Jon Harris was never the ambitious sort who lusted after a career in rock 'n' roll. "I just went where my path was taking me and ended up here," he shrugs. Maybe that's why his life has taken a few odd digressions, and why One Minute Science, the debut album by his band, Sunna, is so fresh and unexpected.
Although he didn't have a burning desire to become a musician, Harris did pick up whatever musical instruments were lying around the house while he was growing up in Somerset, England. And he did like to write lyrics and sing, so after he got out of school, he went up to Norway with a potential collaborator. Since Norway is a hard-drinking country, not much songwriting got done. Then, when he returned to England, he got an offer that, for some reason, he found intriguing.
"A friend of mine phoned me up one day and said, 'I'm going off to a kibbutz next week. Would you like to come?'" Harris recalls. "I was like, 'What's that?' 'Well, it's in Israel and it's basically communal life and you're all mucky--everyone does their job and you get paid f--k-all money and you live in a shed.' And I said, 'All right.'"
Why in the world did he ever say yes? "It seemed like good experience!" Harris laughs. For what he doesn't say, but he does add, "Too much vodka--I only lasted three months on a kibbutz before I got arrested and locked away. I ended up on Tel Aviv beach and stayed there for a couple of weeks, and then I managed to get a cheap flight home; I'd only gotten a one-way ticket as well. I was planning on making my way back through just traveling, but I wrote quite a lot of songs over there and I thought, 'I've got to get home and get a band together.'"
Sunna's origins actually began in another band Harris formed which included Sunna guitarist Ian MacLaren, who was playing bass at the time. While Sunna is a darkly fascinating blend of rock and electronics, Harris's first project was more of a traditional rock band. ("My influences come from AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and the Sex Pistols," he says.) Unfortunately, the old group wound up on a record label that didn't understand them. "They weren't a rock label, they weren't getting it," says Harris. "It just didn't work out." Not that the experience was a total loss--Harris began a relationship with producer Neil Davidge that proved helpful.
"When I lost my first record deal, or escaped from it," he relates, "I borrowed an MPC from Neil Davidge. I just locked myself away and learned how to use this equipment--my Fender Jag and an MPC and my Marshall stack. So that's how I came up with this integration of technology and raw rock."
Harris was working in Bristol with Davidge on a track when the members of trip-hop group Massive Attack happened to walk in. "I was never a fan of Massive Attack," Harris admits. "I didn't even recognize them." But when they were working on their 1998 album Mezzanine, Massive Attack chose Davidge to produce, and he in turn brought in Harris to play some guitar. "They wanted to put some harder edges onto their stuff," Harris relates, "and Neil said, 'This Jon guy definitely puts a hard edge onto his guitar!'" A friendship formed, and when Harris put Sunna together, the group wound up on Massive Attack's Melankolic imprint.
Sunna is still very new. The other three members--DJ Flatline, drummer Richie Mills, and bassist Shane Goodwin--have been with Harris and MacLaren for less than a year. Their moody, and often scrappy, take on technology and rock sounds like no one else. There's an exciting diversity on One Minute Science, from the liquid flow of "Preoccupation" to the blistering, metallic hammering of "Power Struggle" and atmospheric discord of "Grape." Sunna can get soft without losing its edge--a very rare quality that reflects the fullness of Harris's life.
For Harris, music serves as commentary on his experiences, instead of being his greater purpose. In fact, he prefers to see his talent as a gift anyone could have. "I'm not into this art thing," he declares. "I don't really enjoy being called an 'artist,' because I think everybody's got that ability--it's just where your attention goes, what you pay attention to."