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Resilience is the Name of the Game: grizzlies. drummer, Harrison Reed Dolan, shares how he keeps the rhythm

Harrison Reed Dolan

Harrison Reed Dolan is the drummer for grizzlies., an alt-funk bank recently covered in Motif. But he also has a solo career with a song to be released on February 12. I recently had a conversation with him about his creative process, collaborating with grizzlies. and some of his proudest moments.

Angelina Singer (Motif ): I want to start by asking, what got you into music in the first place? I know your dad is really influential for you. 

Harrison Reed Dolan: Yeah, so he is definitely what laid the foundation – he’s a jazz flute player. He played all over New York City for at least a decade with really high-level musicians. So when I was growing up, he would get me playing with them. I started drum lessons when I was really young, so for a while I only played drums. Then, when I got to college and I met grizzlies. my freshman year, the only times I would really play the drums was with them, because I was undecided as my major. Then I decided to switch into music, and from there, I picked up competency on piano. And I wrote a lot of songs on piano when I first learned how to play it. Around my senior year, I started playing a lot of guitar, too. And I love the drums, but for writing my own original material, I feel more comfortable doing that on a chord-type instrument. 

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AS: So, tell me about your new song that’s being released on February 12, “I Always Will.”

HRD: That song, it’s crazy, because I have so many songs that I’ve been working on for years that haven’t been released. Then I start working on one in late December, and it’s out within two months. But it’s a super simple song, it just has this one chord progression that it goes through the whole time. It’s about very fresh wounds at the end of a relationship. Like the whole EP – it’s only three songs, but it’s about the deterioration of love. And this song… I don’t really know how to describe it! The first two verses are very emotional [and] reflective. Then the song ends with an instrumental that I think really encapsulates the positivity of the whole experience. It’s about being grateful for the experiences that you had with this person that was (and is) still really special to you. 

AS: Are you basing that on real-life experiences?

HRD: I am basing this on real-life experiences, yes.

AS: All right, well I won’t pry but I think the song is great, and you can definitely hear a lot of that emotional content in it. I especially love the mix of it and the way you’ve arranged the different layers and stuff.

HRD: Really?

AS: Yeah, absolutely! 

HRD: Oh thank you, thank you! So this whole project, aside from the bass, was recorded by me, played by me, mixed and mastered by me as well. And it’s the first time I’ve really done the post-production myself and released that. I want the theme of the project to have this very DIY vibe. Because it is about loneliness, you know? So I appreciate you saying that you enjoyed the way it was mixed. 

AS: With that in mind, tell me how your songwriting experience works with grizzlies. Are you somebody who does a lot of the writing, or do you kinda just show up and do what they tell you? How does that all work out?

HRD: Oh no, if you ask any member of grizzlies., none of us will just be like “we just show up and do what somebody tells us.”

AS: *laughs* Okay!

HRD: What I love the most about grizzlies. is that it is the most collaborative effort that a band could really be. Sometimes, you know, that can be hard when somebody’s not brining in concrete ideas, and we try to work together to make it happen. But I think ultimately, it makes for much better music. We all bring our own influence into it. Josh comes up with very, very creative guitar parts, and Mike’s got the ear to always add the right bass line to it. Vocals are usually a combination of efforts, mostly by Cynthia, but Emily and I also contribute to the lyrics, too. It’s like a balance of poetic lyrics – because Cynthia’s a great poet. I don’t know if a lot of people know that.

AS: I could tell from the lyrics, like “Bead Song” especially — that’s a crazy narrative. 

HRD: Yeah, so she studied journalism and English. She’s able to paint a great picture through text, and I think the instrumentals have done a very good job of being able to paint what she’s saying through music. At least, we try to. It’s tough because – if you ask any member of the band, we’ll tell you that we have a very slow writing process. We’ve been a band since 2016 and we’re still working on writing enough songs for our full-length. But ultimately, that’s taught us patience, and it’s made the music better in the long run, too. 

