Story and Photography by Jadrian Klinger
5 Local Bands and Solo Artists Create the Unique Sound of Harrisburg
On the corner of Green and Muench streets in Harrisburg, butted up against Little Amps Coffee Roasters, the trio of Steph Werner, Jordan Zabady and Morgan Laubach perform for a healthy collection of fans, friends and passersby. It’s National Night Out in Olde Uptown, and the neighborhood is out in force despite the threat of rain. A random woman – just a few paces from the tri-source of the sweet, wonderful sound – cannot keep from dancing. Without the burden of self-consciousness, she’s the only one brave enough to let the vibe move her as Werner strums, Zabady beatboxes and Laubach unleashes her voice. You can tell that this lone dancer has just happened upon the show, yet the music catches her and folds her in as if she has no other choice. The blend of guitar, vocal percussion and technology-tweaked singing is powerful because true original music has that effect. They go by the name Des Sera, and they’ve only been together as a group since February.
Des Sera’s sound brings together folk, rock, hip-hop and probably a few other genres as well, though – like most other artists hesitant to cast a label upon themselves – they have no official name for it other than “experimental.” There’s certainly an “indie” feel, but Des Sera is just one of those bands that needs to be heard before being categorized.
Formed little more than a half-year ago, Des Sera came together through performing separately at Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC). Werner and Laubach were singing at HMAC one evening during open-mic night, when they met Zabady. As Werner puts it, “We were there, and this kid rolls in late – like 12:30 or 1 a.m. – and just starts beatboxing.”
Werner and Laubach were impressed. After a bit of nervous awkwardness, the two ladies approached Zabady. “We extended an invitation to him to see if he ever wanted to just jam around with us,” Werner recalls. “And he agreed.”
It turned out that he was also a fan of theirs.
The three songsmiths began playing together more frequently, and eventually formed Des Sera.
As a band who writes their own material, Des Sera relies on the songwriting process. “There is no set formula,” explains Werner. “It happens on small levels and as a group. It’s very all-over-the-place, and I kind of like it that way.”
Zabady adds, “I think we enjoy the music we are making, so we don’t get tired of rehearsing or playing new pieces because we are challenging ourselves.”
As for musical influences, Werner points to Portishead, Laubach to Radiohead and Bon Iver and Zabady to Beardyman.
When it comes to bands and musicians creating and performing original songs, all three of the members of Des Sera agree that the independent music scene in Harrisburg is rich.
“It’s so vast,” Werner says. “I never realized there was such a musical thing happening here. …Everyone is just so talented and musical. I would say it’s very much alive.”
Laubach confirms her bandmate’s sentiments and acknowledges the expanding community of music appreciators in Harrisburg. “We are in a good spot here, and beyond that there’s a growing group of people who are more interested in staying here and making Harrisburg something. I feel really lucky to be involved in it at a time like this.”
Zabady sums it up. “I think local music, in general – underground artists – there’s a big change happening because they don’t need the big distribution deals to be heard. It’s easier to express yourself and get your ideas heard, and you never know when an underground artist could become your favorite artist.”
Just ask that random dancing woman standing in front of Des Sera as they performed in Olde Uptown on National Night Out when she discovered her new favorite band.