12:30 interview with Harmed at the Star and Garter. Easy enough unless you moved to Manchester less than three weeks ago and couldn’t tell your way to the local Sainsbury’s and back. It’s times like these where punctuality is a virtue, getting to the venue at 12 (as well as the band themselves) only to find the venue doesn’t open till 4. Times like these, you also learn to improvise with a nice coffee shop setting, that is until you have to guide 7 people to the Arndale Centre in search of food. Having no sense of Manchester’s direction helping lead 7 others who have never been to Manchester around is certainly a story for the books. Nothing stressful at all, especially when you lose the bands vocalist Levente in Affleck’s .Stopping off at a drab McDonalds around Piccadilly Gardens, sitting in the lower levels surrounded by busy adults and screaming children with 10 year old pop-hits loudly blasting over the speakers, this is more than a casual setting for an interview, but improvisation is a road we all must head down occasionally.
In the end the group whittled down to me, Levente (Vocals), Gabor (Guitar), Steve (Bass) and photographer James Barbosa sitting in a rather tight booth. Welcome to England. However, with Harmed living and growing as a band in Hungary, its learning from the stories of European bands just how difficult it can be to breakout as a band, as well as the culture shock in different countries. Following on from Levente’s slight confusion of the UK McDonalds queueing system, the difficulties of touring the UK also came to light. ‘Obviously money is an issue while on tour especially for us Hungarians cause for our Hungarian pocket England is super expensive. You pay £4 for a beer here in Hungary an expensive beer is just £2’, somewhat bringing a short introduction to the strange exchange rates of the UK. Thanks capitalism! Yet, while the UK obviously encompasses some similarities of Hungary, each city has something different to offer. Every corner of Manchester has some hidden musical experience in the underground venues, even to the buskers in Piccadilly Gardens, but it’s the different ways this is portrayed in other cities that truly got the trios thoughts going, especially from Levente. We played with a few cool bands in Brighton. We arrived at the venue and there was a 5-piece girl band, kind of punk-ish, like wow this is cool! Brighton is a place that resonated through the band, something that really left an impression on the group as a place not just of seaside’s, piers and overpriced food, but of musical expression and culture. ‘everyone looked so happy and didn’t really care about things. The artistic expression and what they do in that town is just crazy.’
Yet another interesting thing about our conversation in a cosy corner at the lower level of McDonalds, is the lack of any language barriers. The UK isn’t known for any language achievements, hell we’re probably the worst for learning languages, something realised talking to people fluent in more than one tongue. In Hungary, mainstream pop artists often breakthrough with their tasteful Hungarian lyrics, which leads to an interesting topic of why Harmed decided to write in English opposed to Hungarian. As Steve explains, ‘I’ve always imagined myself playing in an English band lyrically. I never really wanted Hungarian lyrics, I still think it’s kind of weird’. There’s a debated idea as to whether you are more likely to be known in Hungary if you sing in Hungarian, an acceptable idea looking into it with a logical mindset, so why is there a divide in musical styles and languages? Like Gabor states, ‘People get into you more if you sing in Hungarian’ in which Steve follows on with the fact that ‘In the underground scene, more than half of the bands sing in English but if you wanna be more mainstream I guess it’s easier to sing in Hungarian. Even catering more to personal opinions of musical styles Levente has an input believing ‘metalcore music doesn’t really work with any other language than English. Hungarian languages are good for poetry but using it in metalcore is just weird I think,’ or at least a personal perception of that.
Even through a divide of language, there is still a connectivity of music and an understanding behind that. As a simplistic music journalist, there is little first-hand experience that one can personally give about touring, but the hidden side many fans don’t see is something quite interesting. Through the (possible) jokes Steve gives about starting to ‘hate each other slowly’, there is a connectivity between the three, even with their photographer James casually snapping the odd shot alongside us. Negatives of touring are a given, if anything the struggle of learning to cope with 7 others in a bus is a big factor. From having to guide 7 people around parts of Manchester, it is understandable how it can be a little stressful. As Steve reiterates ‘there are 8 people in a van and each person has different needs, everyone’s different and sometimes those different needs collapse’, an acceptable reasoning for losing sanity. Yet, there are such important topics such as mental health struggles people easily forget can come to light on tour. ‘I used to get anxiety attacks and one time we were playing a show and I lost almost 5 mins of time and I don’t know what happened’ as Gabor recalls, showing these are real life issues that can affect anyone and are a hidden aspect of touring. As a more humorous round-up Levente’s biggest issue is sleep. ‘The biggest problem is that you don’t have a private life here, also, you’re not getting much sleep. I don’t have creative talks I’m just like oh food, ah van, ah gas station, ah l wanna sleep ah load in. The daily stuff just eats my fucking brain’.
