The Bradford’s Print Editor-in-Chief Zach Miller sat down with History teacher and music lover Ms. Kate Harrigan to talk about Harrigan’s favorite bands, listening to record players, the five-album test, and more. Here is their conversation.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Zach Miller: How long have you really liked music? When did you first start really liking it?
Kate Harrigan: I feel like I go back to when I was in junior high, and I worshipped my sister (which I guess I still do), who is five-and-a-half years older than I am. So, she was in high school and incredibly obsessed with various bands, and so I think I started to listen to things because of her. That’s what I think back to what music I started to put on.
ZM: What music was that?
KH: We’re talking INXS, U2, The Cure, a lot of mid to late eighties rock, sort of alternative. Then you could go into to pop stuff, like Wham! and George Michael, rest in peace. I would say that [my sister] sort of influenced the eighties rock [that I liked]. As I got a little older, I started listening to my own style a little bit, like Wilco–
ZM: I love Wilco!
KH: I’m going to their concert this summer; they do a weekend summer concert series; it’s in Western Mass. I think it’s called Solid Sound.
ZM: I have to go to that.
KH: They do it almost every year — they’re great. And they’ve been around for a long time, but they’ve managed to stay relevant.
ZM: Yeah, they’re awesome.
KH: To be honest I kind of jumped; that’s probably more like beginning of college or late high school.
ZM: Would you say alternative and classic rock are your two main genres?
KH: Yeah. I think that other people have influenced my music a lot. My sister, growing up, and then my husband plays music, and we’ve been together for quite a long time, and so he has definitely influenced me a lot more. Going a little further back, a lot of seventies rock became what we listened to as a couple, and then old country, like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. My son is Hank, inspired partly by Hank Williams. Then there is a whole Elvis piece too — old Elvis — like a lot of his gospel. It’s all over the place really. We went to Memphis this past summer; we took the kids. But I don’t like new country at all.
ZM: Neither do I, I hate country. Modern country is awful.
KH: It is; it’s pretty vacant in my opinion. It is sort of like a hole where things go to die. Don’t write that. Actually, you can write that. But old country and classic country stuff, Johnny Cash, I feel, inspired a whole generation or two of musicians.
ZM: What inspired your transition? Where did you move from the classic rock of your junior high, high school days, to then mostly alternative pop type stuff in college?
KH: Again, I think I’m a creature of who I surround myself by. I have never been the person who finds the next band or musician that I’m going to start listening to. I think I’m definitely a creature of being either friends with people who are heavily into music, which I kind of love. I’ve had a lot of very strong musically inclined people, whether they play instruments or seek out new music. Both my husband and my brother in law, they have record collections of like thousands of records. I’m constantly — sometimes annoyingly so — exposed to new music, and a lot of old stuff as well, that I never would have picked myself. In college I had friends with record players, which was not what most people had at that point in the mid-to-late nineties. I was listening to older music than I typically would have been if I hadn’t been connected with those types of individuals. I had a couple friends who were DJs who sampled a lot of stuff. Their collections became what we listened to. I often feel like I don’t have a great sense of what current music is playing, except for my kids who listen to Kiss 108, which I’ve been trying really hard to veer them away from.
ZM (laughing): That’s just a phase they’ll go through.
KH: I hope so! We try to expose them to a lot of other music without forcing it on them.
ZM: Is there anything new that you really like? Or is it mostly old stuff? Anything from the last 10-15 years?
KH: I feel like a lot of what I like has been around for a while. I’m still listening to bands that are still playing new music. Seriously, when I do think of what we listen to — and I always say we! Again, I don’t drive the music! — it’s stuff like David Bowie, who’d been around forever, but obviously has died.
ZM: Yeah, hard year.
KH: It was. Did you listen to his last album? Black Star? Which was right before he died? There was also a new album this year that was like four or five songs.
ZM: I haven’t listened to the newest one. Black Star, I might have listened to a song or two off of it.
KH: [Black Star] is hard because it’s all about death, and it’s all about him coming to terms with that. It’s not really a fun album to listen to, but I think I enjoy listening to musicians who have had so many different chapters in their life and are still kind of exploring their musical…
KH: Yeah! Again, I’m a sucker for U2. They’re not making great new music; they’re not pushing any kind of boundaries, but I enjoy their sound; I enjoy them. I think you become personally attached to people. I am sounding old in terms of new music.
ZM: No, it’s OK. That’s how some poeple are. My dad’s a huge music lover, and he doesn’t like anything new. At all. A lot of old rock bands are not really the same anymore. The ones from the eighties and nineties are not as good as they once were, but I don’t think there’s been a generation that’s stepped up to replace them in the same way that the nineties replaced the eighties for some people. I think a part of that is because of streaming; it’s hard to find a good full album anymore.
