In his 30-year music industry career, Nic Harcourt boasts a wide-ranging resume. Currently manning morning drive at Cal State Northridge’s Triple A standard-bearer KCSN, his recognizable voice is probably best known for his stint at influential public station KCRW, but he’s also been a film music supervisor, consultant, artist manager and host of DirecTV’s “Guitar Center Sessions.”
“There’s just no money in radio,” he laughs referencing the current “gig” economy, but he’s tempered those expectations for his latest initiative, releasing four of his own songs over the next nine months. under the project name JumpCircus — a combination of taking the leap into something new and the ever-present ”circus” of the entertainment business — the series starts with “Concrete and Sand” available on Friday (March 8) on all streaming services. The tracks were co-produced at Village Recorders with noted session guitarist Ben Peeler, who has worked with the likes of Shelby Lynne, The Wallflowers and Jimmy Cliff, among many others.
“I wouldn’t even call it a career move,” says Harcourt . “It’s just a project I’ve been working on and it was time to get it out there. I hope people like it, but no, I’m not leaving my day job.”
The idea of radio DJs as artists goes back to the days of B.B. King, Willie Nelson and Lee Hazlewood, who all started behind the mic before becoming performers. There was, of course, Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck,” as well as Howard Stern’s collaborations with Rob Zombie for the “Private Parts” soundtrack, and a recent session involving producer Mark Ronson on a song written for him by sidekick Fred Norris. Just don’t mention discredited U.K. disc jockey Jonathan King, whose 1965 British Invasion Top 40 hit, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” has been discredited by charges of pedophilia.
Thankfully, Harcourt’s tracks are the furthest thing from “Disco Duck” imaginable, though his lyrics do touch on childhood sexual trauma. The golden-throated DJ offers his patented gravitas fronting hyper-romantic chamber pop noir — the lush, cinematic string arrangements on “Concrete and Sand” were created by Oliver Krause (Beth Orton, Tom McRae, Sia) — an amalgam of the basso profundo of personal faves Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg.
“I tried to find a voice that felt right for these songs,” says Harcourt, “the right register and key. It’s flattering when people make those comparisons, but that’s where my voice found itself.”
He duets with his management client, singer/songwriter Kita Klane, who also pens her own verse, on “Concrete and Sand,” as well as producing the vocal parts on the rest of the album. Other musicians who contributed include Ry’s son, percussionist Joaquin Cooder, keyboardist Dave Palmer and bassist Jon Button.
The creative process kick-started for the 61-year-old Harcourt just two years ago when a New York Times article about challenging the brain as we age spurring him to finally teach himself to play guitar — a skill that had eluded him since he was a teenager, when he gave it up in frustration, even as he eventually joined several local U.K. rock bands.
Strumming the guitar led Harcourt to stringing chords together and finally mouthing words, which turned out to reveal a wounded psyche that dated back to his childhood, where he confronted memories of abuse. “Concrete and Sand” refers to his traumatic upbringing in his manufacturing hometown of Birmingham, U.K., the Midlands birthplace of the industrial revolution, where he fled the grime and filth, but not the scars, while sand is a nod to “the ever-shifting impermanence of life, the possibility of moving on with the love of another.”
“I had no idea revisiting my past would have this sort of impact on me,” says Harcourt. “But I picked up the guitar at about the same time, chords and words followed, and this is the result. I was never going to do Dylan covers.”
Harcourt will release three more songs before the end of 2019, with the Nick Drake-ish “I Know You’re Scared” (May 10), the country-flavored “Beauty and Pain” (Sept. 6) and the very Leonard Cohen-esque “To Be With You” (November 8).
The entire experience has been a cathartic one for the legendary disc jockey. “I spent a long time not really connecting to who I was and running from it out of a place of fear,” says the father of 16-year-old boy-and-girl twins who says he was unable to watch “Leaving Neverland” because it hit too close to his own experiences. “It wasn’t until I met someone with whom I could make the changes I needed was I finally able to put it all together. And that mirrors the catharsis of art and creation.”
So, while he may be closer to an AARP membership than your traditional rock star, Nic Harcourt has learned another important lesson through music. “It’s never too late to challenge yourself, to take on something new,” he insists. “I will always do radio, but these songs may have unlocked a number of doors for me.”