The Sweet Things Give Us A Wink

The soul of New York City sleaze is alive and well in this rockin’ young band

The Sweet Things (Image: Facebook)

Sam Hariss, bassist and vocalist for The Sweet Things, sits in the red-lit back room at Clockwork Bar, deep in New York City’s Lower East Side.

This seems like one of the last remaining downtown spots that encroaching gentrification hasn’t yet whitewashed. Old school punk rock blares on the sound system, and there’s hardly an inch of this place that isn’t covered in graffiti. Hariss seems utterly at ease in this environment.

Hariss, who exudes endearing exuberance, is here to talk about Brown Leather, his band’s second album, which was released last month via Wendigo Productions NYC/Spaghetty Town Records. The new tracks are scruffy, raucous, and utterly catchy. “Somebody said it was like if the New York Dolls tried to record [The Rolling Stones’] Beggars Banquet and failed miserably,” Hariss says with a laugh. “I would wear that on a T-shirt.”

Since their formation six years ago, The Sweet Things have frequently been compared to the New York Dolls, but “I think it’s really because of my haircut more than anything else,” Hariss says with a grin, motioning to his long, jet-black mane. “And I adore the Dolls. It’s definitely in there.”

But with Brown Leather, there is also noticeable stylistic shift to bring out the band’s country rock twang, which seems unexpected coming from a New York City group – and especially from a native New Yorker like Hariss, but he can trace exactly how he came to play music that blends genres that seem as if they should be at odds with each other.

The Sweet Things Brown Leather, Spaghetty Town Records 2022

Growing up in Queens, Hariss first became enraptured with rock music when he was a pre-teen and he saw the 1999 film Detroit Rock City on TV. Its depiction of the rock and roll lifestyle, as centered around hard rock legends Kiss, made an indelible impression on him. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, yes to all of this: I want to drive in cars smoking pot with Natasha Lyonne, listening to ‘Christine Sixteen.’ Yes to all of that!”

After that, Hariss says, “I loved Kiss passionately. And then, in about seventh grade, I was watching a documentary on Kiss, who got their start opening up for the [New York] Dolls. So they showed a clip of the Dolls, and I was like, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. It sounds awful and great and weird and cool.’ So that was it for me.”

Hariss began playing music himself when he was grounded for an entire month (he claims not to remember why). “I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. I couldn’t watch TV – and I love TV, so that was especially aggravating,” he says. But his parents were willing to buy him a bass guitar to help him pass the time. He chose that instrument so he could emulate Gene Simmons of Kiss and Dennis Dunaway of the original Alice Cooper Band.

It’s an interesting blend of influences for someone who grew up decades after those classic rock acts had their commercial heyday, but Hariss says he’s always been drawn to rock music, even as most people his age were into hip-hop, EDM, or other more current musical genres. “I love rock and roll,” he says with a shrug. “It makes my big toe shoot up into my boot. I don’t question it.”

He became a fixture in New York downtown music scene, including DJing at the now-defunct bar Manitoba’s (owned by The Dictators frontman “Handsome” Dick Manitoba). That was where Hariss met vocalist/rhythm guitarist Dave Tierney, who invited Hariss to play bass for his then-band’s East Coast tour. That group played punk rock, but while they were out on the road, “The whole time, we were listening to Black Crowes and a lot of Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds and the Georgia Satellites,” Hariss says. “We were listening to all this slide guitar-y rock and roll, or as I like to call it, ‘brown leather.’” (Hence The Sweet Things’ new album’s title.)

At the end of that tour, “Dave said to me, ‘I really want a band like this. Would you want to start one?’” Hariss recalls. “And I don’t know why I said this – looking back, I was so stupid because it could have all evaporated – I said, ‘I’ll only do it if you break up every band you’re in and it’s the only thing you’re doing.’” The risk paid off: Tierney agreed, and The Sweet Things were born.

At first, the band played “sloppy Eddie Cochran,” as Hariss puts it. “And that’s fun as shit to play. But over time, especially around the time we were doing the first record [In Borrowed Shoes, On Borrowed Time, 2019], Dave and I really got heavy into country. It was because I’m a Rolling Stones nut, and my favorite Stones song is [country rock ballad] “Sweet Virginia.” From that, I got into Gram Parsons. And from Gram Parsons, I got into Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, all that stuff.”

Harris says he felt drawn to country because of the emotions it captures so well. “I never really heard heartbreak represented so beautifully, but also with debauchery,” he says. “I love both of those things. I think country music takes the trophy on heartbreak and debauchery and just flaunting it. But there’s also a rawness to it that is very punk rock.”

 

VIDEO: The Sweet Things “Brown Leather”

On Brown Leather, Hariss and his bandmates capture this combination of country’s raw emotion and punk rock’s power. Hariss promises that summer shows to support the album’s release will be both unpredictable and uplifting. 

“We like to keep an element of, ‘Wonder what he’s going to do there?’” Hariss says, adding that they don’t tend to draw up set lists in advance, as a means to keep things more spontaneous. “That mentality is a risk, and sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t. I like keeping it so that the people off the stage and on the stage, we don’t know what will happen.”

Harris can promise one thing, though: “If people are dancing, I feel I’m doing my job,” he says. “If I see people dancing to something that I’m doing, I get a thrill unlike any other. So that’s pretty much the high I’m chasing.” 

 

 

 You May Also Like

Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the late '80s, when she interviewed Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has done hundreds of interviews with a wide range of artists. She has written for dozens of magazines, including The Big Takeover, Aquarian Weekly, Stomp & Stammer, Creative Loafing, Jam Magazine, Color Red, Boston Rock, and many others. She contributed to two books (several entries for The Trouser Press Guide to the '90s, and a chapter for Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama). Additionally, she has written liner notes and artist bios for several major acts. She currently lives in New York City.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.