KH: I don’t think people even listen to albums!
ZM: Yeah, exactly. I think part of that is just because it’s hard to find a band who’s creating a full album and not just songs that will go up on the ‘Top 100’ boards.
KH: Do you listen to records? Do you actually put on a record?
ZM: Yeah, my sister and I bought my dad a record player about a year and a half ago, and he has a nice record collection — of about fifty. It’s not huge; he lost a lot of his old records, but he has about fifty really good ones.
KH: Nice! I do think that the process of listening to records — I guess it would be the same as listening to a CD — we don’t do that anymore as much as a culture, to just listen for 45 minutes and to just go through what the story of that album is.
ZM: You’ve mentioned a lot of individual bands and a lot of individual artists, but what are a few who have stood out as your favorites?
KH: Neil Young. Can I keep adding more?
ZM: Yeah, definitely. But you’ve mentioned a lot of artists — if you could narrow it down, who are the ones you always keep coming back to?
KH: I would say U2. I’ve seen them a bunch of times, and I will always find them to be just calming and fun to listen to. I think Johnny Cash for sure. I would say Neil Young. Again, I think when I am just listening on my own, I love listening to a lot of old-school stories. I’m thinking of Neil Young and Johnny Cash now. Their songs just tell simple stories, and I find both of them just entertaining. They can make me both kind of laugh because they don’t take themselves too seriously with their songs and they can also make me really….I don’t know; they can just kind of hit you and make you want to listen to that song three more times and listen to what story they’re telling at any given moment. I think their music aged with them in a lot of ways, and I think I really love seeing and/or appreciating when musicians talk about the things that are happening and/or they’re experiencing in their life as they play.
ZM: I like Johnny Cash a lot. [His song] “A boy named Sue” always made me laugh.
KH: Yeah! There are fun ones, but then you look at some of his later music, [like] “American Trilogy”…Some of his later albums, when he’s older, there’s a lot of heartbreak in them, but they’re just amazing. And some of his live albums, fantastic. He did a couple live concerts at Folsom [State Prison], and they’re just so much fun to listen to. They’re so engaging in how connected he was with the audience, and I love that.
ZM: I want to end on something I did with the two previous people I’ve interviewed for this series: it’s called the five-album test. Basically, say you’re stranded on a desert island and you have five albums to bring; what are those five albums?
KH: Alright, I’m just going to start and then eliminate because I’m going to get conflicted. Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. Do you know the Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Karen O? It’s more punk rock. But she’s incredibly fun. And she screams. Alot. So, I think if you’re deserted on a desert island you would want something that would allow you to scream. I would do the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I would do Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison. I’m also going to throw out the Beastie Boys because they’re awesome and they would wake me up and keep me going and angry, but they’re also totally fun. Seem I’m not doing an album. I know I’m breaking the code.
ZM: I’m going to push you to name an album from the Beastie Boys.
KH: Hm……It would have to be….
ZM: Their first one was Paul’s Boutique.
KH: Yeah, I guess sure, let’s say Paul’s Boutique. I mean that’s the one I feel like, in my high school years, we listened to all the time. U2, I would do The Joshua Tree. Do I have one more?
ZM: I think that might be five.
ZM: You said Ziggy Stardust, and also the punk rock band….
KH: Oh yes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But you see, I don’t know the album. Can I come back to you on that? Or is that like it has to be in my head right now?
ZM: It doesn’t have to be in your head right now.
KH: I’m going to come back to on that one.
ZM: Yeah, OK.
KH: So, Ziggy Stardust, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Paul’s Boutique, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, and U2.
ZM (going on the internet): Let’s just look up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
KH: Karen O is fantastic; she might have gone solo now. I saw her a couple years ago.
ZM: Ok, let’s see. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, albums: Fever to Tell is the most popular one.
KH: Fever to Tell.
ZM: Fever to Tell is the one?
ZM: And then U2?
KH: I feel like Joshua Tree is sort of the lame one to put out. It’s interesting, if you listen to Songs of Innocence…
ZM: The newest one?
ZM: I actually made a point of not listening to it.
ZM: Because on iTunes, they kept trying to shove it in my library…
KH: Oh, because they gave it away.
ZM: Yeah, they gave it away for free, and iTunes kept putting it in my library and playing it on my phone whenever I plugged my phone in, so it really bothered me, and I ended up never listening to it just to make a point.
KH (laughing): Yeah, I’m going to go with The Joshua Tree and just be a sucker for old U2.
One thought on “Talking Tunes: Kate Harrigan”
Phenomenal Interview work Zach! You have a bright future ahead of you! Keep on pushing the boundaries of journalism!