Brian Harris

It’s always fascinating interviewing remarkable musicians that are great people as well. Brian Harris is one of the top drummers in the metal scene and an amazing guy too. I had the chance to talk with him about his brother’s, Michael Harris, new solo album “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint”, the other bands he plays with and his personal music endeavors in general, among other quite interesting things. Read more below…
Brian Harris pic
Hi Brian, I’m glad we’re given the chance to talk about Michael’s new album “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” and your other music endeavors.
B: My pleasure! I always enjoy talking shop, especially when it has to do with my brother’s amazing music.
Had you told Michael all these years that he should make a second “Orchestrate” album at some point?
B: No, I actually never brought up the idea. This is just something he decided to do. And I love it! No better way to expand on an idea like that, than to release a Part 2!
Well, do tell us how you and Michael worked together. Did he send you some ideas and you add your drum parts or what?
B: He creates demos in his studio, using a drum machine, and then he sends the demos to me. He spends quite a bit of time programming the drum machine parts, so I do respect his ideas. But if I can come up with something even better, I will demo them and let him decide if he likes my idea better or if he prefers me to approach it more like his drum machine beat. But at the very least I am putting my own style and personality into the drum parts, using his drum machine programming as a template.
I think it’s more fun to write a song and hear how it turns out eventually. Are there times that you tell Michael to change some things or not – and does Michael listen to you?
B: I typically don’t question his songwriting. I’m sure there have been some areas where I thought he should do something different (lengthening/shortening a part, for example). But I leave it alone, and then after he adds all layers to the song, that part ends up being perfect and I find that my idea for a change is no longer needed. But as far as drum parts go, as mentioned above, I will still experiment some and let him decide if he likes what I’ve come up with even better. Typically that’s the case, because at this point of his songwriting career, I know his style and I usually know what type of beats complement his songs.
What was your first thought when you listened to the first “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” tracks? Any favorites?
B: I knew this album would be a lot more involved, instrument-wise. And I knew that it was going to be quite a different approach in the actual songs themselves compared to the previous “Orchestrate” album. I personally think every album he’s released has its own style and feel, and even though there is a MH signature style. I don’t think there’s anything that he’s written on any album that has sounded like something from a previous album. That’s what makes him such a great songwriter. And for me as a drummer, it is what makes writing drum parts to his songs so exciting and fun!

My favorites? Hmmmm, well, I’m naturally a little biased and think the whole album is epic, but a few favorites of mine are “Orchestra Pit”, “Octavian III”, and “Wrath of the Conductor”.
Where did you record your drum parts? Do you have a word when it comes to the final album production in general? I know that Michael is open minded, so I think that he likes second opinions that can help him improve things on the whole, right?
B: I have a home studio where I track all my drums. I’d like to thank my brother and especially Gary Long for helping me get it up and running. Gary owns Nomad Studios in Dallas TX, where King Diamond has recorded. He built 3 beautiful standing (mobile) wooden acoustic panels for my studio, a ceiling “cloud” for overtop of the drum kit, and also a “floating floor” for the kit to be set upon. It’s great that we have this wonderful technology that allows us to record in different parts of the country or world. There was a time where everyone had to be in the same room to record. That’s no longer necessary. And makes collaborating with other musicians all over the world, even easier.
And yes I definitely get a say in how my drums sound in the overall mix. But I leave that up to Michael, initially. As songs are being mixed and coming to completion, I get a copy and listen down to see if there’s anything that I would like to hear differently, whether it’s a rack tom that needs to be louder in the mix or more/less reverb on the snare, for example.
What’s your opinion about “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” and what are the differences and the similarities with the first “Orchestrate” album?
B: I think the first “Orchestrate” album has more of an overall metal approach. But this one still has many moments of metal to satisfy the heaviest of metal fans out there. But there are definitely more layers of instruments on this album, giving it an even more orchestral sound.
What’s your favorite release between “Orchestrate” and “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint” and why?
B: Of course, “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint“, simply because I played on it... haha, but Matt Thompson (King Diamond) crushed the drum kit on the first one, and that album still kills.
You also play with Michael on Darkology. What do you think of the Darkology releases so far?
B: I think we had some really great music, naturally because of Michael’s great songwriting. I’m very proud of what we released. And of course, we couldn’t do it without the amazing vocal talents of Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter and the low end bass poundage and lyrical talents of Mike Neal!
What does the future hold for Darkology and would you have done things differently if you had the chance again?
B: We’d like to eventually release more music, but we don’t presently have a vocalist.
I know that you also play in an Iron Maiden cover band called “Aces High”, right? How did the whole thing start?
B: I like to refer to Aces High as a “tribute” band, not a “cover” band. However, we don’t dress up like Iron Maiden, which is what a tribute band does, so we really can’t refer to ourselves as a true tribute band. Our logo says “Aces High The Music of Iron Maiden”. So, even though we don’t dress up like them, we do execute the music to its fullest. And we do have a pretty slick stage set up with a banner, scrims and my sick Nicko McBrain replica kit with a different Eddie on each drum!
This band began back in 2011 when one of our guitar players was asked to do a benefit show for a children’s foundation called Special Wish foundation. It was initially planned to just be a one-off show. So, after we completed the show with plans to go about our individual musical lives, we realized we had something very special between the five of us. So, we decided to continue the band. We had almost a 2 year break between 2016-2017 when our singer decided to quit and pursue other things. But in early 2018 we got a new amazing vocalist named Aaron Thomas out of Cincinnati. And because of his vocal quality and his local fame in the Cincinnati scene, it has taken this band to the next level. We couldn’t be happier! He is the fire we needed to get the Aces engine primed and running again.
Have you considered the fact to play in another cover band if you have the time and if yes for which band?
