On a whim, Briana Harris submitted a grant proposal along with a demo of her soulful song “Ground Up” which she had performed for The Burroughs’ Virtual Telethon in 2020. That June, Harris received a message that she was awarded the funding to record an album.
“Oh well, I guess I have to make this project now,” Harris tells BandWagon with a laugh.
Harris was already known around the Colorado music and art scene as a recording sideman for artists like Spencer Zweifel and Thomas Harpole, and as manager of the beloved nine-piece funk / soul band The Burroughs. Her role as The Burroughs’ tenor saxophone player is arguably her most visible gig, though she also writes horn arrangements for the band. As if that weren’t enough, she also manages a roster of visual creatives who specialize in public art and murals. Harris wears many hats and she wears them well.
“My elevator pitch is: I am a musician, artist manager, and a creative entrepreneur,” Harris said, “and that’s it. But that really ecompases a lot of logistical things and strategic planning.”
But the grant from the Arts Alive! Fund at the Community Foundation serving Greeley and Weld County would allow her to write and record for herself for the first time. In February of 2020, Harris decided to take part in a “30-days, 30-songs challenge,” a popular trend where musicians set daily time aside during their slow season to focus on writing. The end of the month bled into the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, so she looked at it as an extended opportunity to bring excitement to the isolation. She learned, meanwhile, to get comfortable with at-home recording and mixing. Soon she had a whole catalog of ideas to share.
“I wanted to make the most volume of work I could, and see where that would take me,” Harris said.
When it was time to hit the studio, she wanted her album, When We’re Found, to be an experience that was the opposite of her 2020 isolation — to literally feel the musicians’ communion on the album. Therefore, during recording, they played live in the room together.
When We’re Found combines influences and sounds throughout Harris’s life, from funky gospel-rock ala the Burroughs, to the smoother “cool” of the jazz she plays with her quartet.
Songs like “Ground Up” and “Bright Eyes” feature a mellow but rhythmic guitar and complex vocal melodic lines comparable to Esperanza Spalding, with a cool RnB style the likes of Lianne La Havas. “River” features folky femme-rock with etheral vocals spannng the genre from hints of Fleetwood Mac to a taste of Fiona Apple. Harris’ singer-songwriter tracks “Burn Out” and “Daydreamer” show a storytelling side, with an intimacy felt from the lyrics to the detailed recording, where the creaking of her Rhodes piano or finger-picked guitar bring the vibes to life.
Surprisingly, she doesn’t play any saxophone on the album, but her instrumental jazz background seeps into her writing through creative songform. Citing female songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers as influences, the typical verse-chorus format feels unnatural to Harris. The music she’s spent years studying and performing never included chorus-sections. She instead chooses to build songs around personal narratives, anchoring them with recurring riffs and phrases.
“As a jazz musician, I struggle to write a chorus or any repeating idea – like, for real,” Harris said. “So I have found [Phoebe Bridgers’] lyrical writing inspiring over the past couple years.”
After finding herself, so to speak, Harris is still moving full-force on all fronts. Managing her roster, hitting the stage with The Burroughs and playing frequent jazz gigs will keep her busy into the holiday season, but she is leaving room for this project to flourish. As of the When We’re Found release on September 30, that includes releasing a zine of personal essays and putting out visual glances into her songwriting journey over the next few months.
“I want to really present what I feel is the fullest version of myself,” Harris said. “Just the process of doing that for me has been important and empowering.”
When We’re Found by Briana Harris is out now on all platforms. For upcoming shows and more, visit brianaharris.com