NEW YORK — Nic Harcourt is one of the most influential men in music. But most people don’t even know what he looks like. They can, however, instantly recognize his voice — a low, soothing tone with a faintly British accent.
Since 1998, Harcourt has been the director and DJ at Morning Becomes Eclectic, the popular three-hour music program on KCRW, a national public radio station out of Santa Monica, Calif. The popular show mixes live, unplugged sets and interviews and is one of the first places people go to hear important new music. Coldplay’s very first gig in the U.S. was on MBE, and Harcourt is credited with jump-starting the Stateside careers of Moby, Garbage, David Gray and many more. He is one of a few — if not the only — DJs with whom Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s notoriously difficult leader, will do radio interviews.
Recently, he caught up with the new British rock band The Crimea in New York, inviting the quintet to do a live broadcast on his show. This was The Crimea’s first live radio performance and the bandmates were nervous, especially lead singer Davey MacManus. “I think you could tell,” MacManus admits later. “I could barely breathe when we first sat on stage.”
Nerves aside, artists new and old rarely have qualms doing Harcourt’s show because, as he says, “They know we’re true to the music and it’s not about anything else.” He doesn’t delve into the dishiness of the industry. And to date, the only interview that he missed was Johnny Cash. When it comes to the show’s playlist, Harcourt covers more established acts like Neil Young, Elvis Costello and Wilco, all interviewed recently, as well as acts who haven’t even been signed yet, like Jesca Hoop, a local California folk singer.
“I try to be inclusive but at the end of the day, the only criteria is that I have to like the music,” Harcourt says. “I have fairly diverse taste but I can’t like everything. I’m sure there are people that wish I would play artists that I don’t.” So don’t expect to hear a single Britney Spears song, though Travis famously covered Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” during a live session with Harcourt.
“I like songs with melodies, hooks and beginnings, middles and endings,” he says, counting L.A. indie outift Rilo Kiley’s latest album, “More Adventurous,” as his favorite for the year. Currently, his library houses 35,000 CDs — and he gives every CD a fair listen. One of the disks to cross his path was The Crimea’s “Lottery Winners on Acid,” released last month on Warner Brothers, which Harcourt, always way ahead of the American curve, has been playing since last spring. And just that Harcourt invited the band to do MBE bodes well for The Crimea’s success Stateside.
“‘The Crimea is after the war obviously, and I feel like we’re at war constantly with everything,” says the band’s drummer Owen Hopkin, though he adds that most of the battles have more to do with faulty equipment.
The band’s biggest fight right now is breaking into America, for which MacManus was willing to change his signature look. He had the huge gap in his front teeth — from a childhood fight — fixed before coming here. “I had that gap for 15 years. I’m going to be vilified at home,” he says.
A published poet, MacManus sets his perverse, confessional lyrics to swinging pop melodies. In “Baby Boom,” a beautiful off-kilter love song, he basically apologizes to his lover for getting drunk and thus aggressively frisky. “I was apologizing for men in general, not just me,” he says.
“I’m from Ireland and so I have a lot of guilt,” MacManus adds. “We were watching ‘Unfaithful’ the other day and I had to go smoke a cigarette a few times.”
— Nandini D’Souza