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20 Quesions With Dean Harlem

The Nashville troubadour talks Tic Tacs, beekeeping, concept albums & more.

Dean Harlem has been everywhere. And he’s finally getting somewhere. From California to Texas to New England, the New Jersey native has — in true troubadour fashion — made America his home (though he’s also made a sojourn or two over to Ireland). Deep-rooted in Americana and classic country sounds, with an honest, soulful voice and a picking style that blends Townes Van Zandt and Justin Townes Earle, Harlem has distinguished himself as a young singer-songwriter to watch. His debut release, 2019’s Asbury Park, paid homage to his Jersey roots, while his latest single Keep You — which he recently premiered right HERE — took a romantic journey to Galway Bay. Currently, Harlem makes his home in Nashville, where he’s putting the finishing touches on his second EP Red Oak Hill and holding down a Lower Broadway residency — and where he wasted precious moments grappling with my dumb questions. Let’s see where that gets him:



What is your musical origin story?
I had a rough childhood. When I got out of high school I was lost and directionless, had no idea what to do or where to go, all I knew is that I wanted to be a guy who carries a guitar around and sings and writes songs for a living. I left my home in N.J. when I was 18 and hitchhiked around the United States for a year. I made a living as a busker for three years in California, playing six hours a day for tips, then I moved to New England and played bar gigs for five years and started touring the country. Now I’m in Nashville just focusing on making albums and getting my music out into the world anyway I can.

What’s your latest project?
I have an EP coming out this summer. It’s called Red Oak Hill. Named after my street where I lived in New Hampshire.

How will my life improve by listening to your music?
Bob Dylan said “the highest purpose of art is to inspire” and I believe that to be true. My wish with my music is that it provides a light in your darkness and keeps your hope machine fired up and running.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
I don’t remember my first real gig but I sure do remember my first open mic. It was a disaster. It was in 2010 at the World Cafe in Philly. I played Ramblin’ Man by Hank Williams and an original called Traveling On. I was just so nervous and shaking that I barely got through the songs. I felt so defeated that I quietly left after I got off stage. That moment hurt, but it also inspired me to really work on my music and get better.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen?
I saw Justin Townes Earle open for his dad at The Chapel in San Francisco in 2013. He made an impression on me that lasts to this day. I think as far as a single person and a guitar goes, he’s the best solo show I have ever seen.

What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
I would make an epic concept rock album with 1970s Pink Floyd or The Beach Boys. Those bands had such a broad spectrum of sounds and effects, from acoustic folk to large avant garde instrumentals. That’s the music that gives me goosebumps and it’s what I’m striving to create with my own sound.

What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Friendly, fun to talk with.

What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
I’m a beekeeper. I love honeybees. They’re such cool and fascinating creatures. I make and sell my own honey. I’m still a beginner but it’s been a really fun hobby so far. They don’t require too much management so I can still go out on tour. I have about 15 colonies in my apiary at the moment.

Who can you do an impression of?
I could sing some Waylon Jennings songs in a Waylon voice.

Tell us a joke.
Billy and Bob are both farmers that live next to each other.
One night Bob was walking through his field when he saw Bill’s barn door was ajar and had a light on inside, so he decided to stop by and take a look.
When he peered inside he saw Bill in his overalls doing a stripper dance around his John Deere, peeling off his overalls one shoulder strap at a time.
So Bob burst in and yelled, “Billy! What in GOD’s name are you doing?!?”
And Bill, visibly embarrassed says: “Aw jeez Bob, you know me and the wife have been having some issues in the bedroom, so we went and saw this fancy couples therapist and he told me I should maybe try doing something sexy to attract her.

If money was no object, where would you live?
In Southern France, and spend most of my time oil painting and writing.

Which historical event do you wish you had witnessed?
Pickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
My current idea of perfect happiness would be headlining a sold-out show at the Ryman and hearing the crowd sing my songs back to me.

What are your pet peeves?
There’s a special layer of hell for people who switch lanes without using their turn signals

What are you afraid of?
Tornados and heights.

What’s your motto?
“Life can change on a dime.” So appreciate the good times and keep your chin up during the hard times, because they’re bound to change.

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
For a while I believed Tic Tacs were actual pills and if I ate too many that I would die (courtesy of my mother).

What was your favourite class in school and why?
Art class, because I had a really cool teacher I looked up to and who gave me cassette tapes of Dylan and other great music. He did a lot to expand my early musical education.

What was the worst job you ever had?
Where do I start? The worst was probably a construction site in New Hampshire during the winter of ’14/’15, when they had a record amount of snowfall.

What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
“You should give up because you have to be famous by the time you’re 18 to be successful as a musician.” — My dad.
“You can do anything you put your mind and energy towards.” — My mom.

Watch some of Dean Harlem’s videos above, check out more of his music below, and meet up with him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.