Beauty's a lot more than skin deep on Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush, the debut full-length album by Nashville Americana acoustic duo The Harmaleighs.
In fact, the realities that lie beneath surface appearances form a recurrent theme throughout their songs, which include the sweet but mournful "Doll Made of Glass" and the bustling folk ode to entitlement "Pretty Livin." On album opener "Hesitate," Haley Grant sings, "I paint my face every color ... while I hide my thoughts in my pain," and on "Last One Standing," she sings about "staring out a window with both eyes closed."
"I started writing 'Last One Standing,' which has the line in it, 'Painting pretty pictures with a dirty brush,' so I kind of ran with that whole theme," says singer/guitarist Grant. "'Doll Made of Glass' talks about, 'Paint your face to cover up your insecurity.'"
Pretty Picture, Dirty Brush is rich in harmonies, bright melodies and a musical sensibility that mixes traditional country, string music, pop and folk while never tripping into pretension. Grant and singer/bassist Kaylee Jasperson got an assist in all that from producer Travis Terrell, who spotted them during a country music showcase at Nashville's Belmont University, where they attended school.
"He really liked our sound. We ended up getting coffee together and just kind of hitting it off," recalls Jasperson, who's actually a native of Montrose. Terrell and co-producer Micah Sannan helped the pair get a rich sound that wasn't too precious, but also inclusive of those little touches that can make a song pop, such as the evocative lap steel and violin on "Doll Made of Glass."
"Travis calls it the fairy dust," says Grant. "It's the extra harmonies and little fills. We did all that stuff at their studios."
Though she appreciates the lush warmth of tracks like "Doll Made of Glass," Grant says that wouldn't have worked for every song. The Harmaleighs generally like to keep things simple, citing the example of Kacey Musgraves 2013 breakout, Same Trailer Different Park.
"I try to mimic that, because her record is so simple and is true Americana and old country," Grant explains. "So I went into it thinking about that and about The Lumineers and letting the music speak for itself and not using anything too really intricate."
Although the album came out in the first week in February, The Harmaleighs have already spent 18 months touring.
"We bought a van and we were going to live out of it," Jasperson says, "[until] we realized we're too fucking pampered!"
Doing their own booking, they've put themselves into some interesting venues, including an old-man biker bar in Abilene, Texas.
"It said it was Americana music, so I thought, 'This will be a good fit for us,'" relates Grant. "So we get up there, and I had more teeth than everyone in there combined. I'm like, 'What are we doing here?' But then they really liked us."
"They did," Jasperson confirms. "They were like, 'We ain't never seen stuff like this before, but I like it!'"