For 15 years, Sam Russell & the Harborrats have quietly transformed into a Seattle institution, fusing together Americana roots music, vintage doo-wop and classic PNW indie into a “rock n’ roll cabaret” presentation to celebrate the form’s majesty along with its direct honesty in equal breaths of theatrical display. They return now with Ocean Shores, their first full-length album in 9 years.
Started before and completed during lockdown of 2020, Ocean Shores presents itself as a handbook for getting through crises and panic while still being present in the world at large. Largely inspired by and written as a conversational response to Loose Wing’s self-titled 2018 album (written by Claire Tucker), Ocean Shores also serves as a homage to Sam’s 90s indie-rock influences of Pavement, Guided by Voices & early Wilco with sprinkles of 70s AM Gold and 60s British Invasion while marking a new era of the band exploring musical spaces for new revelations come.
Sam was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin as the son of a preacher man, growing up listening primarily to Christian Rock & oldies radio. The latter exposed Sam to his initial diverse influences of Roy Orbison, Motown, 60s garage-rock & Memphis soul. From 2006 to 2012, Sam released 6 albums collectively known as The Blue Moon Bible, which offered a wide stylistic range of material and an even larger rotating cast of musicians known as The Harborrats. The band most often featured Ken Nottingham on bass & vocals, Michael Spaly on electric fiddle & guitar and Allison Tulloss on keyboards and vocals as the constants in the large Americana ensemble sound.
In the 2012, the band was joined by permanent drummer & vocalist Aimee Zoe and pared down to a 4-piece consisting of Sam, Allison, Ken & Aimee with Allison’s keyboards taking on a more prominent role. The 4-piece version of The Harborrats was nicknamed (and sometimes billed) as “The Teen Soul Explosion” and released the Live at Columbia City EP in 2014 and the Born to Hurt/Make Me Lose Control cassingle in 2016. When Allison took sabbatical from Seattle in 2020 to care for family, Aimee, Ken & Sam chose to explore the space left behind as a new direction to follow.
Following a series of archive singles & the compilation Static Electricity: A History of the Harborrats 2006-2021 put out the past year, the three-piece line-up has now released the High Summer EP as the first to feature their new sound as trio. The EP contains the sultry bass-led “Shake Off the Shame (Pts 1 & 2)” and the AM Gold/90s alt-rock hybrid “You Like Me So Much More (Than You Think You Do).”
Recording for Ocean Shores was completed just before lockdown of March 2020 and the album was mixed the following summer and spring. The song “The Kenosha Kid” (written about the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots from a naïve white suburban adolescence’s POV) took on excruciating new resonance in August of 2020 as Sam’s hometown was on fire in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. As a response to this tragic yet all-too common incident, as well as the first half of 2020 and the prior four years of political nightmares, Sam wrote a spoken-word piece for each of the songs on Ocean Shores and recorded each as a feee-verse recitation over each corresponding song’s backing track. The spoken-word pieces comprise “The Kenosha Kid” album, available only as a bonus disc with the Ocean Shores CD.
In August 2021, a final bonus track was recorded for the album, “Apocalypse (Turn to the Moon)” a reimagining of The Foghorns’ “Apocalypse (for Alan Wilson)” and sung as a duet with Ocean Shores’ main source of inspiration Claire Tucker and serving as a new epilogue to the album.
Sam & the Harborrats will celebrate the release of Ocean Shores at The Tractor Tavern in Seattle on October 27 and be touring through late 2021/2022 at venues practicing vaccination and mask requirements.