[QUIRK POP] Gregory Miles Harris can’t sit still. Adjusting and then readjusting his green knit cap, the quirky local songwriter shifts in his chair, pulling at his sweater sleeves. He stops bouncing his foot to untie and then retie his sneakers. “The fact that you even know who I am,” he says, “is flippin’ awesome.”
You probably haven’t heard of him, either. I only stumbled on Harris through a wrong turn on MySpace. Listening to his singular brand of whiny, slightly nutty soft folk-pop was not, for me, immediately pleasurable. But I kept on listening. And underneath the saccharine sheen of aw-shucks puppydog lyrics and power chords, I found something more satisfying: I found heart.
“Cigarettes, love and death” may be the iconic themes coursing through the 26-year-old’s songbook—one number outlines myriad ways to off oneself via Portland landmarks—but Harris (who says “like” nearly every other word) admits that love often takes center stage. “I guess girls sort of inspire me,” he says and shrugs. “I’m just a sensitive cat, and if I’m burned then I’m gonna write something sad.... I do take myself very seriously,” he continues, “and I do feel like people in Portland can, like, relate to that primal feeling.”
Take one of his best tunes, “Grandma the Cigarette Song.” “They tell me that Grandma’s gonna die,” he sings in a playful patter. He goes on, in the chorus: “I really really really really really really love my grandma.” The tune itself is completely inane, but Harris’ earnest delivery bears a true, emotional punch. This, in a nutshell, is the anti-genius of Gregory Miles Harris. Without the help of an agent or label, Harris is playing shows on both coasts and building his own bizarre fan base (1,162 of them on MySpace) along the way.
At Anna Bannanas on Northwest 21st Avenue, Harris reflects on his move to PDX from the Boston suburbs in 2004. He had plans to start a band, which dissipated after less than a year. Unsurprisingly, Harris blames himself: “I’m such a pain in the ass,” he says. These days, he’s hawking beer at Southeast’s Lucky Lab, holding down a monthly gig (every second Wednesday) at Pix Pâtisserie on Hawthorne and—amazingly to him—playing out more and more.
I ask him to describe his own music. “It’s sincere and heartfelt,” he says, straight-faced. There’s a pause. And then, of course, he laughs.
Harris plays his own birthday party Thursday, Dec. 20, with the Floods, Ashley Dunham, Matt Gilligan, Rian O’ Hara and Tommy Suitcase at the Towne Lounge. 9:30 pm. $3. 21+.