- 25 Apr 17
We caught up with Austin-based musician, painter and activist Thor Harris ahead of his performance at the Drogheda Arts Festival at the end of April.
Thor Harris is a fairly multi-talented man. Aside from being the chief percussionist for experimental rock band Swans, an activist, a spokesperson and a carpenter, he's also not bad at negotiating the shoddy Hot Press phone signals from all the way out in Baltimore.
Thor is making a brief stop in the Maryland city before jetting off to Ireland for two performances at the Drogheda Arts Festival on April 27 & 28. He's performed in Ireland several times before, but this time around, he'll be bringing something new.
"I'm coming to give a reading from my book, Ocean of Despair, which is kind of an illustrated account about my descent into depression and my battle with it. I'm hoping that after the reading, the audience and I can get into a discussion where other people can talk about their experiences or knowledge of depression. I've done those kind of readings before in America and in Canada, but it'll be interesting to see how it works in an Irish context."
Thor's journey through his depression, which began in the early 1990s, has been an intensely personal and brave one. Does he find it helpful to talk to audience and hear their responses?
"Yeah, definitely," he says. "I’d like to think that it helps people to have a space to converse and find out that they’re not alone. Depression’s one of the most unique illnesses that people have to deal with because it’s one of those illnesses where all kinds of outside contexts and social factors can have a serious impact."
Political factors too?
"Of course. I think that our political conundrum is exacerbating a lot of people's anxieties. I mean in the US, people are...(sighs) they're horrified by the Goon that's at the wheel here. Then closer to where you guys are, the whole Brexit campaign was based on fear and racism."
On the political front, Thor was recently banned from Twitter for sharing a video in which he gave detailed instructions on how to punch Nazis (which we're all grateful for).
"That video went crazy," he laughs. "And it took over my life for a few days. I got some serious hate mail from it, but I think most people saw the funny side and I got way more support than hate from people. I don't really blame Twitter for the whole thing. It's just a bit of a big, stupid thing which has to follow all these protocols and rules. And I got reinstated pretty quickly after they realised it was just a big right-wing sabotage."
Has Thor ever had to punch a Nazi himself?
"I haven't in quite a while. I've come close, because I go to a lot of protests now. And because I'm a big, burly dude I'll stand up to them if they're getting in the faces of people, but thankfully I haven't had to punch anyone in a long time. I used to get into some altercations with skinheads with shows because I was in mixed-race bands and skinheads would go to shows just to start shit. But I haven't had to deal with that meathead element in a while.
"Then again, with things so emboldened by the dipshits in power, we'll see what happens..."
As well as giving a reading from his book, Thor will also perform with his avant-garde minimalist band, Thor & Friends, the following day.
"This is a new collaboration that we've been working on," he tells me. "We have one album out at the moment and another that we've just finished. We're now waiting on the mixes from that. It should be out by autumn this year. For our second one, we've gotten a lot of different singers involved - alhough we wanted this to a wordless album, trying to see what would happen if we used the voice as just another instrument. Michael Gira, from Swans sings on it, as well as an amazing Norwegian opera singer Stine Janvin Motland."
Thor will give a reading on April 27 at The Living Room, Sarsfields, and Thor & Friends will perform at St. Peters Church of Ireland, on Friday 28 April. See droghedaartsfestival.ie for more details.