Jason Harrod: Singing Between Doubt and Belief for 20 Years
Harrod's doubts extend beyond his faith, however; he often wrestles with personal insecurities as well. Concerts, especially, have long proved challenging for Harrod. Ever since Harrod & Funck split up, in part because Brian Funck disliked performing live, Harrod has faced extreme performance anxiety.
"It's just a feeling of ugliness," he tells me. "I think partly my singing has always been, in a way, combating that—trying to make a beautiful sound, trying to make beauty."
That moment at Club Passim when Harrod lost the lyrics of "39," a track from Harrod & Funck's self-titled second record (1997), perfectly exemplifies Harrod's ongoing struggle. He recovered when the room full of fans picked up the lyrics where he left off. "My songs are so personal because they really are a part of me," he says. "To make this beautiful thing come out of me is a way of combating that feeling [of ugliness]."
Coming Off the Mountain
Harrod's latest record marks the latest stop, the furthest outpost, in his struggle toward a more grounded faith.
Highliner sounds much like his previous records: a hybrid of twangy folk, superb guitar work, and catchy hooks. But this record is more polished, in part because it was funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. The record interchanges stories from Harrod's personal life with fantastical tales and folk romps. For example, in back-to-back tracks, "Moon Mission" and "Grandma," he memorializes the underappreciated last man on the moon, astronaut Eugene Cernan, and pays tribute to his grandmother.
On "One of These Days," Harrod promises to "get it right," but then counters, "until then I want to get so gone, I want to be so wrong, I want to see what damage I can do." He refers to himself as a "bitter old batch" and "a filthy old rat" who is "sinking down to a deep dark place." Still, he invites the listener along: "I'm thinking when I'm sinking I don't want to sink alone."
"Mountain," the third song on Highliner, neatly describes Harrod's lifetime experience with faith:
When I came down off the mountain
I was breaking like a wave, rolling over everything in sight
Shining like a silver-plated nickel in the sun
I was dispersed across the universe of light.
Scannin' the horizon looking for a sign of you
When I saw your silhouette my heart stopped
But then I got up close and found out it was just a ghost
And I was sad that I had left the mountaintop.
"I knew vaguely that it was a 'God song' when I wrote 'Mountain,' " says Harrod. "But when I was asked to talk with a youth group at a Detroit church about how my faith affects my songwriting, it became very clear to me that the song is autobiographical.
"The last verse of 'Mountain' isn't about resting in God's arms or about resting in faith," Harrod tells me. "It's about climbing a mountain looking for God. So there's an element of dissatisfaction and searching."