New Music Friday: Camille Harris, singer of silly, funny songs, gets serious on new EP

Harris’ new EP, ‘Where I Go’, a “serious” jazz and R&B record, is out today. Album art by Emily Niland

Camille Harris wears many hats. Most notably, two of her hats are that of a comedian and a musician. She incorporates comedy into her music, and music into her comedy: Harris penned a romantic comedy musical, The Muffin Man, that made it into the NYC Fringe Fest in 2009 and was then printed by Samuel French, a world-renowned play publisher. She has won the New York City Funny Songs Festival, been on IFC/College Humor’s Hall of Fame, and plays music for babies with her “Silly Jazz with Camille” program that she does with the Brooklyn Public Library.

Her latest effort, though, is a more serious effort: she went for a “cool R&B and jazz record that sounds cool,” she told us. Her new EP, Where I Go, officially drops next week—with a big release party at Littlefield to celebrate it—but you can preview you it here.

Harris began doing her brand of silly musical comedy in order to find joy in an otherwise not-so-joyful world, but over the course of preparing this “serious” album, she’s found that joy can be found elsewhere, too.

“I feel like it’s so easy to be sad because everything sucks, but the challenge in life is to find the joy and happiness. I used to think I had to do that through comedy, but I realized that I can do serious stuff and still find joy. Like this album.”

When I asked her which came first, music or comedy, she seemed to think the two were intermingled. All about finding that joy, I suppose. She’s doing a lot of stand-up these days, and hosting and participating in regular shows around the city. But that’s when she’s not writing and producing a world-class R&B/ jazz record. Plus, like a true New York artist, Harris, 29, of Bed Stuy, is a real multi-tasker with a day job.

More than one, actually: she writes custom music for commercial and internet spots, but she mostly teaches piano, and sometimes takes writing or acting gigs. Harris is also no stranger to the service industry: when she’s not working her more creative jobs, she works at Café Gitane, a charming French café in the historic Jane Hotel (which you can see in this video from NMF alums Caveman). And all that hustling has paid off: rather than doing a Kickstarter to fund her latest release, Harris has been able to fund it herself.

She’s no stranger to the world of DIY, either: as her senior thesis in college at Emerson, Harris wrote an original musical comedy called The Muffin Man. She put it up then, moved to New York, and when the show got into the Fringe festival, she produced it on her own at 21.

“I had some help from people, but I remember going to the Fringe festival and people would ask where my team was. I just said, ‘this is me.’ It was a huge undertaking. This was in 2009, before Kickstarter, so I wrote letters to all my family and friends. They basically helped me fund it. But I was able to produce it, it sold out, it got extended and went to the Fringe encore series. Then it was published by Samuel French. I had submitted it to all these places and got no’s, and then I got the yes from the one place I never thought I would get.”

The Muffin Man was printed and distributed by Samuel French, the largest publisher of plays and musicals in the U.S., and Harris even saw a high school production in Texas. She says it’s silly for the sake of being silly; it’s essentially a rom-com. It’s about a girl who gets a summer job at the local coffee shop, and falls in love with the boy who brings the muffins every day. I asked Harris if she does, in fact, know this muffin man.

“I think we all have our own muffin man. And no, he does not live on Drury lane.”

In her efforts to promote her new release, Harris went back to her DIY roots, putting up posters wherever she went. And she says that her band was homegrown, too:

“I met my band through music. They’re all my really close friends now.  I met my friend Dave the drummer through a mutual friend, Tom, who is also best friends with Wayne, my trumpet player. I’ve been playing with Wayne and Tom since 2012. I met my bass player and my piano player at this jam session at Minton’s in Harlem. Wayne used to host a jam up there every Friday, and I would go every time. Now we’re all really good friends. I actually live with Georgia, my bass player.”

And apparently the record came together within a matter of hours:

“I play with a bunch of musicians but I made sure these people were available when I booked the studio. I wanted to play with my good friends, such a good vibe. It feels so cool to play with your friends. We recorded it in February at Virtue and Vice studios, and ended up laying down all the tracks within, like, eight hours. I went and added vocals in a few more hours.”

So to celebrate this new EP, and also her 30th birthday, Harris is having a big release party next Friday at Littlefield. It’ll feature comedian John Early and singers The Shirtwaist Sisters, who will also sing harmonies for Harris. And then, another friend will DJ Harris’ 30th birthday shindig. It all sounds pretty rad.

In the meantime, check out this sweet video for her song “Baby On The Subway,” which was featured in the IFC Comedy Hall of Fame.

“I just love when a baby’s on the subway, and nobody can help from smiling,” she says. “It brings everyone together. Even if they’re crying, everybody likes to make faces at a baby. The construction worker, the goth girl, the hipster, everyone makes faces at the baby.”

Check out the album today, and don’t miss her big to-do at Littlefield next week.

Lilly Vanek is the music editor for Brokelyn. For more on local music and fictional pastry distributors, follow Lilly on Twitter. And to pitch her for New Music Friday, email lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.