music as a cultural tradition and less as a commodity. Maybe that's hypocritical coming from someone who sells records for a living, but that's only about 25% of what I do on any given day.
The rest is community care, mental health support, customer service, archiving and research, artist A&R, procuring art and music as requested by my community, and so much more that falls under the umbrella of “record shop” that has nothing to do with monetary transactions. As long as the spirit to continue lives, we can rebuild. It may not look the same as before, but music will always exist. Maybe only in the margins at first, but that's part of the cycle too.
When I was a kid growing up in Austin, I would dream about moving to whatever place music was “happening,” only to realize I had the power to make my own scene here. In an abstract way, I think that same principle applies now. We might not be able to just walk up and enjoy. We may have to actively be a part of facilitating music in our local communities, rather than just being a consumer, but it will always live on as long as some weirdo kid is experimenting with sounds, or someone is putting on a performance for friends and family, wherever that may be.
As humans, we need music just like we need air and water and food. There will always be music happening in some capacity, just maybe not in the Western-framed, capitalist mindset that the mainstream music industry is today.
AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?
KH: I have a small record shop in Lockhart and we closed March 16. I let myself cry it out for about a month, and toward the end of April started picking myself up off the floor. It became obvious that “no one was coming to save us” as they say, and that I would have to make my own decisions and not rely on what others were doing or saying, so we started the Herculean task of listing our entire inventory online.
For those months, we operated as mail order or local delivery and pickup only. Despite being a millenial, I have always been a very analog person and having to restructure a decades-old tradition of how record stores operate was extremely difficult, coupled with the fact that there isn’t a retail inventory system readily available that can integrate all the needs of record stores. We spent about two months listing every item in the store online, and then used some local small business loans offered to businesses by the City of Lockhart to hire a friend whose bar had closed to revamp our website (she does freelance web design as well) while we shifted to curbside service.
I spent another two months developing protocols and getting all the appropriate signage and PPE for the shop, and visited other shops that were open with restrictions to see how other people were managing customer flow, etc. and developed a plan based on scientific information available to us and customer and community feedback. We are now open to the public Thu.-Sun. with a limit of two customers at a time, masks required, hand sanitizer provided. The great thing is that record store people are just happy to be able to browse again, and are more than willing to follow protocols so we can all get that much-needed feeling of community and escape from the outside world.
AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?
KH: Maybe I’m showing my Vulcan side, but I do not find it efficient to wallow in sadness or despair. No sad self-pity music for me. I've been listening to a lot of gospel and folk music, with some overlap there with early country.
Those genres tend to sing about difficult times and getting through them, while maintaining our humanity and love for each other, but also pointing out inequities and injustices. They also oftentimes focus on gratitude for what we DO have, and that is a very valuable message in these times. I have been leaning toward instrumental music, and I’ve had a few customers comment that they’ve been feeling the same way.
With so many opinions and the omnipresence of social media encouraging them, the last thing I want to hear is anyone’s opinion on ANYTHING while I’m trying to RELAX. And when all else fails, put on some funk and soul music and let yourself move to the beat. It’s harder for the sadness to catch you if you’re moving.
I truly believe that music is a form of spiritual medicine and there is a song for every ailment.
Check out the entire Checking In series.