Canadian husband and wife duo Ken Harrison and Roberta Carter-Harrison have made music as the Wild Strawberries since 1992. Atypical of most touring musicians, Ken and Roberta both hold medical degrees and until the birth of their first child, both practiced medicine while simultaneously playing gigs. In the early '90s, Wild Strawberries emerged as a band that put moody and ethereal electronica noisescapes into a pop context. As the '90s closed out, many bands of a similar genre dropped the programming sounds and moved on, but the Wild Strawberries just expanded on their keyboard and synthesized beats, concocting hypnotic pop grooves for nearly two decades. Residing in a home in Ontario with their daughters Georgia and Ruby, the Wild Strawberries continue to make music at their home studio, on their own terms.
The Wild Strawberries began in Cambridge, Ontario, while Ken and Roberta were attending school, both pursuing medical degrees. Ken was born in Thailand where his parents were missionaries; they later moved to Cambridge where Ken grew up playing the piano and composing his own songs by age 10.
Ken, often called, the "musical architect" of the band, writes the poetic (and often ominous) lyrics, and all of the music for Wild Strawberries while Roberta sings. Ken uses a number of keyboards and sampled beats to create their songs as a two-piece. The band got serious when they won a contest at a Toronto radio station for their 1988 song "Crying Shame." In 1989, the duo self-recorded and released the album Carving Wood Spectacles, which sold a staggering 3,000 copies. Ken emerged from university with a license to practice as a physician, and Roberta graduated with a degree in physiotherapy. The duo followed Carving Wood Spectacles up with the album Grace in 1992. The pair then established their own record label dubbed Strawberry Records for their 1994 album Bet You Think I'm Lonely. The album got a helping hand when A&M distributed it across Canada. The album's success earned the band a Canadian Juno Award nomination for Best New Band.
Vancouver record label Nettwerk, home to Sarah McLachlan, caught on to the technologically savvy musicians and signed the Wild Strawberries to the label in 1995. That year, Nettwerk released one of the band's most popular albums of their career, the Canadian Gold record (50,000 copies), Heroine. The album featured musicians from McLachlan's band including drummer Ashwin Sood and bassist Brian Minato. The Wild Strawberries, a full band, toured that summer as part of McLachlan's hugely successful female-minded tour, Lilith Fair.
Building a home recording studio over the years, Ken and Roberta paid some of the expensive equipment bills by practicing medicine on their downtime. Ken worked on and off as a doctor at Toronto's Queen Street Mental Health Centre and Roberta practiced physiology until the birth of their daughter in 1997. "One mandate we had at the very beginning was to build up a home studio so that when and if the record company ever got tired of what we were doing, we could still make music if we wanted and put it out if we wanted," Roberta told Canadian Musician's Cindy Waxer.
After months writing and recording their follow-up to the popular Heroine, in 1997, the band turned in a batch of new songs to Nettwerk who in turn gave them back and demanded more mixing and re-writing. Strained by the demands of the record company, Ken and Roberta tried to get out of their deal with Nettwerk, but were bound by contract to stay put. After time, the band and the label split the difference and the album was co-produced in Vancouver by David Kershaw, a former keyboard player for Sarah McLachlan. Quiver, released in 1998, marked the writing debut of Roberta as a lyrical co-writer on three songs. While Ken's emotional lyrics moved a bit from the autobiographical ones of the past to more conceptual and character-driven, Roberta helped Ken co-write the songs "Trampoline," "Speak of the Devil," and "Pretty Lip." "I felt confident enough to give it a try and I never actually felt confident enough before," Roberta admitted to Waxer. "I couldn't imagine that anybody would want to hear anything that I had to say."
With sprawling sounds including string arrangements and mixing old equipment like a '70s vocoder with the newest sampling technology of the '90s, Quiver had what Perry Stern of Eye Weekly called, "… a much more elegant, detached style," than Heroine. The album title, as Roberta explained on the Lilith Fair website, came from the idea of something visceral; "We wanted something slinky, something that vibrated," she said. "We were looking for a word with ambivalence—something that suggested both arousal and fear."
