“I was dreaming about fire.”
When their Buenos Aires recording studio started burning down around them, Danny Lopez and Rylan Whalen escaped with their skins, but their new album—the Canadian duo’s first together as Harm & Ease — was toast. “We had to start from zero,” says Rylan, songwriter and lead vocalist. That’s putting it gently. They were fucked.
Before you read any further, click here and start listening — because reading about music is like licking a sculpture in the dark. (It’s just not the best way to enjoy the medium.)
There was no time to shop around for another studio before Ry went back to Canada for school — and they were out of money. The pair had taken a big risk relocating to Buenos Aires from Burlington, Ontario. “All I knew for sure was that they drink mate in Argentina,” remembers Danny, songwriter and lead guitarist.
But he had heard tales from his uncle, a sportscaster here in Argentina, who spoke of Buenos Aires as a place of opportunity for artists — a place to connect and collaborate with motivated, creative types of every stripe, and where things tended to go your way if you had talent, a little luck and most importantly, buena onda.
Now, though, as they stood barefoot in the street with a few salvaged boxes, watching their hopes and hard work go up in literal smoke, Danny and Ry permitted themselves to wonder whether moving to Argentina had been a huge mistake. Plenty of folks back home had told them they were crazy to move 5,500 miles to produce an album, and now it would take a miracle—and an album—to prove the haters wrong.
They got their miracle, and their album, in the nick of time.
Through tears, the unlucky owner of that torched studio vowed to pull some strings for Danny and Ry so they could immediately re-record their entire album at another studio—for free—because he liked them and he dug their music. THAT is what we talk about when we talk about buena onda, and it was only the first of many minor miracles. For Harm & Ease, moving to Argentina was no mistake. Call it fate.
“Buenos Aires has done so much for us.”
There’s no fool-proof formula for moving to a foreign country to become rockstars, but if it can be done anywhere, it’s here in Buenos Aires. BA is a famously gregarious city with a celebrated culture of sharing and an abiding love of the arts, so the most important thing is to get out there and share your music. If you aren’t booking as many shows as you’d like, you can play for free in the park. If you aren’t making as much money as you need, you can hit the trains. Just get out there!
These days Harm & Ease don’t have much time for busking, but in the beginning Danny and Ry used to work the rails maybe three times a week—or more, if they were short on cash. I tagged along back in September 2015 and I gotta say, playing music on the subway sure beats finding a working ATM in this city.
The adventure started with rum shots and a modicum of planning: three songs per train— and no solos. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Not with just two hours until rush hour when there’s barely room to breathe, let alone brandish a guitar. Two hours to entertain as many people as possible, and hope that they like you enough to give you a few pesos. They didn’t get rich that day, but people do, in fact, dig Harm & Ease, and they were happy to toss paper into the box.
It’s not as easy as it looks, keeping your balance and footing while playing an instrument on a train that rapidly speeds and slows—and with the odd drink in you, to boot. The second thing I noticed was that people were actually listening—a few even took out their earbuds. People were definitely curious.
Foreigners riding the subway is nothing new to porteños, especially on the D-Line. But it’s not every day that someone serenades them in English, let alone with such verve. Rylan doesn’t hold anything back just because he’s in an enclosed space (he does avoid howling directly in people’s ears, though, which I think very considerate).
By the end of their third song, they had a few new fans — and a few pesos in the box. After a couple hours of this, we made a beeline for the corner store to pick up beers, natch. Danny and Ry are very popular with the cashiers, as they are never short of small bills to make change. (If you don’t live in Buenos Aires, you can’t understand how clutch that is.)
But the rewards of playing in public were more than just the bills in their little wooden box at the end of the day, or the beers those bills buy, or the delight of the cashier at receiving exact change. When Harm & Ease share their music, people notice. Some of those people even wound up in the band.
“We’ve met the most fucking incredible musicians and they’re a part of this now.”
Since those early days, there have been some wonderful changes. Today, Harm & Ease is a band of seven. In addition to Danny and Rylan, we got:
Buenos Aires native, on the bass.
“I come from the punk rock scene. That was my school. After I finished studying percussion at a BA music school, I got called to play bass (haha) for a combat rock band with influences from The Clash, called Argies. They were one of the first punk bands in Argentina (est. 1984) and they’re a great example of self-management.
The porteño [denizen of Buenos Aires] is always looking toward the port, to what comes or may come from outside, instead of appreciating what grows here. This brings me to the “why” of my admiration for Harm & Ease.
I saw them for the first time at a little cultural center in Almagro, purely by coincidence. I remember that I went there with silly, pompous airs like ‘nothing surprises me anymore,’ and BOOM! I heard them play and there was something that hooked me deeply. You could tell they had something good going. After that, we ran into each other a few times at shows and bars, we became friends, and they invited me to join the band.
I love that Harm & Ease have set up here in Buenos Aires, with musicians from the USA, Canada, and Argentina too. It says a lot about the world we live in today. A worldwide web of people and experiences. The positive face of globalization. In short, it’s a lovely family that is growing by leaps and bounds.”
from Waco, Texas, plays the ukulele and sings his cotton-pickin’ soul out. He’s also the designated tambourine man. Oh—and he’s got that hair.
