It is a rare and beautiful thing to live in alignment with your true purpose. Minutes into conversation with Melbourne-born musician and actor Harry Hains, it becomes clear that for him there is no other way. His purpose is to create: create art to make people think, art to change the world. We catch up over a video call. It is 12:30 pm in LA and Harry has just gotten up. After our call, he will be going for a session with his voice coach, a top one in the industry. It seems a million miles from his beginnings as a pre-med student on a path to university. But Harry views life with profundity as if he had experienced the journeys of a million miles. And beyond.
At 26, Harry has a unique awareness of what it means to be human - which is just that: human. Not a colour, shade or gender. Photographer Amber McKee and stylist Leo Plass work together to paint the world as Harry sees it. Captured against the everyday backdrop of urban LA, Harry is his philosophy personified: we can choose to be whatever we want in this life, for there is truth and beauty in everything, even in the ordinary - even in the darkness.
So far he has used the lenses of fashion and acting to transcend the confines of what he deems ‘social constructs’. You may recognise him from American Horror Story: Hotel as well as upcoming roles in the action feature Chase and Netflix original, The OA. Now, he turns to music in the form of his latest project soon-to-be empire, ANTIBOY. As ANTIBOY, Harry is getting ready to release his debut electronic rock album, A Glitch in Paradise.
Let’s start on an existential note. Who is Harry Hains?
Who is Harry Hains or who is ANTIBOY? They are two different people. I guess I could start with who Harry Hains is. Well, I’m a kid from Melbourne, Australia that, you know, has so many things that I want to do with my life that it gets overwhelming at times. I moved to London to take a break from doing a pre-med course at university - ended up moving to New York, and then to LA to pursue a career in modelling. What I really wanted to do was acting but modelling was a good side job. From there, I’ve really been able to explore myself, not just acting and modelling, but also with music and poetry.
You know, who I think I am at heart is a poet and I just want my voice to be heard. I guess through all my art forms I am expressing someone who has a unique view on the world. I believe that I am part of this new wave of thinking that I hope to encapsulate with the concept of ANTIBOY. That is who I am - a creator, at the heart of things.
So who is ANTIBOY?
ANTIBOY is my baby right now. ANTIBOY is this character that I’ve created that is a gender fluid robot from the future, stuck in a virtual reality world that has been malfunctioning. That is why the album’s called A Glitch in Paradise because it’s living in this loop of heartbreak.
I created ANTIBOY because it represents this future world that I foresee, not only where I think we are going with technology - fusing with AI and life extension - but also as a place where we’ve come to realise the complete deconstruction of labels.
ANTIBOY represents the idea that all the things that we are taught to believe in are an illusion. The ideas of gender, sexuality, and race are social constructs. ANTIBOY represents this from a place of living in the future. If it were to encounter the present they’d be like: "what, you have no race? That’s just migration and climate". I think ANTIBOY represents this place of true equality. The surface doesn’t really matter anymore, it’s really who we are. That’s what matters - the amalgamation of our memories and experiences. We are one human consciousness.
Do you identify as gender neutral?
I don’t like the idea of labels. If I had to pick a label it would be in the realm of gender fluid. I know that I am born male but I don’t think I represent what it means to be a man. I believe we should be whatever we want. It gets kind of confusing when we start labelling ourselves so I try to stay away from labels.
Have you always felt that way or is this something you've developed being able to express yourself through writing, modelling, and acting?
I guess there has always been a part of me that has been fortunate enough to not care about what people think. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and I had a very open and accepting family. Dating someone of either sex didn’t make a difference to me. I always had in my head this idea that I don’t like labels, so I never had to define myself. As I got older, I came to understand that maybe I’m this pan-sexual gender fluid human being. But then as I got even older, I was like; 'why would I need to define those labels anyway?' I can love who I want to love and I can represent myself the way I want to - if I want to go out and wear make-up and a dress (not that I do drag), that's okay. I feel very comfortable in a dress. I feel very comfortable in different types of clothing. That doesn’t make me want to be a woman, it just makes me, ‘me’.
What makes you happy?
Creating makes me happy. My work makes me happy. Especially the process of making this album and seeing it come to fruition has made me really happy. And being able to create works of art has made me proud of myself, especially coming to another country. Moving away and working hard and being able to follow my passions.
You have said that ANTIBOY is stuck on a loop of heartbreak - the ‘glitch’ in the system. Have you always been drawn to themes of heartbreak as a poet?
The title Glitch in Paradise represents this whole idea of a dystopian world where we move in the direction of ‘how do we get to this perfect reality - and then what lies beyond that?’.
The answer for me has always been a dystopian one. I have been obsessed with that idea.
