Psych-pop band Drink Up Buttercup looks to spread the buzz
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The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT) - One way to look at James Harvey's life is as a cautionary tale, where a classical music student fritters away a promising future and breaks his family's heart on the off-chance he might make a living in the fickle world of rock 'n' roll.
Another way is as a Horatio Alger story, where a young lad boldly tosses aside the strictures of a classical music education after learning to play the guitar, determined to make his own music, working a series of menial jobs for eight years before getting his chance at the brass ring.
Either interpretation is still possible, but Harvey and his band, Drink Up Buttercup, believe the latter is more plausible, at least at this point. The Bucks County, Pa.-bred psychedelic-pop group is hoping to spread the buzz it has built along the East Coast and in the U.K. over the last two years and parlay it into a record deal.
Since last summer, Drink Up Buttercup, whose music fuses elements of the Beatles, the La's, ELO and Super Furry Animals, has been recording its debut CD at Philadelphia's American Diamond studio.
"Right now, we have a couple labels interested in putting out the record," says Harvey, 27. "But we're holding off on any kind of movement until after South by Southwest to see who else will come to the table once they see our live show."
Harvey, who was born in Trenton, N.J., but raised in Levittown and Doylestown, Pa., started choral and classical singing when he was 11. He joined the Young Singers of Pennsylvania, a Doylestown-based professional children's choir. He studied privately at the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., and eventually earned a scholarship to the school after graduating from CB East in 2000. "I always listened to a lot of classical music, but for pleasure I would listen to mostly hip-hop. Tupac and Wu-Tang Clan were my two big favorites," he recalls,
However, after a year at Westminster Harvey discovered he didn't like music theory. "I just wanted to learn to use my voice properly," he says. "And I got into playing guitar."
His parents had given him the instrument as a reward for getting the scholarship, and soon Harvey started playing Weezer songs. "That kinda got me into wanting to play my own stuff," he says. So two weeks into his sophomore year, he left. The date was 9-11. "I saw that happen and said to myself, 'I don't like it here. I'm going to do my own thing.' My parents were pretty (ticked) off."
They were so disappointed by his decision that they tried making him feel guilty. "My (late) grandmother was my biggest fan. She had kept all of the programs from when I sang at the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall," he says. "She died believing I was on my way to being some big classical singer. So that was the big thing: 'Your grandmother would turn over in her grave!'"
Harvey stuck to his guns, however. He started working working in a deli, and then a blues club in Doylestown called Cafe Classics. "I started going to open mikes there. Then they let me have a weekly gig every Thursday to sharpen my teeth. I was there for about two years."
He formed a band, James Harvey. "We played straight pop songs with an acoustic guitar, none of the freaky stuff we do now."
When Cafe Classics closed, Harvey started working as a tech in a Frenchtown, N.J., chemical lab "cleaning beakers and pouring chemicals into small tubes." His stepdad, Mahmoud Houshiarnejad, "was worried about me being exposed to all that stuff, so he gave me a job at his Oriental rug store (Houshiarnejad Collection, in Haddonfield, N.J.)."
In the meantime, James Harvey became Playwright in 2005. "That band was a little bit more quirky, but not as hard as Drink Up Buttercup."
In 2006, however, Harvey began writing the kind of material he is now playing, and decided he needed musicians who could help him realize his vision. "The people I played with in those other two bands were guys I had met at college," he says. "They ended up as classical musicians, or teaching. I needed people who had (Drink Up Buttercup) as their goal."
His half-brother, Farzad Houshiarnejad, who works with Harvey at the rug store, "started coming in and adding his voice and bits (of keyboards and melodica)," says Harvey. Farzad knew drummer (and video store clerk) Mike Cammarata through mutual high school friends, and bassist (and carpenter) Ben Money was a friend of DUB's current manager.
The foursome first played together in March 2007 at the Classic Cigar Parlor in Doylestown. "We're not allowed to play there anymore 'cause the shows started getting too rowdy," says Harvey.
The next important moment for Drink Up Buttercup will be the release of its first U.S. single, "Farewell Captain" b/w "Sosey & Dosey," April 7 on Kanine Records. (Last October, the band released its debut U.K. single, "Mr. Pie Eyes" b/w "Gods & Gentlemen.")
"Farewell Captain" with its thumping, herky-jerky rhythm, twisted guitar and carnival merry-go-round-with-a-faulty-motor keyboards, recalls the trippy atmospherics of the "Sgt. Pepper's" track "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite." "That song is about me getting too drunk at a show," says Harvey. "My brother wrote the lyrics. ... I tend to get a little bit out of control at times."
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Quirkiness also is at the core of the genial "Sosey & Dosey." "It's about two little kids walking in the snow in winter and they keep falling," says Harvey. "But it's somewhat of an incestuous relationship. Are they falling down, or falling in love? You can't tell."
Harvey's affection for opera surfaces on "Mr. Pie Eyes," which rhythmically stomps like Godzilla on 'shrooms. "There's a lot of operatic parts in the song," he admits. "It's part of my musical history that I want to put into my material. ... The song is about myself, the same thing my brother wrote about, me at Muggs (a Doylestown bar), just hanging out there drinking."
As for Drink Up Buttercup's pronounced Beatles influence, Harvey supposes it comes from his listening to Philadelphia radio station WOLG-FM as a child.
"After I had written all these (Drink Up Buttercup) songs, my girlfriend said that (they sound) like the Beatles," Harvey points out. "But I had never even heard the White Album. She put it on for me one night after we came back from drinking at a bar. I said, 'Wow, this is what music is.'"
© 2009, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
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