“It kind of all started with a jam session that our mutual friend Nick invited me to. Nick was crashing on my couch at the time, and sort of insisted I go with him. By the end of the night, we had taken an unfinished song that Danny and Rylan had kind of put on the shelf and turned it into “Common Theme,” the second song on our new album, Wonderful Changes. After that we started hanging out more and not long after, they formally asked me to join the band.
It is truly an amazing experience to sit and watch Danny and Rylan write songs together. They are such a tremendous team.”
from Buenos Aires, Argentina, beats holy hell out of some drums.
“Danny reached out to me after a recommendation from an ex-bandmate of mine from Tea for Five, another international band (Australian singer). I graduated with a degree in jazz and I’m always playing and connecting with musicians. Buenos Aires is a great place for art and music; so much goes on here, and there’s a lot of history. Lots of musicians meet while playing in the street.”
from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, plays the violin.
“I met Danny, Rylan and Ben through Folk You Mondays. we saw each other regularly there having fun and playing different types of music. Rylan and Danny write great music together and they started calling me up on stage to jam with them on their songs.
We started playing more acoustic-style sets with my violin and Ben’s ukulele. For me, things became more serious after they played at two Sofar Sounds here in Argentina. After that, everything changed with the addition of three Argentines: Juan Meisen, who makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen when he improvises on the keyboard; Ilan Amores, our punk-rock bass player, and Coco Nasr, the dragoncito who plays the drums.
All three are accomplished musicians who have influenced a lot of our songs and pushed us toward more of a rock genre. We’re having fun playing together at different venues here in Capital [Buenos Aires] and we’re really excited about our new album, Wonderful Changes, polished by our producer, Juan Martin Eduardo.
A comment: Juan Meisen makes us all look bad because he can play any of our instruments on his keyboard, and it sounds damn good.”
(AKA “Obi Juan Kenobi”) from Puerto Madryn, Argentina, plays the keys. He literally sat down next to Danny and Rylan at a “public piano” they were playing, and joined them.
I’ve been living in Buenos Aires for 8 years. I’m a musician, producer, and screenwriter. I met Danny and Rylan one day on the subway after finishing a film shoot early. They were playing one of their songs on one of those public pianos like they have in Paris and Amsterdam. I sat down at the piano and started accompanying them. By that evening, I was already in the band. We help each other and we care about each other and we have lots of rituals before we go onstage. We’re like a family.”
New Studio, New Album
As they’ve fleshed out the band, they’ve been refining their sound. “We know each other musically so much better now. We sound so much better,” Danny says. “We got people from all over the world. Different sounds, different souls. Joe studied classical music. Coco studied jazz. This is one of the things that makes the band unique. Nerdy musicians who studied theory, and a couple guys from Canada who just write songs.”
Originally, Harm & Ease comprised (in theory) two bands with two distinct sounds: straight-up rock (the “Harm”) versus mellow acoustic vibes (the “Ease”). Yin and yang. Hard times and good times. Your shit burns down, but everything works out. Say it fast and it sounds like “harmonies.” Not bad, eh? But they’ve since abandoned the double-act conceit to focus their energies on straight rock.
“The Ease is still around, but it’s a little more powerful,” says Danny. To describe Harm & Ease’s sound, Danny came up with “modern classic rock.” But they’re trying to hit every rock sub-genre there is: funk rock, blues rock, you name it. Among their influences, Danny and Ry include The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Band, and Harry Nilsson. “We take a lot from the past and give it a new sound.”
They’ve got their own studio now, too: a condemned mansion in Belgrano with graffiti on the walls and skateboard wheel-streaks on the floors. It’s all quite rock-and-roll (and the air conditioning works too, thank Christ). “It’s been a game changer,” Danny says.
In a normal studio, he tells me, there’s more pressure. But there they can feel at home and unhurried, and experiment with sound throughout the entire house. “The main idea was to use the house as an instrument in itself.” They even found the perfect bathroom for guitar reverb. “When you live together, everything starts to click. We can create art throughout the whole day, in all sorts of moods — from hungover to ecstatic.”
They couldn’t have wished for a better setting to record their new album, Wonderful Changes, which follows the passage of one very full day, “starting at the lowest point in your life and ending on the highest note,” Danny explained. “The whole idea is that it’s about change and hope.” It’s a notion the band takes to heart: Even when your first studio burns down with your first album inside it, and you’re thousands of miles from home with no shoes on, wondering if it was all a waste—things can only get better.
Speaking of ending on a high note…
Wonderful Changes Album Release Party
I am not a “music journalist,” given to precious yet hopeless descriptions of what music sounds like. Nor am I known for enjoying myself at concerts. (Loud noises make me cranky, and I don’t much care for the jostling, thank you.) With all of that in mind, I am here to testify: The Wonderful Changes album is dope—and the release party was dope as fuck. What higher praise can I offer? Only this: that I literally danced.
Granted, I had been drinking Quilmes Night for hours when Harm & Ease went on for the first time to play their new album and a few older classics. When they went on a second time at around 4:00 AM, and threw in a couple Beatles and Supertramp covers, I was dancing and singing like an idiot. Everybody was! There was buena onda all around. People were laughing and spilling liquor. Ilan slipped on a railing and fell into the crowd. It was a legit rock show, from a legit rock band.
But don’t listen to me — I’m clearly biased. Go and hear them for yourselves next Friday. I’ll see you there.
Harm & Ease play their next show April 29th at Makena (Fitz Roy 1519, in Palermo Hollywood)