Although young, Ed Harcourt is no stranger to the musical life. A multi-instrumentalist, he started out the traditional way at the age of ten. "I was taught the piano classically. I did all the grades and stuff and then I learned the saxophone and the cello as well – I had teachers. Then I taught myself the drums, the bass, guitar and mandolin and various other instruments."
Together with three school friends in Lewes, Brighton, he formed a band called Snug; they released their first album in 1999 when Harcourt was just 21. Not long after that, he parted ways with the band. "I had such a good time doing it and it was a real learning curve – it just wasn't my kind of music. I wasn't in to it so I just left," says Harcourt. "We went to Japan a few times. It was the kind of music that would appeal to them – pretty punk pop. But I was writing more and more songs that just didn't work with the guys and I didn't really believe in it."
"I was kind of embarrassed to be in the band but I loved it at the same time. I was conflicted, but then I finally took the plunge and thought I just really want to do something where I can believe in it 100% and that's me just being myself." Harcourt being himself has resulted in 'Here Be Monsters', his distinctive debut album, released under his own name.
As well as picking heavy hitting producers such as Gil Norton (The Pixies, Throwing Muses) and Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas, Harcourt was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse). "I wanted to work with him for the whole album but I just managed to get him to mix two songs and he was great," he says. "You meet him and he's such a normal person but then he starts working with a song and it's like…the man's a genius. He's like the Phil Spector of alternative music."
"I went over to the Tarbox [Fridmann's studio] near New York and I was there for three or four days. It's totally remote and there was about six feet of snow - it's beautiful. The studio is like a big log cabin. I was staying on my own and all of the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev's gear was in the studio so I just ended up playing on everything!"
Fridmann's atmospheric, almost orchestral sound is something that Harcourt feels an affinity with. This interest has led Harcourt in the direction of film soundtracks. "I'm really interested in working on independent films," he says. "The films I see coming out of Hollywood or the crappy British comedies, they irk me. The music is so predictable, it really is. I'm hoping to maybe work with Shane Meadows [director of independent British films '24-7', 'A Room for Romeo Brass']. I just found out yesterday that he liked the album and wanted to do something so maybe he might do a video or maybe I could do some music for a film."
With prospects like that in store, who else would Harcourt like to work with? "I really, really, really would like to work with that singer from [hip-hop collective] Spooks. It's like pop, but hip-hop, and she's got a voice like Ella Fitzgerald and I'd just really love to hear her singing some really slow big expansive songs," he says. "I definitely want to work with some girl singers. I'd love to work with Calexico. I emailed Joey the singer and he replied saying (Harcourt affects a southern American accent) 'Yea, man, that'd be cool'".
With a widescreen vision to rival the mariachi-tinged Calexico, Harcourt's got a bright future reeling out in front of him.
Ed Harcourt plays the Witnness Festival, Witnness Rising Stage, Saturday 4 August 2001 at Fairyhouse Racecourse.