Up in the far Northeast section of town, well past the last ART bus stops—and in the midst of a city that seems to fade into suburbia and homeless encampments at its very edges—the foothills of the Sandia Mountains rise, all boulder-studded. The faraway trees on the far side of the vista allude to vast forests within. If you are lucky enough to drive this way, you may be able to imagine those lofty pines and aspens wagging in the wind.
Near to this place, amidst a collection of well-kept homes, in a converted garage filled with art and music, members of the Albuquerque band Constant Harmony are discussing their latest recorded work.
There’s a lot of activity in the rest of home, too, as children and pets come and go, adults arrive home from their day jobs and the process of making dinner commences.
At 5:52pm, the doorbell rings. Alibi reporter August March enters the scene. He’s there to take notes, listen and talk. He tells those participating that he will turn that series of situations into a story about the band.
He is escorted through the busy house and toward the art and music room in back. He notices a Wurlitzer spinet piano sitting in one corner and remarks that he has a similar device at home, except it is the upright model.
Inside the garage, Amy Sillery and her brother, Lee Sillery, greet the reporter. Hugs are given and handshakes exchanged. The three make themselves comfortable and Lee tells the interviewer that his other sister, Jenny, is on the way home from work and should be there very soon.
Lee Sillery begins to play some tracks from the band’s latest recording session. It was done at Third Eye Studio, he tells March as he hits the play button. The music is majestically propulsive, acutely angled and forward looking in its holy attention to the tropes and types found in genres like grunge and punk rock. At the center of it all, Jenny Sillery’s voice climbs out of this magnificent explosion of sound, sounding free and restless and loud.
The third track is noticeably different though. In it, a languid, star-strewn keyboard drifts off into a vast melodic soundscape as deft percussion and anomalous flashes of heady guitar licks augment the journey into deep space.
As the track ends, Jenny Sillery enters the room and sits. More greetings are exchanged and the music reporter from Weekly Alibi turns his tape recorder on to begin the actual interview process.
March begins by telling the band that he likes their music because, “It’s honest music. It’s intense music, it’s got a lot of emotion and passion in it. But it’s also superbly played. You all have been part of the scene for a long time.”
“Yes,” says Lee Sillery, looking up from his computer terminal. He continues, “It has been a long time, it’s been, like, 10 years that we’ve been playing out, right?” He motions to his sister Jenny for confirmation. She nods in assent and adds to his historical narrative about the band.
“We did start playing open mic gigs at Winning Coffee. We wrote some music and then took a break because of the kiddos and so forth. So there’s a gap in there. Lee was playing guitar in Gusher at the time and Amy was living out of state.” For a while, Lee ran sound at Burt’s Tiki Lounge, he says as the three discuss how they finally came back together in Albuquerque.
“Your first record sort of reminded me of the stuff Resin Records was putting out in the mid-1990s,” March says as he goes on to list band names like allucaneat and Big Damn Crazy Weight as examples of what he heard deep within the thick grooves produced by Constant Harmony.
“Shout out to Ray Ray,” says Lee, interjecting about one of the local music scene’s stalwart players, Ray Gutierrez. Gutierrez was one among the Resin Records collective, playing drums and harp in allucaneat, a heavy punk rock outfit that made their claim to fame on the laurels created by industrial-strength albums like 1991’s Kidz Eat Free, which was distributed on Manny Rettinger’s Ubik Sound label. Gutierrez now plays drums in manhigh, another great Burque band.
“We’re about that kind of authenticity. We don’t want to make something that sounds overly produced,” Lee tells March, as his sister Amy joins the conversation. “Pretty much everything we make comes from within one of us. One of us will start jamming something and we just click as an ensemble. Jenny adds that, “It all comes naturally. Everything we play flows with what the other two are playing. That situation is just really natural for us.”
“Everything we do in the studio comes down to live performance,” says Jenny and Amy agrees. “Whatever you hear on our records or CDs, that’s what you are going to hear when you hear us perform live and onstage.”
“I think we play better live,” Lee confirms. “We’re one of those bands that are great live. Live shows are crucial. You really have to interact with people. And you can output your energy, too, when you’re performing. Audiences like that. For us, we’re playing heavy rock music and we like to jump around like crazy people,” Lee laughs as he conjures the image he just introduced.
“I think that when people hear our band,” Amy tells March, “they’re like ‘Constant Harmony, I wonder what kind of music they play?’ and then they go to a show and they’re just like ... ‘Whoa!’”
The discussion then moves to what makes a band last in a town where fickle audiences and a changing musical dynamic that can be daunting and existentially perilous to even the best, most hep players.
Jenny says that, “It’s important to take little breaks from the music. We take little breaks, not super-long, but enough to care for our families. We have a lot going on.”
Lee feels the same way and adds that the next step is going to involve touring. “We are so ready to tour now,” he says with a glint in his eye, looking healthy and well rested, too, one might add.
Amy likes this idea. “We wanna go out and tour because when we play a lot of shows out here, we meet so many cool touring bands all the time and they’re telling us to come out and play in their town. Everyone gets really excited, but so far, we haven’t gone on tour. This year, I was telling Jenny that we’re buying a van and we’re going to hit the road. I wanted to plan it around the time we did our split release with Shrewd; a mini-tour just around the Four Corners.”
“That would be awesome,”Amy continues, “because both of those bands are very much a sound that you don’t hear very often.” Lee seems to think deeply about what Amy said about the sound of Constant Harmony and concludes, “It’s a feeling, man. It’s a feeling.”
Speaking about that feeling is easy for Amy, who says that she digs their latest work because “Some of [the songs] can be more punk, some of them can be more of an emotional, softer side of us, but we still like to mix it up.”
Lee says that this new record is Jenny’s chance to shine. Her vocals are intensely beautiful, yearning and provocatively scream-a-delic and that’s something Lee can really appreciate. “We all killed it on the recording. My process is good and we took one day to record everything. There’s a sense of urgency and Jenny’s vocals really capture that feeling. There’s tension in the songs and that’s really good.”
Upon observation, it’s clear that each of the Sillerys has strong opinions and feelings of their own. Although they work together as a tight knit unit, each of the players here is imbued with a strong personality and passionately considered ideas. Their familial bond is balanced by the tension that results from the fact that each is an independent, creative thinker who moves past boundaries as they explore the past and engage the future.
Asked about the meaning of Constant Harmony, each member has a direct yet totally different answer. For Amy, the truth about the band comes from listeners: “We’ve been described a lot as desert grunge rock.” Jenny thinks that such a description is accurate but ties on an important addendum, telling rock critic March: “It’s like every ’90s band combined into one.”
Everybody laughs, but Lee brings the whole deal into focus when, filled with a sort of proud gravitas, he finishes the evening’s discourse by intoning, “We’re trying to stay far away from commercial-sounding music. But there’s still a lot of good bands. There are bands in Albuquerque that are exceptional. I get my mind blown on the regular in Burque. We love being part of that.”