“Keeping it all in the family” is ordinarily little more than a quaint sentiment for colloquial brotherhood. But for Josh and Jon Harter, and their psych-Americana quartet Colleens, the idea is about as literal as you can get. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, the Harter brothers were surrounded by music. Their father, Keith, is a composer who owns KHM Studios in San Antonio, where Josh and Jon work day jobs as recording engineers and producers, and are treated to a daily deluge of spectrum-spanning sound palates by working musicians from across the country.
“We speak the same dialect musically,” says Jon of his brother Josh. Jon mans drums in Colleens, while Josh is the principle songwriter, as well as guitarist and vocalist. “We’ve got our own shorthand when it comes to playing songs. If we’re working something out in playing together, there are just a couple of words we have to say to each other and we know exactly what we’re gonna do. It’s that weird unspoken thing.”
Those unspoken cues have manifested themselves into Colleens’ debut LP, Wild Dreams, recorded and produced by the Harters themselves.
In the interims of their recording projects, the Harters quietly began to sow the seeds of Wild Dreams, utilizing the luxuries of having a commercial studio at their disposal. Through their work with various artists, the brothers began to establish creative affinities with the musicians employing KHM, eventually recruiting Deric Wynne (bass) and Jackson Floyd (guitar) into Colleens to flesh out Josh’s compositions to more ornate plateaus.
“It feels a little sinister looking back on it now, like ‘Hey, who are the best guys from all these bands we’re working with?’ explains Jon. “It just felt so natural working with some of these other guys and we had such similar tastes and perspective on making music and records in general. Josh and I are so in sync that it was of the utmost importance to have other guys to go to and say, ‘Hey, are we crazy?’”
The result on Wild Dreams is a record that pays homage to the Harters’ influences, while pushing those traditions to exciting sonic terrain. Josh’s songs operate within and around traditional pop songwriting structures, with an ear toward equally risky/rewarding instrumentation. The album opens with the easy-does-it rocker “About You,” Josh crooning, “Sometimes I get a little lost when I’m walking in your shoes…” over a thwumpy bass line, subtle guitar patterns and barely-there keys. The track serves as a crib sheet of sorts for the remainder of the record, a collection of heavy-lidded rock numbers that somehow sound classic already.
“I do feel like this record falls into that ’60s and ’70s classic pop thing,” says Jon. “Our goal as a band is to not do just the same thing though. We’re not afraid of wearing our influences on our sleeves, but it’s got to be subtle.”
“Do You Remember Love?” is a natural extension of “About You,” reveling in a somber atmosphere of slide guitar, sunny melodies and humbling harmonies. It’s in this song that one of Wild Dreams’ standout accoutrements first surfaces in the form of truly haunting string arrangements – penned by the Harter’s father Keith – which have the tendency to take the songs into fantastic fits of psychedelic mischief.
Nowhere is that psych underbelly more evident than on the Pink Floyd-esque “No Flowers,” an eerie tune that finds Josh’s vocals meandering like a nightmare lullaby. Minimal acoustic guitar instrumentation soon swells to include huge strings and the feeling of an imminent invasion of sound that just as quickly fades away. It’s a testament to the band’s willingness for experimentation and the breadth of aural avenues they’re interested in exploring.
Colleens gets right to their Lennon-McCartney core, too, on catchy pop rockers like “Sun Before I Set” and “Maybe We’ll Fall in Love.” “Second Century Home” carries with it a dirty guitar lead that butts heads against an anthemic melody for the most upbeat song on the album.
“Wild Dreams is a snapshot in time of where we’re at right now,” concedes Jon. “But I’m sure we’ll come up with another one pretty quickly.”