Talking to Danny L Harle, the LeBron James of PC Music

'I've been thrown into multiple deep ends.'

Danny L Harle has only released one EP to date, but that doesn’t mean he’s hard to figure out. Unlike some other members of the amorphous pop collective PC Music, Harle doesn’t look like a futuristic superstar, nor does he avoid interviews or record music under a one-word pseudonym. Even the name Danny L Harle is pretty similar to the one he was born with — Daniel Eisner Harle.

If Harle is the least abstract of his fellow PC Musicians, then it stands to reason that he has the most potential to cross over into the mainstream. His EP, Broken Flowers, was the first PC Music-adjacent release helmed by Columbia Records, following the collective’s partnership with the massive label earlier this year. Harle’s music sounds like a product of the PC Music mindhive — prone to pitch-shifted vocals and spiky synths — but it’s a little more rooted in classic pop aesthetics. The EP’s title track has a chorus that sticks in your head as well as any chart-topper. And "Forever," with a beat like the clacking Wheel of Fortune spinner, disguises its oddities in stadium synths.

PC Music's franchise player?

The four tracks on Broken Flowers are a small taste of what Harle sounds like when he has a little space to stretch out, instead of haphazardly stacking up singles. When I caught up with Harle recently, he described his live shows as "a complicated and emotional process," which is also a pretty good description of the experience of listening to Broken Flowers. The songs almost all sound intensely familiar, like forgotten Top 40 hits from two decades ago. The EP elicits a kind of nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened yet, or a feeling that you’ve somehow missed something very important.

Listening to just four of tracks might only make you crave more of them, but Harle’s next project is "imminent," he says. We talked about PC Music misconceptions, how music changes once it’s in the public arena, and listening to your own songs on the radio.

Lizzie Plaugic: I’ve noticed that PC Music is more often described in terms of what we don’t know about it rather than what we do know. You’ve been described as a "shadowy figure," but is that really accurate?

Danny L Harle: It’s really funny how it’s described as such a mysterious thing, when in reality most of the artists are more public, more frequently updating their social media, than a lot of other artists. And me especially, in interviews, I don’t hold anything back. It’s kind of surprising I’ve been called a shadowy figure. I can’t think of a way to be less shadowy than I’ve been. I’ve gone through my whole life — and I think many people in PC Music have had this same experience — being called strange or weird. It’s kind of a continuation of that. It’s a way for people to describe things that are maybe outside of what their comfort zone is.

Is there any truth to the idea that you’re playing a character as Danny L Harle?

Anybody who knows me and listens to my music immediately sees it as an extension of my personality. There’s not even an incoherence in terms of the eclecticness of my musical taste. It all very clearly comes from the same core. There are conceptual links that provide a way in and a narrative to my musical tastes. The music that I listen to and how it fits into my personality is almost too much, too real. It’s putting me on the line a bit too much, if anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also heard you described as a "franchise player."

I love that idea. That kind of idea is very far apart from how I think about things. I’m very microcosmic in a sense. I’m much more interested in the actual making of the music than that kind of cultural analysis. That kind of stresses me out, that kind of thinking. That’s quite strategic thinking. And I think without any strategy, just make music that I like to listen to. Alex [PC Music co-founder A.G. Cook] is much more of a macro thinker; he’s much more in control of that level of thought.

"The only way I can make music that people like is to make music that pleases me"

How do you feel about Broken Flowers now that it’s an official, major-label release?

I’ve heard it in passing twice on Radio 1 now, which is a very bizarre experience. I heard it in my local shop when I was going to buy some milk. There’s a very small distance between me and my local shop, but hearing my music at my local shop is a very far distance from where I previously was in my life.

You said earlier that your thought process is not very strategic, is that true also about making music?

When I’m making music, I’m strategic in the actual making of the thing itself. Sometimes I’ll come up with a concept for a track before I start making it. When I write music with Alex, for example, we try to be very high concept about it. Someone will come up with an idea for a track and then we’ll try to make it. But when I’m making music by myself I’ll often just start with chords or a tune that I really like, then I’ll build the song from there and try to find the perfect lyrics to fit with it. But working with Alex is a very different experience.

Is there a song that stands out in your mind that was the most fun to write?

Probably "Forever," because it came out so quickly, and there’s such a rounded shape to it. The stabbing chords around it, it just had a frame in a way that felt really nice, and it came out in about 10 minutes. That’s what you strive for, songs that just come out in one moment after you’ve been waiting for six months.

In an interview with NME you said you don’t try to make music people will like.

Well, that’s not strictly what I meant. I meant I can’t write music on the basis that I think it’s something other people will like. If it is the ultimate goal, the music will sound like a bunch of old bollocks. The only way I can make any music that people will like, it seems, is to make music that pleases me to the utmost degree. If it’s just music that I will listen to, then there’s a chance that someone else will like it. That’s what I’ve found.

Do you think about songs differently once you perform them live?

I used to, because I never worked in studios. And once I played it live I could hear all the bass, or lack thereof. My first few remixes, I was going through this process of never really hearing them until I played them at live gigs, so you kind of have to learn the process of mixing something while you’re playing it live. That doesn’t really happen much these days, because I have studios I can go to. But now live sets are kind of like a testing ground for tracks that I’m working on. If I play a bit and it goes down particularly well, I’ll try to think about why that was and how that makes me feel. It’s a bit of a complicated and emotional process. It’s a communication, very confusingly. It’s like when you have a YouTube video you want to show someone and then before you press play, before it’s even started, you feel really weird about it, and like it’s not funny if you thought it was funny before. That feeling is not even based on the [actual] reaction of someone, it’s just that now that something’s in the public arena, you get a sense of where the standards really are.

"It was a test to see if I could function in the world of pop music"

Just throwing you into the deep end.

I’ve been thrown into multiple deep ends while doing this, you don’t even know the scale of the deep end, and then you’re thrown into a bigger one. And then you’re thrown into the sea.

Like what?

None of it’s gone badly, and that’s the good thing. But, for example, I went to LA and did 12 consecutive sessions with big pop music writers, who are writing for all the big people on the charts right now. But I just flew to LA and did these 12 consecutive sessions without a day off and then flew back. Even people in the industry think that is a hard thing to do, and I’ve never done anything like that ever. But very luckily, from the first session it was very clear that I could totally work on that level instantly. Which was very comforting to see. The trip to LA was like a test to see if I could function in the world of pop music and do what I do, and the answer is yes.