Erin Hill is the exceptional harpist and singer who performed with Savoy on stage in May in Oslo and London. Find out how that collaboration came about, and listen to song samples of a-ha arrangements for the harp!
How did your live collaboration with Savoy come about?
I met Paul and Lauren through my friend Hogen, and we became friends. Then they came to see me play with my band Erin Hill & her Psychedelic Harp with The Space Rats; and after seeing several gigs, Paul asked me to play harp on some a-ha demos. And then, when they put the Magne F/Savoy/Morten/a-ha tour together, Paul and Lauren asked me to come sing backup and play with them. And, of course, I was thrilled!
What other bands have you performed with?
I’ve played and sung with Kanye West (did Live Earth, MTV, etc., with him), Cyndi Lauper, Enya, Joan Osborne, The Smithereens (talk about rock and roll harp! I had blisters on my fingers after that gig), Marshall Crenshaw, Randy Newman, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm (of The Band), Martha Wainwright (I also played on her first album), John Flansburgh (of They Might Be Giants), Duncan Sheik, and with a Beatles band called The Fab Faux with Will Lee (the bass player on Letterman) and Jimmy Vivino (the guitarist on Conan) — I’m playing and singing with the Fab Faux at Radio City Music Hall in September.
I’m also in a kids band called The Dream Jam Band which just played Lollapalooza and is going to be on Sprout (PBS) September 26th. I play harp, bass, guitar, and keyboards, sing, and am a songwriter in that band.
And then I have my own band, Erin Hill & her Psychedelic Harp with the Space Rats, in which I sing psychedelic sci-fi harp songs (drums, bass, pedal steel and backup singer/cello). And what I mean by sci-fi is that my lyrics are sci-fi, and the music is… well, let me just say that Paul told me he thinks a-ha fans would also like my music, which to me is the best compliment I could get! 🙂
Did you already know Savoy’s music before you began working with them? Or did you have to learn the songs from scratch?
I had heard the Songbook Vol. 1 CD and really loved it, but it’s very different being familiar with a song and then actually learning to play and sing it, figuring it out on the harp, working out an arrangement, and, of course, then memorizing it! So there was plenty of woodshedding to be done.
How much time did it take to prepare and practice with the material that was new to you?
Initially, I spent an hour or so with each song, listening on headphones to hear all the parts – listening on CD, not mp3s, which are such poor quality you can’t properly hear all the parts and the subtleties. So, first I’d figure out the chords and write a little chart, then experiment with possible harp parts. And then I’d write out all the words and make notes to myself about the harmonies. I tried not to memorize too much before I got together with Paul to solidify what parts I’d actually be doing. Then once we decided, I went about memorizing them. It also took some practice to be able to play and sing particular parts at the same time, since often the vocal and my harp part were doing completely different things, melodically and rhythmically.
Was any one song more difficult than others to play?
Hmmm.. I think the hardest part was in “Best Western Beauty” playing the synth part (which turned into a harp part) on the La-la-la section and then singing “The only thing I need to know about you…” over it. That was like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, except times ten!
Which was your favorite song to play?
Oh! That’s easy! Velvet.
What was the highlight of the concert series in May for you?
I’d have to say, the highlight was playing solo at the Royal Albert Hall. It seemed as if it had been built for me to play my harp in! It was also great standing offstage watching a-ha play together. It was quite exciting!
Your harp solo during the intermission at the concerts in May captivated the audience. How did this part of the program come about? Did you suggest it or was it proposed to you?
Oh! I would never have been so bold as to suggest it! I was knocked off my feet when they asked me to! I was literally walking on air! Okay, well, not literally 😉 So, it was actually Mags who came up with the idea. He thought it would be a great way to keep the crowd warmed up and in the mood, and be kind of mysterious and cool, and create the right amount of anticipation for a-ha coming on. Smart guy, that Mags!
It’s a bit of a-ha folklore that Paul has always wanted to add a harp to the band’s sound. Is there a chance you will contribute to the new a-ha album?
Yes, that folklore is true. And I honestly have no idea about the new album… But I would be ecstatically honored to get to contribute a little pop harp on there somewhere!
Speaking of albums, rumor has it you are putting out an a-ha cover album. Is this something you’ve wanted to do for a while, or is this a new idea?
I got the idea after getting such a great response from fans who saw the tour in Norway and the Royal Albert Hall. In fact, it actually may have been a fan who asked me if he could get a recording of some of the songs I did opening for a-ha, and I thought, “Oh, what a good idea; I should record these!”
And you’re taking suggestions from a-ha fans about which songs to include in your cover album? How can they reach you with their song requests?
Yes, I’m open to suggestions! People can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The thing to remember is: what I want to know are your very favorite a-ha songs. Don’t just vote for songs you think would be good on the harp because one of my specialties is doing arrangements of songs you would never imagine could be done on the harp! So, the question is more like: if you could take only 5 or 10 a-ha songs to a desert island, which songs would they be?
Those of you who were not at the concerts can now have a chance to hear what a-ha arrangements for the harp sound like; Erin was kind enough to record a song sample of an a-ha song she played for the audience at the concerts in May.
Major Earth Minor Sky