I am writing a script right now about a trans superhero that can time-travel. The villain in the story is not a typical superhero villain; the villain is a trans woman’s ex-boyfriend that she can’t be with, so she keeps going back in time to change. All my work seems to reflect this idea of a dystopian tragic love story. There is nothing more beautiful than two people who can’t find a way to be together. It is so heart-breaking and out of the realm that most people can understand. It’s like, 'well if we can’t be together in this life, maybe in another life we will'. And this sentiment of ‘maybe in another life’ has fuelled a lot of the scripts that I am writing.
Have you experienced tragedy in your life?
I think I have been fortunate in a lot of ways to have a good family and to have grown up the way I have. I think my tragedy has come from my own doing and I have had to accept that. I haven’t had someone inflicting pain on me. I don’t know if it’s because maybe I have a part of me that is self-destructive, because I think I do have that. Growing up I had a very serious sleeping disorder called Idiopathic Insomnia. I couldn’t sleep for my entire childhood until I started taking sleeping pills at twelve/thirteen. So I was tortured by sleep deprivation and I had a lot of phobias. It affected me in a very severe way as a child.
That kind of experience shapes who you are.
Exactly. Having my childhood so disrupted came back to haunt me in ways that were unexpected and left me with my own kind of issues that were then self-inflicted and self-destructive. But tragedy can come in all forms. All experience is relative, all happiness is relative, all tragedy is relative. We all suffer as much as each other, there are just certain things that trigger us.
Boys by Girls is passionate about the topic of masculinity, which we’ve touched on. Do you think society’s attitudes towards gender are changing?
I think they are changing - I wish it was happening faster. It is difficult. There is still this idea of toxic masculinity, where to be a man is to be emotionless and to be tough and to be cruel even. That whole idea needs to be destroyed. And that is being looked at and dissected: the idea that men can get away with anything. We’ve just seen the #MeToo movement, so we are moving in a more positive direction. And there is a whole new generation of kids realising this idea of fluidity where we don’t have to define ourselves as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ as we have a bit of both in us. This wave of fluidity is being seen in our fashion. But most people don’t really understand the notion of having both masculine and feminine traits.
So far the material you have released for ANTIBOY has been very visual, even visceral. How do you see this translating on stage?
The idea of ANTIBOY is very visual. All the music videos are one continuous episodic music video shot in a virtual reality world and I would love for that to be depicted on stage. If I could have my dream stage production and dream budget it would be to create an almost touring musical or show. I want there to be set design and holographic depictions of ANTIBOY that can be on stage with me. And robot armies and all kinds of crazy things. An amazing story that people can really sink their teeth into - something we haven’t really seen before. I don’t think of myself as a singer, I think of myself as an artist, performer, and a visual artist and I’d love to be able to show that through these beautiful stage productions.
A really immersive experience.
Yeah, I’d love that so you don’t even know what’s real or not - because there would be a hologram of me on stage. I could die on stage but you wouldn’t even know that it was me. I think it’d be interesting to play around with what is real and what is not. And that is what ANTIBOY is about: the idea of perceptions. To be able to show an audience that would be pretty mind-blowing.
Let’s talk about The OA. Season one was left with lots of unanswered questions. What can we expect from Season two and will any of those questions be answered?
I can’t say too much about The OA as I am on an NDA, but season two is very different from season one. It almost feels like a whole other story. It takes place in San Francisco. As seen with other works by the creators, they have this obsession with the idea of cult mentality. And we see this a lot more in the second season. How it links together is unclear even to me at this point because they did keep things from us on set, but it’s a completely different direction. I am really excited to see it myself because there are so many unanswered questions for me too.
What can you tell us, if anything, about your character Noah?
It was meant to potentially have come out by now but the reason why it has taken so long to film - this is very unorthodox for any show - is because they are shooting in linear order. And so the other actors on set had the same experience - no one knew what was happening next. My character is part of this cult, but the role of the cult itself is unclear because every small detail hadn’t even been released to the main actors. I was only on set at the beginning of the shoot so there were so many questions I had that no one knew the answers to because they kept it a secret and were shooting in this linear order. I think that was very interesting.
What was your reaction to the Five Movements? They were quite divisive, particularly in the final episode.
I loved that. The writers love to play with the idea of what is real and what is not, and they really show that. It is very unclear at the end of the show if [the characters] really did stop the shooting or if it was just a distraction. And this idea of whether what they were doing was in their heads or real. I like to believe that it was real but it is very hard to say. The whole lead up to the ending was beautiful. It was extraordinary.
A few of your acting projects have been on the more sinister side - even Noah you say is part of a cult. Is this something you find easier to tap into as an actor?