AS: Now, in the realm of thinking about your own music, and grizzlies., what do you feel is your most, like, “this song is me, this is what I feel and what I want to put into the world” stylistically and emotionally? Tell me what you most identify with. 

HRD: So I’ll answer on the grizzlies. perspective and then I’ll answer on the solo project. With grizzlies., we look at our first EP and as an album, we think it’s good, but we know that it’s not our creative peak – it’s not even close to that. Even the songs that were on the EP, we play them very differently live now – they’ve evolved since then. That being said, I think “Bead Song,” for me, I think is the most reflective of all of us. The lyrics were written by Cynthia and me, my freshman year, as the second song we ever wrote. And it just has that bouncy, fun energy. It’s probably the most fun song on the EP. But in terms of now, we have a song called “9:45,” which really hits the sweet spot between having the jazz chords, the fun energy, the time signature changes, the great lyricism, and everybody is contributing — nobody sits in the background, even the bassist. And the piano, it’s not like we’re just doubling, you know what I’m saying. 

AS: Yeah, and I love your use of jazz chords and all those really intricate, [music] theory concepts. I’m quite familiar with that myself as a trained guitarist. Even though I’m not super strong with it, I can appreciate it, so it’s really really cool!

HRD: As far as my solo stuff, you know, the answer to your question isn’t released yet. It’s not even fully created. I’m proud of the way my music intertwines with each other. I have two full-length LPs that are written. The demos are recorded – they’re not great, but those two albums, and all the EPs (including the one I’m about to put out), that all takes place within the same type of story, you know? And I’m not even sure how they’re all connected, but I know that they are — because that’s just what I wanna do with my vision. On the EP I have a song “Campfire Story” that I think really encapsulates the weirdness level that I’m willing to get, combined with catchy instrumentals. My brother plays a little guitar in that song too, and I used to be very put off by collaboration. When I first started writing my own music, I wanted to do it all myself – and that was senior year of high school. So I recorded this four-song EP when I was about to graduate high school. And I knew so many great musicians, but I wanted to do everything myself, even though I didn’t know how to play guitar, I didn’t have a good singing voice, and in turn, the music suffered. So now I’m at a point where I thrive off of getting other people’s influence too. I’m putting out an album called Ghana, hopefully within a year, but that album has a couple songs with Jesse the Tree on it. Some of my friends from back home, like my best friend Craig who plays a bunch of guitar solos [got involved]. I’ve even worked with Michelle Savoie, who I met through open mics in Providence at Dusk and Askew. I have a lot of songs that I could point to and [am] proud of, but nobody’s really heard any of them yet. 

AS: Oh, well isn’t that always how it is! I guess I’ll just have to check back with you then. *Laughs* So I want to know more about your family — I assume they’re very proud of you and supportive of what you’re doing. 

HRD: So my brother plays guitar in a band called Jungle Fiction – they played at PVD Fest a couple years ago. They’re one of the best funk groups that I know of. At his peak, my dad was literally one of the best flute players in the world. And he’ll be the first to tell you that! But he’s instilled that kind of determination and confidence in my brother and I. My mom is also very supportive, but she doesn’t get music; she’s a retired teacher. But yeah, she’s very supportive. I wouldn’t have gone to URI and met all these great people if not for them, so I have to be grateful. 

AS: Totally! So who would you say are your biggest influences musically? In your new song, I think you sound a lot like Frank Sinatra, with a lot of those vintage sorts of vibes – in the best way possible, of course! I don’t know if that’s anywhere down the vein of where you hope to go, but tell me about that. 

