Benjamin A. Harper and Brendan Mayer will be performing a concert in Barefoots Joe tonight at 8 p.m. We got a chance to ask Harper a few questions about his musical and artistic experience.
What were your first musical experiences as a kid?
When I was a kid, The Monkees were on Nickelodeon. I think that was the first music I got really into. I had virtually every song they ever put out. It wasn’t until much later that I got into The Beatles. The Monkees were put together for a TV show, but they had some great people writing songs for them (Nilsson, Carole King, Neil Diamond to name a few). So there was no shortage of great songs. I started out on drums, but switched to guitar pretty early on. My dad was into the Carpenters and Harry Nilsson. My mom was always into Chicago. I also got a California Raisins album when I was a little tyke. That was probably my first introduction to Motown and soul. PS- if you like that style check out my other band Magnolia Sons!
How did you get plugged into the Nashville music scene?
Honestly, I’ve lived in Nashville for so long now, I’m not sure! I was part of the Murfreesboro scene a long time ago with some of my older bands. Most of us live in Nashville now. I’ve lived in Nashville for about 14 years. It just feels like I’ve always been plugged in! There is so much great music coming out of Nashville. I’m glad I get to be a part of it.
What are common lyrical themes you find yourself writing about?
The first and last tracks from my record are about the disease of the smartphone and the false intimacy of social media. I guess sometimes I write about feeling stagnant and static and the undying human desire to perpetually get to the next level. And of course, heartbreak is the single greatest creative generator in history. Also cats.
How often do you suffer from writer’s block and do you have tips to overcoming it?
I think there are definitely times for every writer when they think that maybe their well has run dry, but it always comes back. I think the best way to overcome it is to seek out music that inspires you, listen a lot and try to emulate what you love. I’m always thinking “I want to write a song like that!” I’ll sit down and start out trying to write that song but end up with something that’s totally my own.
What’s new and upcoming for you in the next year or so?
I love to keep busy, so I have a lot going on. I’m always working with my 10-piece soul band, Magnolia Sons. I’ll be on the road and writing and recording with them. I just started a new female-fronted rock band in the vein of 90s alternative rock (think The Breeders, Veruca Salt.) I want to record an EP or record with them. I’ve got well over an album’s worth of material for another Benjamin A. Harper record, and I’ll be doing my best to get that done. I share drummers with another, more famous Ben and can’t do my solo thing very often because of it, but I’m excited to get to work on these new songs (some of which we are already playing live.) I also produce other artists and am looking at producing one or two EPs in the next year or so.
What would you do other than music if you could go back in time?
I didn’t realize until after school, but I have a knack for and love learning languages. I taught myself conversational French. If I could go back, I’d study abroad. Learning a second language is good for your brain.
What sports do you follow? Who do you root for?
I don’t really follow any sports, but if I had to pick one, it would be football and I’d probably be rooting for Seattle. That was my dad’s team. We’ve got some great ping pong players in the band. I’m the king of ping and Sam (drummer) is the king of pong. Ping Pong counts, right?