We were already hooked from the get go when she released “Miles Away” ; the multi-talented artist, entrepreneur, and activist named Harmo Draüs has taken a hold on our minds with music that is both ethereal, emotional, and fueled by trip-hop, shoegaze, and ambient rock influences. Filled with emotions and meaning, her music takes us both into her own inner world as well as into ours. She has agreed to unveil with us a day before the release the second single from her upcoming EP to be released in April ; get to listen to “IMH” – an acronym for “In My Head” – as well as its remixed version by Cate Hortl just below !
If you have already listened to “Miles Away”, you are likely expecting to hear a light, airy indie pop track ; set aside your expectations and prepare for an intimate journey with a haunting, almost hypnotic leitmotiv that will – ironically – stay in your head for some time.
“I live in my head on my own,
– Harmo Draüs – “IMH”
On “IMH” – an acronym for “in my head” in English – Harmo Draüs takes us on a journey into darker realms, where we are guided by vocals that recall alternative pop songs that keep redefining the boundaries of many musical genres. The drums and electronic soundscapes that play in the background and provide a framework for the vocals make us want to immediately replay the track – but that’s not counting on the genius of Cate Hortl, whose remix comes in just after and gives us an alternative version of a work that has already joined our playlists.
And as it’s not just her artistic universe that is full of meaning, we took advantage of this premiere to ask her a few questions.
1. Hello Harmo Draüs and thank you for agreeing to premiere your single with us! To start off and before we delve into the main subject at hand – namely your release as well as your related professional works – can you introduce yourself to those who may not know you yet?
Thank you! I’m Harmo Draüs, an artist, singer-songwriter, and producer. I’m releasing my first EP “Misfits” with this solo project on April 7th, 2023, on the microlabel I founded in 2019, Lilie’s Creatures, based in Normandy, France.
I work in rather alternative pop aesthetics with dreamgaze/dreampop, synthwave, and electro-psyche influences. It’s a mix of lo-fi atmospheric moods and darker electronic sounds, using synths, guitars, drum machines, percussion, and hazy or tormented vocals. I have also been part of David Shaw and the Beat project since 2020, which is led by my Mancunian friend David Shaw (on the Her Majesty’s Ship label), and I have been involved in music and performing arts production for a few years now.
2. You’ve released your first single, “Miles Away”, a few weeks ago, which has gotten a lot of attention in the press and even got you a few plays on radio stations here in France. How does it feel to suddenly be in the spotlight, especially for a first release especially after being mentored by MEWEM ?
It’s really great to officially release things and to have people be receptive and responsive. It’s the cherry on top! Of course, the support feels good ; it’s a reward for the work of many people. It’s just the beginning, and I always remain aware of the reality of this business ☺.
The songs have been around for a while, but I really took the time to mature and refine the project aesthetically and to work with people to give birth to these first tracks. It allowed me to regain confidence, particularly because, as a woman in the music industry (whether as an artist or on the industry side), we often suffer from imposter syndrome and illegitimacy, which can lead to burnout, isolation, and the belief that we’re not capable of doing things or doing them as well as our male counterparts. Then, we have to integrate ourselves into the boys’ clubs that have always run these circles, and that’s not always easy! That’s where MEWEM comes in, a mentoring program for women, trans, and non-binary individuals founded by FÉLIN a few years ago. In reality, MEWEM is not an artist development program. I find that more in Normandy, where I’m supported by music venues and the regional network NORMA. MEWEM is really a network of empowerment in chosen diversity that supports entrepreneurship in music. But with my role as an artist-entrepreneur (label/prod/manager), I participated in the program as a mentee in 2020. That’s where I met my mentor, Katel, from the feminist and queer-engaged label FRACA !!!, with whom I’ve been collaborating for 2 and a half years now. It was a great experience to share our journeys and exchange our emotions together as gender minorities in music.
3. “Miles Away” was much lighter and brighter, musically speaking, than “IMH”. How do you write your songs? What inspires this diversity in terms of musical styles in your songs?
It’s all about the concept of this EP, I believe, and my universe: duality. It actually corresponds a lot to my personality. A dark side, and a bright side. And I think we all have this in us, to varying degrees. It evolves over time. Indeed, “Miles Away” is a (partially) lighter song – the explosion at the end is definitely not. But I like to work on this dichotomy precisely, between a kind of happy melancholy and a maelstrom of more intense and dark feelings. When I compose, I often start from a feeling, an emotion that I have felt, that I want to transcribe or transcend, first in music by setting the tone, the mood, then in words. The EP “Misfits” was mainly written during a period of anxiety for me, but also very introspective, where I was a lot in projection, dreaming, disillusionment, so naturally there are more intense pieces like “IMH”. It started from a catchy riff and, from its demo version, with almost ritualistic and folkloric vocalizations that I first chanted automatically.
The diversity of influences is what feeds my musical culture, so I guess it does indeed transpire in my music, which is a kind of mix of everything I love. And then I didn’t always work alone on the productions of this EP – especially on “Miles Away” and “IMH”. I collaborated with several people with whom I have hooks and attachments, on this or that influence.
For example, I share with Valentin Barbier (Indigo Birds) and Arthur Huiban who intervened on “Miles Away” and “IMH” a more indie-pop culture, a taste for harmonies, sometimes similar arrangements. Whereas with Jérémy Trombetta, it is a common electro / electro-pop culture that brought us together. While with Louis Ramel (Hada) and Alexis Plateroti, we have common references in psychedelic rock and pop, post-punk, shoegaze, dreampop, and sound treatment (also their favorite domain).