HRD: So I know that I have a deep, deep voice. And it’s deeper than my ears hear it *laughs*. Yeah, I don’t really hear it as a super deep-type voice, but I see the Frank Sinatra — I used to like to do an impression of him. Johnny Cash too. But like, those are not my biggest influences. Biggest? I love artists that can write a great concept album. So Tyler, the Creator – I take a lot of inspiration from him. The way he balances rapping with writing creative chord progressions and melodies, and also telling a story that’s captivating – I try to do something like that. Same thing with Twenty One Pilots. I think their last album [Trench] is their best. Also, they’re able to write a really catchy hook. So, I’m gonna give it to Tyler, the Creator, Twenty One Pilots, Weezer – I came up loving Weezer, around 2014. John Mayer, David Bowie – just outside-the-box he is, you know? I draw inspiration from that type of outlier guys. 

AS: Have you had vocal training, or is this just a natural thing?

HRD: I haven’t really had vocal training. My two biggest inspirations that I forgot to mention though, are Joni Mitchell, and Steely Dan. Those are definitely 1a and 1b for me! 

AS: Sure! And that takes guts to sing your own song. Even though you haven’t had training, like that blows my mind that people can do it. It scares me just thinking about doing that! *Laughs*

HRD: Where I wanna be isn’t necessarily where I am. Like I wanna make a lot more improvements on my voice, too. Because I know that I go off-pitch quite a lot. And I like to rap too but I don’t have great breath control or anything like that. My voice can be kinda monotone, you know? So for a long time I looked at that as hindrances. And now I’m just trying to do it anyway. 

AS: So would you say that’s your biggest struggle in your music? Like feeling inadequate in some ways, or imposter syndrome?

HRD: Yeah, I think so. There are gonna be millions of singers out there that can do technically better than me. I need to admit that’s not my greatest strength, and that’s okay. And I also – as far as mixing and mastering goes, for this project specifically – it’s not professionally done. So I know that people are going to come in and let me know that. But that doesn’t outweigh the belief in myself that I have. 

AS: Right, and as it shouldn’t because you’re so talented! You got your personal project, and your band stuff, and you do it all so well. I mean, you should be really proud of that! Speaking of which, what would you say is your proudest moment so far? The moment you feel like you finally met a goal, or something?

HRD: There are a few. Most of them involve sharing the stage with other musicians. It’s not like a put a song out, and got 10,000 listens, or something like that. When I was in my junior year of college, in October, some friends and I went to see TTNG in Hamden, Connecticut, in the Space Ballroom. And I got some poster board – and I wrote on a sign “Could I play with you guys on the song Baboon?” Because I knew they were playing the whole album front-to-back, and that’s like track 2. So right after the first song, I held the sign up, there was only like 200 people there, so they easily saw it – I was close to the stage. And the drummer let me come up and play his kit! It was fun!

AS: AH! That’s insane! Oh my gosh. I know Paramore did that too, where they had someone come up and sing “Misery Business.” So it was kinda like that – every band has a song where they’ll let somebody come play it. And I love the idea of that, but I would freeze so bad if it were me. How did you do it?

HRD: When I was a kid I saw Avenged Sevenfold do that with a drummer. That’s another one – you won’t hear it in the music much, but I love Avenged Sevenfold too. 

AS: Yeah that’s different stylistically for sure. Your style is more vibe-y, with chill, jazzy funk stuff.

HRD: Well lately I’ve been listening to a lot of hard rock and metal. 

AS: Really! 

HRD: And grunge, too. I’ve been listening to like, Dio, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden. Plus Soundgarden-type stuff too, obviously. But that’s besides the point that I was talking about. I forgot what I was saying.

AS: Playing on stage with this band…

HRD: Yeah, so I practiced the song many times, so I did it well. I hung in there; it’s like a math-rock type song so there were a bunch of time-signature changes. And it was cool, I played well, and then I crowd-surfed off and enjoyed the rest of the show. But you know, I try not to look at that as my proudest moment, [but] more so just a step in the right direction. So I can look back at that now and be really proud of that – and I’ll always be proud of that. But I don’t want it to be where I rest my hat. 

AS: Yeah, because you wanna earn it yourself; you wanna get to that point someday, on your own art and your own music, probably.

HRD: I mean, I just wanna be happy. I’m still young, I have a lot of music that I’m working on, but I don’t know. 

