Grouper: Hymns from a Nor-Cal Loner

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When Liz Harris, the lone lady behind Grouper, was a kid, she spent most of her days running through the forests of her Northern California home. One afternoon, she and a friend came upon the carcass of a dead deer lying at the foot of a ridge. Her friend asked her to retrieve it. She hauled the deer up the hill only for her friend to lose interest once it arrived. The moment not only provided the title for Harris’ most recent album of acoustic-ambient backrubs, but serves as a snapshot of her insides as well.

“I was more scared of people, of this girl being mad at me, than touching a dead animal,” remembers Harris. “I didn’t want negative attention from anybody–when I was young, I just tried to melt into the background.

“Everyone has something about the way they grew up or their childhood that they drag around with them until this point that they have to offload,” she continues. “If not, it becomes dead weight. I think I was trying to offload that same thing in the songs.”

Harris, who now lives in Portland, grew up north of San Francisco in a Fourth Way “community” founded on the teachings of Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. Great emphasis was based on communal work and selflessness–her pseudonym is actually a reference to the name by which community members would refer to one another; the fact Harris now writes and performs solo is something of a paradox. Her gauzy hymns are milky watercolors of time, place, and memory. Whether murky or haunting, nearly every second of Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill feels like an exorcism of sounds.

“I don’t think I write music in order to perform it,” says Harris. “I write it in order to get this one thing out–a feeling, an idea–and then I’m ready to move on as soon as I’ve recorded it. I remember instances in which kids were in trouble for attracting attention to themselves. I’m still not comfortable with getting attention for things, but obviously not that much if I’m still bothering to put out records.”

MP3: "Heavy Water"

Favorite Portland artist:
Dragging an Ox Through Water