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"People accuse me of being a pussy. But that's cool. I don't care."
Shawn Harrington sits quietly on the patio of the crowded sports bar McDuffy's in Tempe, nursing a Corona. He squirms as he searches for the right words to describe his songwriting process, which has enabled him to craft a prolific output of three albums in three years with his rising Phoenix alt-rock band Jed's A Millionaire.
"It's kind of like having sex," he says at last. His buddies Dan Mueller and Robert Githens, Jed's bassist and manager, respectively, nod their heads and chuckle in requisite macho agreement. Sounds like a typical Saturday beer outing.
Then Harrington delves a little deeper -- just as he's prone to do in his songs -- and the tone of the conversation switches from sounding like a Miller Lite "Guys Night Out" commercial to a sappy chick flick.
"It's like, each time you make love, you give a little of yourself away," he says, as his friends' Beavis chuckling subsides. "Part of yourself that you may never get back again. Songwriting is like that. You get in touch with something deep inside, but at the same time, you give it away. That's just the cost of it."
Mueller and Githens glance awkwardly at one another, as if somebody just switched the satellite feed of simultaneous football games on McDuffy's 70 TV monitors over to the Lifetime Channel. For a few uncomfortable moments, the trio of thirtysomething males shudder with the fear of traveling just a little too close to their feminine sides. Then, suddenly, the crowd of half-drunken college football fans erupts over an Arizona State touchdown on Oregon State's home soil. The testosterone level is, thankfully, restored.
"I've known this guy since high school," Mueller finally laughs, punching the sulky Harrington with a playful jab to the shoulder. "He's just one of those guys who doesn't hold back what he's feeling. If I was a lyricist, I'd try to butter it up a little, make it sound cool. But Shawn doesn't."
Surely, Harrington doesn't have to worry about looking like a wuss. With his stocky build, jock's short hairstyle and Leno-esque jaw, Harrington fits right in with all the rugby-shirted frat boys crowding the bar. Yet from the sound of things, Harrington also writes more late-night poetry than a high school girl. Haunt, the third Jed's A Millionaire album of original Harrington songs released since 2001, arrives in local record stores only this week. But already, Harrington has written enough new songs for a fourth, according to Githens.
"He tells me he gets ideas all the time in the middle of the night," says Jed's doting manager, "and goes out into the other room to write them down in his notebook." The music is crafty, muscular melodic rock. Harrington's lyrics, though, have an unguarded honesty seldom seen outside of a pink diary. The words are aching, even introspective.
"I love to write," Harrington explains. "But I can't settle for just writing little ramblings about everyday things. I like to dig a little deeper than that. I like to go back into my mind and open up dusty boxes, and evoke some memories, evoke some ghosts. You have to bleed a little in your music. You have to put a little of yourself in there."
By now, even Harrington notices he's crossed a little too far into Oprah territory for the raucous beer-and-pretzels crowd surrounding him.
"Instead of just saying, I like big butts!'" he adds, affecting a booty-shaking dance move in his chair.
"Who's ready for another Corona?" Githens asks, jumping up to make a run for the bar. "I'm buying!"
If Harrington's bar banter conjures thoughts of an Oprah-Dr. Phil all-star hankie-sharing coffee-talk orgy, you should hear the songs he writes for Jed's A Millionaire.
"I wanna pour out everything I am," the singer cries on "Give," a song from the new Haunt. And over the course of the record, that's pretty much what Harrington does -- again and again. He sings in a strong, unfaltering voice, which helped win him Most Entertaining Singer accolades in this past year's New TimesMusic Showcase. On this album, Harrington applies those golden pipes to a particularly melancholic set of songs -- even for this band.
"When Shawn first played the new songs for the other guys, I was like, Man, you gotta give these guys something to rock out to,'" confides Githens. "They were all pretty sad, introspective songs."
To the five-year-old band's credit, however, bassist Mueller, guitarist David Demson and drummer Jason Roedl managed to infuse Harrington's soul-baring poetry with just the right amount of back-slapping swagger to keep the CD rocked out. On "Found," Harrington pleads, "Help me, I'm drowning and I can't stay afloat." Thankfully, the band rides the cheery, buoyant melody with enough firepower to keep the listener from being dragged down with the singer.
It's that contrary combination of downbeat words and upbeat music that has pretty much come to define so-called "jangle-pop": catchy, tuneful songs about the new miserable experiences of romance-challenged males first perfected by Tempe's Gin Blossoms and seemingly mined by every successful Valley band since.