Between the Lines: Kenny Harris of Estelline

By: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

“Well, this may be the first time I’ve not been ‘the late one’ when meeting up with someone,” says Kenny Harris with a grin, as he spots me walking in J & B Coffee on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. He grabs his cup of coffee, and we go take a seat to discuss “William Jones,” one of the numerous songs he’s written over the last few years and that have seized the attention of Lubbockites (and more).
Although Harris has been performing for a while, Estelline has really hit its stride this past year-and-a-half. It’s during this time that Harris and Estelline have become a tight-fitted band and really filled and identified their sound. It’s when (and to paraphrase some Don McLean), the jester stole the king’s thorny crown, to become Lubbock’s “Indie-Folk King.”
Harris and crew have been able to craft their own brand of folk that’s a mixture of The JayhawksFleetwood Mac, and genuine Texas singer-songwriter. It’s been a balance of some bare–sometimes raw even, dark lyrics with some satisfying and abundant, saturating sound. It’s what I’d call “southern-gothic gypsy-folk.”
Just like bands such as Drive-By Truckers and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, a former Drive-By Trucker, have been able to author songs that present the south’s (they’re all from The Shoals region of Alabama) true colors. which we all know, aren’t always the brightest of reds, greens, and blues.
Harris (along with a few other local acts) have picked up on that same chord; that Lubbock isn’t necessarily “Josh Abbott’s version of Lubbock.” It’s a much darker and desolate place than any wide open spaces I’ve come across.
Harris says he’s been a hermit the past few months, but not because of any darkening-n-depressing Lubbock blues. Rather, he’s been collecting up songs for Estelline’s sophomore effort, currently untitled.
“We have enough material for another 15-track album and have some vinyl coming out,” says Harris. “We’re going to try and release them as closely as we can.”
He says that they’re shooting for a spring release, and that with this next album, he’s hoping that it’s a “bit more wild and raw” and “not so clean sounding.”

So, when was “William Jones” written?

It’s about three-years-old. It was written for my uncle’s funeral. I just had to kind of throw it together in a few day. I just looked at his life and I wrote it out as simply as I could, and that’s how that came about.

What came first, the music or lyrics?

I actually free-wrote the lyrics first. Then, just kept reading them over. The words are a bit darker, so you know, I made the music a bit darker. Like the song, it’s about like how you were once something and how you’ve changed, and as soon as you’ve changed, it’s just one thing after the next. You lose all of your friends, and really just everything. Every person in your life who is important. It’s really a song about change. You know, something that people fear just as much as death, is change.

How did you first record it? I’m guessing you recorded it yourself somewhere before recording it for the self-titled debut. 

Yeah, I recorded it with a tape recorder actually [laughs]. You know, old school. It was actually the only thing I could use to listen back to it on was a tape player. That was how it was recorded first. Then, we just built it up in the studio.

Describe some of that “building up” of the song in the studio. How’d it come along there?

Well, I would lay it down, how I thought it should go–demo style, like me and my guitar first. Then, we’d go in and play the drums and bass together and take live tracks from that. Then, go back and put another vocal over that. Some scratched vocals and stuff. We played the bass and drums–the final takes were together live. Then put in your electric guitar, and vocals, and then harmonies. And then, you know, it changes a lot when you add four more minds, and a producer.

What’s been the biggest difference between those two versions? Like the those original lyrics and what’s on the album?

Well I would say, I had to edit down the lyrics and pull it back a little more–be a bit less crude. Just crude enough [laughs].

What’s going through your mind when you’re playing the “William Jones” live?

I really put the aggression, the emotion into the change. I try and sing part of it kind of sweetly. And then the next part, try and sing it as mean as you can.

How do you think “William Jones” compares to the other songs you’ve written?

That one, because it had to be played for that certain reason, I always stop and think about it, no matter how much I’ve had to drink, no matter what, I always stop and think about why I’m playing it. There’s some songs you can play through and not even think about them. This one, it’s all centered around lyrics. Even that switch, when I start singing harder, that’s a real emotional point.

Since it is a song so close and personal, have you ever thought of not playing it for shows?

There’s been times. At certain places I won’t do it. Or if I’m around my family, or if my family is at a show. This one in particular.

“William Jones” Lyrics

He used to be such a good Christian man
He’d preach to anyone that would hear him
Then the money started rolling right in front of him
Now the dope is the only thing that can save him

He used to be such a good looking man
He’d impress anyone who put their eyes on him
Then it all took a hold of him
Now he looks like he’s been to hell and back again

William Jones, I feel your pain
It’s gonna be another cold day
In mid July, in the middle of west Texas
Feel the chills run down your spine
You know you’re gonna die
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on to me

He used to be such a kind, gentle man
He’d tame a lion with just one friendly grin
Then it all took a hold of him
Now that lion has become a part of him

William Jones, I feel your pain
It’s gonna be another cold day
In mid July, in the middle of west Texas
Feel the chills run down your spine
You know you’re gonna die
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on

To me, I see no difference between right and wrong
When your down on your luck
And you’ve got nowhere to go
Hold on tight to me brother
Just as tight as you can
We wont make it out alive
Won’t you try and understand

William Jones, I feel your pain
It’s gonna be another cold day
In mid July, in the middle of west Texas
Feel the chills run down your spine
You know you’re gonna die
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on
Oh Brother, hold on to me

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5 responses to “Between the Lines: Kenny Harris of Estelline

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