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A Peapod grows in Portland

A young label sports sonic wisdom
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  May 7, 2008
feat_peapod_ron2inside
Ron Harrity

"Other peas in the pod: In addition to the Brown Bird and Dead End Armory albums here are two recent Peapod releases." By Sam Pfeifle.
If you have the good sense to attend the “coming out party” for Peapod Recordings at SPACE Gallery on May 9, you’ll get a chance to see the label's puppetmaster, Ron Harrity, in his element — or perhaps just outside it.

As guitarist for Honey Clouds, a new local band with a hefty pedigree (Harrity and frontman Trey Hughes were part of the dearly departed Harpswell Sound; bassist Mandy Wheeler cut her teeth in Diamond Sharp), Harrity fails miserably at avoiding the limelight.

Invariably spaced a few extra inches away from the rest of the band, he humbly holds court over a tidy array of colorful effects pedals that lend the band’s droll indie rock a propulsive kick. Spending most of a Honey Clouds set looking down at his fretboard, it’s immediately obvious that Harrity is the band’s resident geek, and its secret weapon.

Harrity’s efforts running the budding local record label — recording, promoting, and often designing and performing on releases by nine bands so far — confirm it. Peapod Recordings shares many commonalities with current trends in DIY art, prevalent on the Web-site-meets-craft-fair Etsy, music blogs, and even other local record labels (Time Lag Records and L’Animaux Tryst (Field) Recordings chief among them): function is favored over cost, quality and care over wide accessibility; a sleek and simple Web site, with easy access to affordable electronic purchases; releases are promoted to niche blogs and magazines that cater to each band’s likely audience, rather than to the mass media at large.

Most importantly, the albums sound beautiful. In contrast to many professionally recorded local releases, which favor a radio-friendly sheen that often betrays an artist’s live strengths (and, worse, their personality), Harrity’s work has a natural warmth and emotional clarity that complements the musicians he works with. As diligent as he is in the studio, Harrity’s albums sound like the work of an invisible hand, and it’s apparent that he likes it that way.

Covert beginnings
His work as a sort of phantom recorder started early.

“I used to hold my dad’s cassette recorder up to the TV when I was in grade school to record songs off of MTV,” Harrity says. “I also used to hide tape recorders under blankets and stuff at notable family get-togethers.”

From there, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was DIY sessions with a high school punk band in Kansas City and solo bedroom recordings in Baltimore. Harrity first began releasing properly recorded music after forming Nord Express with his friend, guitarist Rob Goldrick (Harrity played drums), in 1993.

The duo recorded repetitive, dreamy songs on a “stupid-expensive Yamaha 8 track cassette portastudio” that “isn’t worth $100 today,” but were persuasive enough to gain Nord Express a slot on the Berkeley label Slumberland, one of a few quintessential ’90s indie guitar-pop labels. Some of the band’s earlier recordings can be heard on Loveland 1995-2005, an odds-and-ends compilation of the band’s work released on Peapod last year.

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