Talking to Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington, Rock Star and Children’s Book Author

Photo: Balzer + Bray (Harpercollins)

Tim Harrington is an author of children’s books, and his literary endeavors are certainly helped by his overgrown man-child persona. He’s also the singer of Brooklyn noise rock band Les Savy Fav, and since the group’s formative days as students at the Rhode Island School of Design twenty years ago, he’s earned a certain reputation for his obscure dress and erratic onstage antics.

Harrington is synonymous with Les Savy Fav–a band whose popularity grew in tandem with the development of Williamsburg, the neighborhood they staked as their own in the early aughts. For all intents and purposes, Harrington, who is now 40 and the father of two, is a gruff and imposing dude: His face is carpeted by a thick, wooly beard that’s speckled with some gray, but even more distinct than his hairy countenance are his wild, blue eyes. When he meets me in Downtown Brooklyn for lunch, it’s obvious his penchant for wearing vibrant colors onstage translates to real life too. His long-sleeved collared shirt is white, but intersected by hints of blue and orange. His backpack is bright yellow.

Harrington admits that being a dad at the crux of middle age has changed his life to some extent. Fatherhood has created layers of obligations that stretch his time and challenge the notions of what he’s known as time-management. But his toeing of the many lines between gyrating frontman, children’s author and father presents something of a game he likes to manipulate, as he cracks jokes about the many iterations of Tim Harrington that exist on a daily basis.

“I like the idea of having multiple, pretend identities,” he says with a smile.

“There’s my family with my kids, which is sort of my regular, main identity; then I’ve got a band identity; then I’ve got a kid’s book identity,” he says while tallying his various life roles on one hand, eyes looking up.

Tim and his two sons goofing around.

This juggling of roles is how Harrington makes a living. In addition to co-creating the animated comedy short Metal Headzzz that aired on VH1 Classics, Harrington has had his hand in a number of illustration and design-related endeavors over the years, most recently penning children’s books for HarperCollins. His newest is called Noes to Toes, You Are Yummy! which as its title suggests, teaches kids to be comfortable in their skin–a sentiment that Harrington sees as a kind of unspoken but glaringly obvious personal mantra.

The book will take kids through a short song all about bodily exploration, and is accompanied by a recording of Harrington on acoustic guitar. The idea is to encourage kids to enjoy the sight and touch of themselves and to understand the meaning of words like “sensual.”

He says the book is all about “enjoying physicality,” as he coins additional terms like “body-ness,” to further illustrate the warm, gushy premise of You are Yummy.

The gap between Harrington the rocker and Harrington the author of sing-songy kindergarten stories seems hard to bridge, but he’s adamant that that the book is a perfect reflection of him as an artist.

You are Yummy has the same kind of manifesto as I do onstage, only like kid-friendly,” he says.

Harrington acknowledges he’s an unconventional children’s author–citing his salacious and sometimes knowingly confrontational onstage presence, but loves the blunt and uncomplicated methods of writing his books. He says it’s a different process from writing Les Savy Fav lyrics.

“There’s no subtext, just text,” in children’s songs, “what’s there is just there,” he says, which is probably a welcome change from the more involved, temporally-charged lyrics that ebb and flow over Les Savy Fav’s capricious song structures.

The fact that he’s enamored with cartoons and children’s literature in general also helps his writerly exploits. As we sit down over fried chicken, Harrington pulls three children’s books out of his backpack and begins to pour over their content with a certain wide-eyed excitement typical of fantasy geeks and comic book worshipers.

It’s easy to see he gets lost in their mystical stories, their made-up characters and conquests. He likes the places cartoons take the viewer or reader: to realms that only exist in fiction and are best exemplified in animated formats.

But despite his tendency to get lost in these fantastical stories, Harrington is pretty grounded in reality. He attributes his budding side-career as children’s author to his family, saying that he wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t have children. His two boys are 6 and 8 years old, and You are Yummy is dedicated to his wife Ana, whom in the book’s introduction he calls “my banana.”

He seems thankful for whatever opportunities his zany persona has granted him over the years.

“I had meant to be homeless by this time, but things don’t always turn out like you’d expect,” he says.

And for a guy who previously had the low ambitions of sleeping on curbs and park benches, he’s doing pretty well for himself.

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