I got the call to start with with Harper, an Alternative Pop artist whose music i was already a fan and within a week was rehearsing with her and the band. Her Musical Director called me, believing that i would offer the right rhythmic approach to Harper’s music and also be able to handle to programming side of things which was previously missing from the live show.
Harper’s music is a mix of electronic/synthesised instruments and acoustic instruments so i approached my set up based on that using a hybrid set up of acoustic and electronic drums that was minimal but allowed me to recreate the sounds of Harper’s songs without having to have a huge set up.
I originally came on board for warm up shows with tours scheduled for the latter part of 2015.
Label: ICU Label
Genre: Dark-Pop / Alternative
Harper is a pop act for 2015 – a joyous bundle of contradictions, veering seamlessly from light to shade. She breezes through influences ranging from Rihanna to Radiohead; is equally as happy in vintage shop finds as she is in high fashion eccentricities; and squares up to the biggest of social issues to take them down in charts-ready tunes. Together with her production team, Eagle Eye, she uses powerful and timeless vocals to bring sounds that are informed by Sia, Bjork and Lorde but are still undeniably her own. With her Velvet EP, released in 2014, she offered up a statement of intent that will be followed up this summer with the massive feminist anthem-in-waiting, Man Made World.
Harper’s earliest musical memories offer more than a small clue to her post-genre approach to writing music. She feels pretty sure that both of her parents had their own lasting influence on her tastes and sounds – “Dad used to blare dance music in the car – he’s always been a bit of raver. But my mum has always loved her rock – Skunk Anansie and that sort of thing. So from the start I’ve been exposed to a bit of a weird mixture of musical styles.”
Born in Bristol, Harper moved to small-town Wales with her Mother when she was still very young. By her early teens a friend had enrolled her in an after-school music club and her spare time was spent singing and learning to write music. While all of her friends considered careers as vets and lawyers, Harper quickly came to realise that she could only envisage a life making music: “There was nothing else that I ever wanted to do. It was like nothing else entered my mind.”
It was Harper’s decision to head to London for university to study Music, that has moulded her into the complex and confident musician that she is today. “I wish I could go back and do it all again. There were no barriers, no rules. As soon as I got to London I just loved that I could be myself.” She remembers being the small-town girl in a big city – swooning at the guy in her class who looked like Lenny Kravitz, making friends with rocker dudes and other talented, independently-minded female songwriters. This was her coming of age moment. “On the first day alone I learnt so much. There were so many different styles of music that I’d never been exposed to.”
These formative years saw a girl who once took her influences from Eurovision-winning skirt-twirlers dabbling in everything from Chris Isaac to Nine Inch Nails. Never one to play to convention, she wrote about industrial music for her dissertation whilst working as a vocalist and top line writer with local dance producers.
And it was during her university years that Harper met the production duo who she still works with to this day. A friend in her halls of residence introduced her to Eagle Eye’s Ray Michael– they were looking for a Skylar Grey type voice to help out with guide vocals for some Tinie Tempah tracks that they were working on. When the team over at Sony heard Harper, they urged Ray not to pass her by – “they kept saying ‘who’s this girl? You need to get her in’.” Sam was in the student union celebrating the end of exams when she got a call from Ray – “I met up with them a few weeks later and they had Elliot from ICU with them. They said ‘this guy’s starting a label and he wants to know if you’d be part of it’.”
Harper was signed to ICU Label at the end of 2012 and she’s been holed up in a Fulham studio with Eagle Eye ever since. Refusing to bend to the pressures of the modern music industry, they’ve taken time to learn to work together and experiment with their sound. What has emerged is music that finds a comfortable place accommodating their shared love of everything from Kanye’s uncompromising trap beats, to Thom Yorke’s fusion of live and electronic and Rihanna’s strong female vocal. “The songs that we took from everything that we made in that period were organic but with a dark edge,” says Harper. They released ‘The Velvet EP’ at the end of 2014 – highlight, ‘Animal,’ fuses haunting piano chords with gothic effects, heavy beats and Harper’s unique voice.
“From a music perspective I think that Harper writes better songs when it’s real, when she’s angry,” says Ray of the most recent set of tracks that they’ve been working on together. Lyrics-wise, Harper had two rules from the get-go – “I’m not someone who’ll sing ‘baby’ or ever talk about being in ‘the club’.” And so the next single, ‘Man Made World,’ is a ratchet call to arms – a defiant comment on the male-dominated industry that Sam strives to navigate. It follows up an insightful essay that she wrote for renowned online women’s magazine, The W Review, about what it’s like to be a young female in the music industry. She offers up gems for others who may wish to follow in her footsteps. “There are times when you may lack confidence around some strong characters and opinions,” she warns. “But if you sell it like you mean it, they’ll buy it.”
And how does Harper feel about the prospect of being a female pop star in 2015? “I’m excited. I think it’s a good time,” she beams. “The good thing about pop right now is that it’s quite dark. People like Lorde, Sia and Twigs – they’re sort of re-writing the genre. It’s like ‘forget the format’.” Sam’s industry fore-sisters have paved a way that allows her to rejoice in the steely distortions of Arca productions and plan for music videos set in rural Wales, not on Miami beaches –“With the next videos that we’re doing I really wanna take it to a darker place. The dream is to take it Wales and do something on a really large scale with a really cryptic narrative.”
With plans for an album release and corresponding tour at the start of 2016,
Harper is poised and ready to show the world what she’s all about. Expect anthemic tunes, distinctive visuals and a strong message. And always expect the unexpected.