AS: Yeah, absolutely. What do you suggest for people wanting to pursue a similar direction in life? What’s your best advice?

HRD: Get as much advice as you possibly can. Whenever I had the opportunity – I told you that my dad got me playing with some pretty [amazing] musicians – I would ask whoever I could, what their best piece of advice was for me. And I would write it down and put it in my Notes app. Basically the consensus was to just keep going, and don’t get discouraged, and practice. But I’ve failed many times. And all the people that I’ve asked sound like they’ve failed many times, you know? So really, resilience is the name of the game, because you’re gonna get better if you just keep trying to.  Also, learn how to be a self-sustaining musician. Make a website – which, I’m not even finished with, but I know it’s important. Get some merch and then tour – which I also haven’t done, so I’m in no position to tell other people! But there are a lot of good audiobooks and whatnot. 

AS: Now if you’re comfortable sharing – no pressure – what do you feel is the lowest point you’ve hit that you’ve had to come up from?

HRD: My lowest point, I kinda have to think on that. I mean I’m not even really sure. I feel like a lot of my low points are caused by burnout. When I switched into a jazz major studying drums, that took away a lot of my love for playing the drums – it really did. It made me a better drummer, and it got me playing with some great people, and taking lessons from Steve Langone – one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. Probably my favorite drum teacher. You know, don’t push yourself too hard, because a lot of the time that’s going to be the reason that you don’t go to where you want to be. Also, don’t just slack off every day, because I’ve also been through many stretches where I do that. 

AS: Yeah, I notice that too, I think it’s a creative thing where us fellow creative will work ourselves to death – I do this too. Then you take one day off and then you can’t get back into your rhythm for days. But it’s really great that you have that good mindset overall, that you’re doing everything and you’re just really into it – and it shows! So what can we look forward to for upcoming music from grizzlies. – and I know you have an EP coming out for yourself right? What’s next?

HRD: So for grizzlies. well, it’s tough because I’m in New York and they all live in Rhode Island, so I haven’t been able to practice with the band for a couple months – especially with coronavirus. But you know, we’re saving up money, we’re writing songs for our full-length, debut album. I’m not even gonna attempt to slap a release date on that, because it hasn’t started being recorded. The actual music that’s gonna be on it is very interesting, so I’m excited to see that come to fruition. 

AS: Will it be stylistically similar to what we’ve already seen from grizzlies., or different?

HRD: Yes, it will be stylistically similar. It will also be heavier, because we’re trying to incorporate a lot of that hard rock influence that we really love. But yeah, it’ll still be classic grizzlies., but way better. 

AS: Cool, well I’m excited to hear it. 

HRD: Yeah, so that’s the band, and for me, I have a couple collaborations in the works with Rhode Island artists. Jair – who is a rapper and producer – and then my friend Jack Downey who goes to PC. He’s made a beat for me and I’m gonna lay down vocals on it. So that’ll come out. I’m gonna do a few more EPs probably, and then Ghana comes out, and that’s the first studio album. And I’m proud of that — it’s in the process of being mixed and mastered right now by my friend Zoë, who’s from back home in New York. She does a great job. I have so many small projects that I’m just gonna keep chipping away at, and release music at my own pace. 

AS: Are these collaborative projects, or just general?

HRD: Well the thing about Ghana is that it’s kind of built on collaboration, so that ties with the theme of the album. The EP Forget Me that I’m putting out, it’s mostly me because it’s reflective of the themes of it. But I had a lot of great instrumentalists and vocalists collaborate with me on Ghana, and I’m excited for that one. It’ll probably be like, early 2022. 

Stream “I Always Will” by Harrison Dolan HERE: distrokid.com/hyperfollow/harrisonreeddolan/i-always-will-2; You can also find grizzlies. on Spotify HERE: open.spotify.com/artist/7LOxo63lv4R19v7RGVZ58H?si=HZC74woTToeXkZ_heZhWFQ

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