4. Today we’re focusing on “IMH”: in the lyrics, we can hear you saying “I live in my head on my own, sometimes” repeatedly – can you, if it’s not too personal, tell us the story behind this song?
“IMH” is probably the most tortured track on the EP. I really wanted to talk about confinement, isolation, and alienation. It’s also a bit of the subject of “Miles Away” but in reverse because it presents itself more as a solution when “IMH” is a statement. In “Miles Away” we talk about escape, distance, forced exile, finding oneself and others. It’s no coincidence that it comes right after “IMH” in the EP’s tracklist!
“IMH” is the dark part, the starting point. I wanted to talk about this destabilizing feeling of feeling alone sometimes – deeply alone, in the sense of feeling trapped inside one’s own skull. I had this image one day (and maybe I’m quirky and so be it!) that in reality, we all spend our lives trapped inside our skull, a bit like in Pixar’s poetic animated film Inside Out (not really a reference for me because there’s too much “good feelings” in it, but the starting pitch with the little characters representing emotions at the controls of our brain speaks to me). I had this extremely distressing thought one day when things weren’t going well, that I could never get out of my head, get rid of it, and it made me dizzy.
“IMH” obviously talks about mental health. Because when you realize that you will always be alone in your own body – despite the surroundings, family, friends, work, life – if you’re not feeling super comfortable with yourself at the moment, you don’t take it very well. It can be “too much to handle”. I believe we all go through phases like this more or less. And it happened to me until extreme fatigue.
When I composed “IMH”, I immediately went for a very martial mood with that synth bass pounding, a bit like a pulsating migraine, which also expresses a kind of obsession, fixation. It was sublimated by Valentin. And as if defusing this anxiety had to go through an incantation ritual, I repeated these incantations “she’s not alone in her head, her head is full” and these sort of shamanic vocals and percussion. Because if you still follow me on the Inside Out reference, I believe we are alone trapped in our head precisely. We never do just one thing. We are always plural and we always have several facets or versions of ourselves. “IMH” is therefore a bit of a three-part rite of passage: an obsession, a calming, a resilience.
5. You’ve also decided to release a remix of this song : can you tell us about your collaboration with Cate Hortl? I’ve always seen remixes as an alternative vision of a song, what it could have been in the mind of another producer. Was it what you had in mind for this collaboration?
I share your vision and I think that was really the idea with Cate Hortl. I gave her carte blanche on the project. I first discovered Charlotte’s work without knowing who she was, with her duo project Oktober Lieber which I loved. I didn’t know who she was at the time. Then I was asked to write a portrait for an indie webzine about her solo project Cate Hortl a few months ago, so I discovered it, and I totally love her universe. We met in person during Les Nuits Sonores in Lyon in 2022 at a masterclass. It was a great human encounter in addition to a musical crush. Then, Black Mental invited both of us to share a stage at Velvet Moon in Montreuil last October. She heard me live for the first time, I had sent her my tracks before and she gave me valuable feedback on my music.
Naturally, I offered that she remixed one of my songs because I was really curious and enthusiastic about hearing how she would approach it and bring it into her own universe. She immediately chose “IMH”. It was obvious to me because she is a true queen of sublimated darkness. She has a way of working with sound, textures, and rhythm that I find very interesting and that I really appreciate. I think her remix translates the incantatory and tortured side of “IMH” very well, in a more underground version, literally “six feet under”, more frenetic but also more swaying, more club, more EBM. The original version and the remix are different, but they seemed complementary enough to me, so I decided to release them together as a double single, instead of separately as if it were a side version.
6. What place does “IMH” take in the EP, by the way?
It opens the EP. I couldn’t think of a better way to set the tone! Although there are lighter and more atmospheric things musically and semantically afterwards. It’s the beginning of the story of a tortured mind that finds resilience as the tracks progress.
7. You have also been able to perform live, including as an opening act for Jeanne Added, and there are many upcoming dates for you as well : how does your music come across and feel in a live show? Is there a difference with your studio-produced music, which has a lot of electronic instrumentation?
In live performances, I play alone with my samples, machines, synths, and guitar. It’s constantly evolving, of course. Singing and vocals have an important place, but I tend to interact more and more with the synths, my controller. The idea is really to create an atmosphere, a phantasmagoric atmosphere, and if I can take people in with me, then it’s great! I try to make it a suspended moment, full of emotions, too. The end of the set develops more into an electro live act, with EBM tendencies, and I think I’m heading more and more in that direction too. I want to develop this aspect. I love tinkering with stuff, effects, tweaking the voice, the sounds. So stay tuned. The best thing is to come and listen and see me on April 7th at Café de Paris, Rue Oberkampf in Paris, on April 8th in St-Lô, or on May 9th at Studio de l’Ermitage in Paris.
8. Finally, there is always a question I like to ask at the end of an interview: is there an artist that you are following at the moment, and if so, who and why?
This is a complex question because I follow a lot of artists! Whether they are people whose work I already know or people I am discovering, artists I personally know, and also because of my othre job, I am naturally drawn to discovering new artists.
If I had to choose only one that I am particularly into at the moment, I would say my friends from HADA – a “multifaceted pop” project, with a garage-noise tendency since their second EP. Especially because I love them so much and we support each other. They are on a roll and it’s awesome (go stream)! Manon has an exquisite voice, Louis (who mixed my EP), Alban and Simon on instruments are very talented, and they are all wonderful people. They released an EP recorded analogically in a few days in the countryside called “Marigold”, it’s available on all platforms and in physical form! Kisses to them and thanks again to you!
Harmo Draüs is to be found on all streaming platforms. You can also follow her on Instagram !