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Kim Harris: the mightiest voice coming out of the East Coast

Holly Gordon

There’s really no way around it: Kim Harris is a delight. The Corner Brook-born, Halifax-based singer-songwriter will charm your socks off with her laugh and blow you away with her voice (and make you cry with her lyrics, let this be fair warning).

Harris released her first full-length, Only the Mighty, in February 2014, and performed to a brimming crowd at her April album release that counted most folk musicians in the province. She’s had a banner year — counting three Music Nova Scotia Award wins in November and opening for both Jenn Grant and Amelia Curran on their fall release tours.

She’s no Nova Scotia secret. But if you live outside the province’s borders and haven’t tuned in yet, it’s time to start listening to the mightiest voice coming out of the East Coast. Hers is a raw honesty that we really need to jump-start 2015.

CBC Music caught up with Harris during her holiday downtime. Here are five things you need to know about Halifax’s next big thing.


The weight of it all

Harris grew up singing other people’s music. She started training as a classical opera singer at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto before making an about-face to Halifax and becoming a massage therapist. It took until some time in her 20s for Harris to write something she felt was real, and for her.

"Honestly, I lost my mom when I turned 20, and I think that it was a catalyst for me to start writing music. I needed it to get through my 20s, I think. It was the most devastating time of my life and I can't really remember a lot of it, which is interesting. Writing [was] a healing process for me. So the first record, this record, has like five years of songs that we just kind of picked from."

Follow your dreams — even if they take you to an open mic night in Pugwash, N.S.

Harris says she was too intimidated to do any open mics in Halifax when she was there studying massage therapy ("They were scary to me," she adds, laughing). So when she moved to rural Pugwash, N.S., for work, she first tried out some covers at a little cafe. "I started to weave my own songs in there eventually."

In January 2012, she was invited to play her first show at Halifax’s In the Dead of Winterfestival. It was the first time she’d ever plugged in her instrument.

"I felt really connected to [music] immediately. It was like it's been waiting for me for a really long time, which is kind of amazing. And I constantly feel that. I always feel this really thankful presence and I always feel like it's exactly where I'm supposed to be, which is really quite an amazing feeling."

It didn’t take Harris long to move back to Halifax to start her music career.

Everyone knew Harris would be a musician before she did

"It's funny because it seemed like everybody else knew. It's like, 'Yeah, obviously, this is what you're doing now and this is what you should've been doing for a really long time.' It's like, 'Ooooh, OK. Well somebody could've told me. [Laughs] You guys could've let me in on your secret.'"

She’s in on it now, though.

"It's a really good time for me. Since I was 20, I struggled a lot with grief. I struggled really deeply. And all of a sudden I was kind of finding my way to a new normal again, or a new hopeful life, rather than despairing, grieving. So all of a sudden, [music] was this really beautiful thing that happened and that I decided to just be brave enough to play and sing for people. And it's just come back to me tenfold, a thousand fold."

List of goals: check, check and check

Singer-songwriters Jenn Grant and Amelia Curran made Harris want to start writing music ("these two ladies are heroes in a way") and, two years ago, Harris only knew the two through their songs. By the end of 2014, that’s changed: Harris guested on two tracks for Grant’s newest release, Compostela, and also opened for both Grant and Curran’s fall release shows.

"As far as things progressing go, it's just been the best year of my life. This fall has been the fall of dreams.

"I remember I had this list [puts on a voice]: What are some goals? [Laughs] Be played on CBC, be interviewed by CBC, be played on CKDU, play at the Company House, play at the Carleton. Meet Jenn Grant. It's this hilarious list that I look at and now I'm like, OK, dude. These are the five-year goals, and within two months it's just been all of it.”

She loves hip-hop

The In the Dead of Winter festival has an annual Halloween fundraiser where local musicians dress up and perform in character as dead musicians. This year, Harris gave in to her true passion.

"For the last couple years, I've been these singing divas: I was Whitney for two years — they were like, ‘Come back and do it again’ — and then Etta James. People are expecting that from me, and I was thinking and trying to figure out somebody. But I love hip-hop, and I love Biggie. I was like, 'Oh my God, could I do this? ... I could rap. I'm a pretty decent rapper, when it comes down to it. To sing along with things. I'm not bad."

Her favourites: Lauryn Hill ("The Miseducation is probably one of my favourite all-time records, it's so good"), Missy Elliott — all the gems from the late ’90s and early aughts. Some Drake and Kendrick Lamar, plus Halifax rapper Cam Smith.

You can buy Only the Mighty via Bandcamp or iTunes

Find me on Twitter: @hollygowritely