By 1999, the Wild Strawberries had enough of corporate labels and were asked to be let go from Nettwerk Records. That year Roberta sang at a wedding for a Warner Music Canada rep, where she paired up with a band which included flamenco guitarist Robert Michaels. Michaels and Roberta's performance inspired the duo to record the song "Wrong to Let You Go," which was released on the compilation Women & Songs 3. Recorded and released in 2000, the band's next album Twist was put out by their own label, but distributed by Universal Music. "Every time we make a new record we always try and do something different," Ken told The Gate. "That was kind of our manifesto on this, that we were gong to and not in any way you might expect it, and not to make it darker but more to twist it like with a twist of lemon."
After meeting with German electro trance-pop artist ATB (DJ Andre Tannenberger), Wild Strawberries spent time writing and recording for ATB and doing shows in Germany for much of 2002 and 2003. ATB had taken Roberta and Robert Michael's "Wrong To Let You Go" and remixed it as "Let You Go." The club track reached number 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart and number 7 on the German singles chart. "Our fist single with ATB sold more in one week than what we sold during our entire careers in Canada," Ken confessed to Pop Journalism's Robert Ballantyne. "It's just more lucrative in the European market, based on [population] scale."
Almost five years after the last Wild Strawberries album, Ken and Roberta released the completely self-made and financed record Deformative Years. Recorded, produced, and mixed in the couple's home studio in New Hamburg, Ontario (about two hours west of Toronto), Deformative Years was created simply for the band and its fans. "This record is for all those people who e-mailed us over the years, wondering if we were still alive," Ken joked to Ballantyne. Roberta doubled that sentiment on the MapleMusic website admitting, "It's the first album in a long time that we haven't written for anybody but ourselves. We did it because we simply love what we do."
Carving Wood Spectacles, self-released, 1989.
Grace, self-released, 1992.
Bet You Think I'm Lonely, Strawberry Records, 1994.
Heroine, Nettwerk, 1995.
Quiver, Nettwerk, 1998.
Twist, Universal Music, 2000.
Deformative Years, MapleMusic, 2005.
For the Record …
Members include Roberta Carter-Harrison, lead vocals; Ken Harrison, synthesizers, keyboards.
Duo formed in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, c. 1988; self-released Carving Wood Spectacles, 1989; Grace, 1992, released Bet You Think I'm Lonely, 1994 on Strawberry Records; signed to Nettwerk Records, released Heroine, 1995; Quiver, 1998; parted with Nettwerk, released Twist, Universal Music, 2000; released self-produced and self-financed Deformative Years, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—MapleMusic, 230 Richmond St. West, 11th Fl., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 3E5. Website—Wild Strawberries Official Website: http://strawberries.com.
Canadian Medical Association Journal, February 23, 1999.
Canadian Musician, July-August 1998.
Eye Weekly, April 23, 1998.
Pop Journalism, September 10, 2005.
"The Wild Strawberries," The Gate, http://www.thegate.ca/interviews/wildstraw.php (November 4, 2006).
"Wild Strawberries," MapleMusic, http://www.maplemusic.com/artists/wst/bio.asp (November 4, 2006).
Wild Strawberries Official Site, http://strawberries.com/ (November 4, 2006).
Wild Strawberries ★★★★ Smultron-Stallet 1957
Bergman's landmark film of fantasy, dreams and nightmares. An aging professor, on the road to accept an award, must come to terms with his anxieties and guilt. Brilliant performance by Sjostrom, Sweden's first film director and star. Excellent use of flashbacks and film editing. An intellectual and emotional masterpiece. In Swedish with English subtitles. 90m/B VHS, DVD . SW Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornst-rand, Folke Sundquist, Bjorn Bjelvenstam; D: Ingmar Bergman; W: Ingmar Bergman; C: Gunnar Fischer; M: Erik Nordgren. Golden Globes ‘60: Foreign Film.