Maybe it has been seen that way. I’ve done so many different things and have quite a few films coming out that are horror films, including American Horror Story, that is either disturbing emotionally or terrifying. In that realm of the dark. When I go up for a role I don’t think of it as ‘acting’. Everything to me is very real; I play myself all the time and I see how I can imbue what is the character within me. Maybe I do connect with the darkness of humanity and maybe that’s why I have been cast in these dark and harrowing projects - it’s what I naturally connect to.
As you said, you look for the tragedy in things - but also the beauty of tragedy. Maybe that comes through in the casting process.
Yeah. Maybe it’s that I not only find the truth of the role, but I make it real because I don’t just look at it as terrifying and dark and evil. I can connect with it and see it as a different way of thinking. The OA is certainly an example of a different way of thinking, and it is an honour that I got to be on that show. It was a truly beautiful experience. I feel that I was part of it because I was able to look at it with an open mind and not judge it, and not have any preconceived notions about the role.
The theme of our last print issue was The Dreamers, do you consider yourself a dreamer?
Absolutely. I half live in a fantasy world myself, and that’s where I get a lot of my ideas and stories from - they are fantasies dipped in the fabric of reality. I truly believe in the idea of energy manifestation. Everything around us is something we can explore and take from and borrow. We can use the energy around us to create new things.
Although this may be another obscure projection of mine, I truly believe that what I want to do in this life I will make happen because I have such strong self-belief. And because I have such big ideas, and I think this is what the world needs so I am going to put my energy into making it happen. So yeah, I am definitely a dreamer, but I feel I am a dreamer that dreams things into existence.
Who do you look up to?
Artist wise, FKA Twigs. I think what she does in her performances is very unusual. She takes vogue performers and puts them in her shows. I love the artist HER. There is a song called Pigment and half of it is just poetry. One of my tracks called Riot, which I did a fashion film with Flaunt magazine for, is just poetry to music. I’d love to do an entire album of poetry and music. Fewer people are buying books of poetry - maybe it’s time to reinvent the wheel. ANTIBOY’s journal set to music would be an amazing thing. I always look out for new artists and interesting performances. I am inspired by everything. If we aren’t inspired by everyone we meet, then we are not looking at the world correctly. There is always something that can be taken and that we can learn from. Every day I should be inspired by at least something or else I am not living the way that I think I want to live.
Are you hopeful for the future?
Yeah. I am very hopeful. I think we are moving into this era of fluidity where people are starting to understand that we don’t have to be one thing. We are starting to look outside the norm of what is expected: to be gay or straight or a man or woman.
There are a huge number of people who are still going to judge every single decision you make and everything you wear and every person you date. They are always going to be wanting to define that thing with a label for their own personal understanding and comfort - and that’s okay too. I’m not going to judge that person, but I think the way of thinking where anything can change at any moment is a more interesting way to live. It doesn’t confine us to anything. It allows us to be whoever we want to be.
What is next for Harry Hains?
What I’m working on right now is establishing this brand for ANTIBOY. I want it to be an empire: something that is not only a musical album but has a TV show attached to it. I’ve just finished the pilot with an amazing co-writer. Each episode is inspired by a track on the album and takes place in this future I have created, where all of mankind has fused with AI. Through ANTIBOY, I’d also like to create the fashion of the future. I can see where fashion is going and I’d love to create a label with ANTIBOY.
I’d love to create a space for LGBTQ+ artists where people can feel safe to go and create art and exist and collaborate in this space. Not just for LGBTQ+ artists, but for anyone who feels judged in the outside world or feels like an outsider or minority. This space would be for anyone who doesn’t feel safe in society to create the art that they want to create.
There is so much that I want to do with ANTIBOY so I’m constantly working on new ideas. Now I am finally creating a place for myself where I can make these things happen. And I’d love to then be able to help other artists achieve their goals too. There is so much to do, but it’s what I love to do. To me, I’m not working - I am in LA creating and writing and being able to do what I want to do. And it’s been such a pleasure to meet people that want to carry my career in the right direction. It’s mind-blowing that I have even been able to get to where I’ve got to right now, and what I have planned next is even bigger.
It sounds like you have a very exciting time ahead of you.
Yeah, it is. It’s kind of amazing. I have put so much hard work into this. I have been so dedicated and passionate about ANTIBOY and the brand - the whole idea and what it represents. It’s been so beautiful to see people catch on to that - wanting to be part of my team and wanting to make what I do a reality because they love that I represent and stand for something that other people don’t stand for.
Because what it comes down to is that I want true equality for people. The idea is to establish a new wave of fluidity and a new wave of equality. If we move away from ideas of gender, race, and sexuality as these things that separate us and we look at the fact we are all just human beings, we can find a place of similarity instead of difference, and I think that’s where this is going: it’s showing that we are all equal in the end.