B: I actually play in a cover band called Mad Hatter. We play everything from Rush, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Journey, Van Halen and more! Great song selections, and an even better group of musicians to play with. Top notch players!
So, coming back to you – what are the other music endeavors of yours?
B: My full time job (that actually pays the bills), is my wedding DJ business. I’ve been doing this since 1997, and in 2004 I went full time with it, leaving my day job. It’s great to be my own boss, set my own hours and work mostly from home. But as a wedding DJ, many of my weekends are taken up with weddings. So that can get tricky with scheduling gigs with the bands. But while others are relaxing and enjoying their weekend I am helping make someone’s biggest day of their life the very best it can be. And that’s very rewarding.
Have you had any regrets since the day you started dealing with music? Do you believe that things would have turned out way better for the band if you had done some things differently back then?
B: That’s hard to say. I don’t have any specific regrets. But there are always ways to do things better. In the early 90s we didn’t have the internet like we do now. So, we had to promote our band by making flyers to post at music stores and record stores and tape to poles at the 4 corners of intersections (haha), as well as physically mailing things to people, just to get the word out. We’d even go to the malls and look for metalheads to give them a handbill flyer for upcoming shows.
But now we have Facebook and Instagram and many other forms of social media. It’s great now because you can reach a mass amount of people that you would never be able to reach without it. That being said, as much as I wish we had this platform back then, I wouldn’t change a thing about it because we hustled and we did the hard work, paid our dues and had fun doing it the old-school way together as a band.
Time for our “weird questions”!!! Which music kind can’t you bear to listen to at all?
B: Cool I like weird. My brother's music is weird, and I’m weird, so weird is good. Haha! Anyway, I don’t like rap or opera. Not a fan of country either.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words:
B: Rockstar: Either someone who has earned that title through doing great things in the music industry, or someone who abuses that title because he/she is an asshole to their fans.
Drums: The best instrument for taking out your aggression! Grrrrrr!
Sci-fi: Movies about outer space or extraterrestrial things!
Music Realities: Unless you’re a metal band at the status of Metallica, the metal bands you go see at medium-sized venues are not making millions. Usually not even enough to create a livable income for their families. When not touring, most are working day jobs. And unfortunately, because music is easily accessible online anymore (sadly, for free), bands depend on touring and selling merch while on tour, to actually make (minimal) money. Albums sales are not what they used to be. And it’s very sad. But it’s a reality in 2019 and beyond.
Is there a particular book you can’t recommend enough?
B: Honestly I don’t like to read books, so I don’t have any suggestions. Sorry.
Top 3 sci-fi movies of any era?
B: Not a big movie watcher. But I would say my top three would be “Star Wars”, “Alien”, and “Avatar”.
Best TV series you’ve watched lately?
B: The Walking Dead. Which is a show more about survival than it is about zombies. A lot of people don’t realize that. I know before I started watching it I thought the idea of zombies was stupid and why would I ever watch a show about that? Well, I accidentally started watching the first episode of season one, not knowing what I was watching. By the time I found out what it was that I was watching, I was already hooked, just on the suspense and storytelling alone. So that’s my wife and my Sunday night plan when the seasons are active... The Walking Dead and a couple of IPA beers!
Which are the best 3 metal albums according to you?
B: Man it’s a hard one because there are so many and so many different categories we could put them in. In no particular order: Slayer – “Reign in Blood”, Death – “Human” and Symphony X – “The Divine Wings of Tragedy”.
Fill in the phrase… “Metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
B: Black Sabbath, Slayer, and Metallica…
Which is that band that you’d like to be part of (any time & era)?
B: Given I have the ability to pull off Neil Peart drum parts, it would definitely be Rush
Which is the record you wish you had written and why?
B: “2112” by Rush, simply because it’s a masterpiece (“Hemispheres” being a close second!)…
Who is the sexiest female Rock Star of all time?
B: Another toughie.... I’d say Amy Lee from Evanescence or Christina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil. I’m not very up on the female-fronted metal bands.
Which do you consider to be the best female & male vocalist in rock history?
B: Ann Wilson and Glenn Hughes (Russell Allen being a close second)!
Which do you consider to be the drummer in rock/metal history?
B: Just like picking the best metal albums, picking the best drummer is nearly impossible because there are so many great ones and you really have to divide it into the different genres of rock and metal. But I guess the one that’s had the biggest influence on me is Neil Peart of Rush. In fact, I remember writing a drum part for one of my brother’s songs, and I was trying to add one little piece to an odd time signature part, and said to myself “What would Neil Peart do here?” and instantly I had an idea. Haha!
If you had the opportunity to invite any famous person, living or dead, over for supper whom would you choose and why?
B: Probably James Hetfield, just because he’s always maintained that “cool rockstar” status in my eyes. But if I had to pick a non-musician, although this guy is still a musician in addition to being a comedian and actor, it would be Adam Sandler. He’s just a funny guy.
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
B: Another hard one to narrow it down to. It would either be “2112” by Rush or “Reign in Blood” by Slayer. And honestly, that doesn’t represent the whole human race. But that’s what I’d want them to be exposed to! (haha)
We’re done Brian (check out Brian’s FB page here)! Say anything you feel like saying. Wish you the best and have fun on the road. Take care dude!
B: Thank you so much for the interview, Thanos. Those reading this need to get online right now to Amazon or CDbaby and order Michael Harris’ album “Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint“ and then crank it up when it arrives! By the way, Michael and I are already currently working on his next album to follow this one, which will be more of a fusion/prog album and will be out sometime in 2020. Fans of his “Tranz-Fused” and “Sketches from the Thought Chamber” albums will definitely like this next one. And Michael and I look forward to sharing it with the world as well!