The thing that connects us all through any sense is music. Being a touring musician, the last thing you can want sometimes is music. ‘Sometimes I’m happy I don’t have to listen to music, I like the quiet’, with Steve growing up in a musical household with a DJ father, its understandable, but there is no escaping the joys of talking about it and having fun debates around the topics. On the idea of genre labelling ‘you have to describe your music somehow and for me labels are not barriers they’re just the best way to describe your music type’ but while some describe it as a barrier, Harmed are adamant in the face that ‘we are not stuck in one as we all listen to different kinds of music and have different things we like so we mix it together’.
One can spend hours on such a topic, serious factors about the music industry and how people put musicians in genre boxes (as a music reviewer, something I am perhaps guilty of), but while the music industry has serious factors, most are in it for the reason of enjoyment. To have fun and let go… literally… like Gabor who fell on stage. ‘I fell on stage… but I did it in a really weird way. I just fell on my guitar’, clearly a memorable experience amongst the entire band with the instant relation to ‘embarrassing moments’ being a wave of ‘Oh! Tell them about Romania’. Even at the worst of times, Harmed take things in a way which is just move on and learn, do what you can to have fun even if it is sitting through a tour, which Levente happened to have to do. ‘ I dislocated my knee in Budapest, that wasn’t even our set I was featuring for another band! it was boom boom boom and I just realised I was on the ground like oh no oh no… one hour before our set. True rock stars in the form of a Dave Grohl style performance moment, even if the rest of the tour was on crutches and chairs, its still a one-up for completing the tour, bonus points to the band for doing so.
Rounding up 30 minutes of conversation, its clear that these three members of Harmed bring something different to the band other than musical style. As they say, ‘the thing is that normal day life we are all chill, were not crazy people. We work, but for us maybe this band is where we can just release it all. Like someone goes to the gym we do this instead.’
Releasing it all is a coping mechanism perhaps, a way of letting themselves go and as individuals they all have a personal way of doing so. Asking them to use one lyric to personally describe themselves in the band, this is where quite interesting sides are revealed (and a question of who actually knows the lyrics to the tracks!) ‘Release my worst’ because when we go on stage we lose our shit.’ Is Steve’s, referring to having a release in music. On the other hand, Gabor offers the more personal approach, along with Levente in lyrical descriptions. ‘No recognition’ because I like to hide behind my hoodies and hair and all that stuff. It’s really good to have that mystical feel to it.’ The band bring truths and acceptance to themselves, they’re aware that others may mock them, but refuse to give in to the hatred. Levente adds on for his lyric ‘in all my presence, cast me out of your circles I’m losing the essence of participation’ because we’re all a bunch of weirdos I think. People have been mocking us since were kids. Kids are evil, so I don’t want to be part of the big picture, the crowds of people because that’s kind of normal, I’m not interested in normal. Whatever you do they’re just going to bully you and you know what fuck them.
Harmed refuse to fit the normal, something that is good. From the two-hour experience I had talking with the group (and trying to find their respective tour/bandmates in the busiest part of Manchester), there was a lot to be learned and a lot I reflected on from our conversation. Not only was there the cultural aspects and the differences between Hungary and the UK, but also learning how they are ones to accept themselves and do what they want to when they can. Harmed come across as a band of substance, there’s something within them that has that determination to work hard, get out there but have fun at the same time, just one conversation can show this. Be sure to listen to their music and more. Engage in the music, catch their shows, start a conversation with them. You can check them out at the links below.
Words: Caitlin Homfray