Making it in New York
Interview by Joseph Magnelli - Photo Journalist
I recently sat down with my good friend Cabell Harris. Cabell Harris is a guitar player from Northern California currently living in New York with a career in music. I wanted to know what life is like in an up and coming band in New York.
Joseph: Ever since we were kids I remember you having a guitar in your hands. When did you actually start playing guitar and what got you started?
Cabell: I was 13 and my little brother was going to take guitar lessons so my parents pushed me into lessons too. I didn’t even want to play guitar. I was always more interested in other instruments. Piano, violin, drums; basically everything except the guitar. After the first lesson I fell in love.
Joseph: Who were some of your influences?
Cabell: The thing is that so many people have influenced me. So it's very difficult to say who has had the most impact on my playing from an outside perspective. I would say the people that you don’t hear in my music are the biggest impacts. The most modern discernible influences have been bands like The Black Keys. That’s probably one of the easiest to hear in what I write. John Scofield is another artist you could pick out from my playing. Debussy is HUGE for me, though I don't think anyone would guess that. I don’t have that many obvious influences.
Joseph: What was your first guitar?
Cabell: A piece of crap almost broken in half J.B. Player acoustic guitar. It’s still my favorite. Two guitars fell off the back of a truck and my dad bought the two for 100 bucks. One later broke in half and the other was beaten to crap but is still playable.
Joseph: I love that. My favorite guitar was always my dad’s old beat up acoustic that he had for 20 years.
Cabell: It's really funny how it works. The first time you touch it and learn you’re way around that particular instrument. That might be the sweetest feeling in the world.
Joseph: When did you decide that you were going to make music your career choice?
Cabell: Probably when I was 17. When my parents were asking about college. My grades were good enough to go to college and they asked what I wanted to do. I said: "I don’t want to go to school. School sucks." .....stay in school kids... They asked if I would go to school for music. I said yes and off I went.
Joseph: I remember you were always traveling. Even as a kid you were traveling all of the time. You have been all over the world. What impact has this had on your music?
Cabell: To be honest I think it’s that it made me a lot more depressed about life and the reality of the world. I feel like that sadness comes through in my music pretty clearly.
Joseph: What country gave you this feeling the most?
Cabell: India. The things that I saw there… I was 8 when I went the first time. Being an 8-year-old kid growing up where we did, if you didn’t have money you were fine. But seeing these kids the same age as me, covered in crap, in horrible living conditions and decease ridden. That messed with me.
Joseph: You currently live in Brooklyn and have been for the last two years. Did your time in Boston influence your decision to go to New York? Or have you always known you were going to live there?
Cabell: It influenced my decision to come here but I have always known I wanted to live here. I didn’t realize how the weather had such an enormous impact on day-to-day life. I walk to my students, lessons and gigs no matter the weather. So it's not just like: "Oh it's cold out today. Wear your long-johns!". It's like: "Do I really want to make a living today??". It’s crazy when you spend a good bit of your day outside.
Joseph: When you first moved to New York you worked as a wine distributor. When you landed this job did you know it was just until you could get your feet on the ground as a musician? Or did you think that you might stay in the wine industry?
Cabell: I thought I might stay in the wine industry. I thought it was more important to enjoy music then it was to make a living from it. I changed my mind… It didn’t make me happy working a full-time day job.
Joseph: How have you been making a living as a musician?
Cabell: Predominantly teaching guitar. But I gig with bands, help with arrangements for singers and occasionally get to record in studios. Eventually that will be a good source of income also.
Joseph: How do you find students?
Cabell: Mostly Craigslist and word of mouth. Occasionally other online platforms and fliers.
Joseph: What are your goals as a musician? Do you want to be in a band traveling? Or be more in the behind the scenes of the music industry?
Cabell: That’s an amazingly difficult question. I would love to teach no matter what I am doing, but I love to gig. Though I know a prolonged career in music would be behind the scenes.
Joseph: So you really enjoy teaching?
Cabell: I love it. I love being able to help someone figure out something they have been trying to learn their whole lives. It’s life changing to them.
Joseph: Do you plan on staying in New York? Or do you have any intentions on moving back to California and making music here.
Cabell: I plan to stay in New York as long as it takes until I feel I have an accomplished enough reputation that I can take with me. That could bring me back to California.