HARLETSON formed in 2015, after crossing paths through L.A.’s open-mic circuit. Although each had come to Los Angeles in pursuit of a solo career, the three connected over their mutual love of ’60s and ’70s rock-and-roll, and decided to take a shot at collaborating. In one of their first attempts at playing music together, the trio tore through of a cover of the Beatles B-side “Don’t Let Me Down” and felt an undeniable chemistry. “The three of us all come from different places in terms of the style of music we’d been playing on our own, but when we covered that song everything just clicked,” recalls Singleton. “Right away we all just knew this was a real thing.”
Favoring the boldly confessional songwriting and acoustic-guitar-driven dynamics of their musical heroes, Harletson soon began writing together. “We wanted songs with true storytelling, with each of us writing out our story and really pouring all our heart and soul into it,” Harrington says of the band’s creative vision. In early 2016 that approach yielded what would become Harletson’s debut single, the harmony-laced “Say Our Goodbyes.”
Made in collaboration with Ido Zmishlany (a producer known for his work with artists like Shawn Mendes), “Say Our Goodbyes” finds Harrington, Singleton, and Wilson trading off verses to recount their journeys to California and give a nuanced glimpse at the cost of chasing your dreams. But despite its wistful mood and beautifully detailed reflections on loss, “Say Our Goodbyes” ultimately bears a bright and hopeful message. “When you really look at it, the song’s an encouragement to keep fighting for whatever you’re passionate about,” says Singleton. “It’s about taking a leap of faith and going for that thing that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning, whatever that might be for you.”
The first Harletson member to make the trek to California, Harrington was raised in Chicago and Scottsdale and grew up on the brash rock-and-roll of Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones. Thanks in part to the influence of his dad (the frontman for Arizona-based alt-rock band Jed’s a Millionaire), he taught himself to play guitar at age 12 and quickly started writing songs. In honing his voice as a songwriter, Harrington drew from his Rasta heritage and mined inspiration from Bob Marley’s idealistic sensibilities. “The music that excites me the most are the songs that give you that spark where you feel empowered to try and change the world,” he points out.
Hailing from a small town in central North Carolina, Wilson took up piano at age five. “Most kids don’t really seem to like piano and don’t like to practice, but I loved playing right from the beginning,” he says. With musicians on both sides of his family—his maternal grandfather was a guitarist, while his paternal grandfather played piano and owned a music shop—Wilson moved on to guitar when he was seven. “My first guitar was red with an American flag strap—I’ve still got it and it’s still my favorite,” says Wilson. Aided by a chord chart scrawled out in his grandfather’s chicken scratch, he cultivated his guitar skills by looking to B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan as key influences. By 16 he’d added singing and songwriting to his repertoire and started landing gigs in local venues, discovering a love of live performance that partly inspired his move to L.A. in early 2015.
Originally from Orlando, Singleton taught himself to play guitar at age 10. “My parents didn’t really comply with my wanting lessons, which I’m thankful for now since I had to figure out my own way to play,” he says. “Instead of trying to play other people’s songs, I just went with what sounded good.” In his early teens, Singleton cold-called a local venue and asked for a gig, instantly booking his first show. He also worked at penning his own songs, using the Beatles as a model for songwriting excellence. “I’m dyslexic and always had a hard time in school and with learning in general, but music was this thing that I somehow just understood,” he says. Forming a band in his mid-teens, Singleton had played many local venues before relocating to Los Angeles in 2015.
Since their formation, Harletson have devoted themselves to developing their original material, as well as recording a series of gracefully stripped-down covers that range from classic songs like “Take It Easy” by the Eagles to present-day hits like The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” “We all have a heart for the past, so even when we cover a newer song, we try to flip it on its head and give it that vintage feel,” says Harrington.
The past year has also seen Harletson building up their live show, with the band now gearing up for a run of summer dates—including the Hersheypark festival, where they’ll perform for a crowd of 30,000. Both onstage and in their songwriting, Harletson are focused on creating a musical experience with an enduring impact. “One of the reasons why we’re so drawn to older music is it’s got a meaning and message that’ll last for years and years,” Wilson notes. And in striving for the same effect, Harletson make a point of staying guided by pure feeling. “The more we’ve written together, the more we’ve opened up and let ourselves be completely vulnerable in our songs,” says Singleton. “Music is one of the most powerful tools for affecting the way people think and feel—so if we can use our songs to bring some kind of positive change, then that’s a really amazing thing.”