Benjamin A. Harper’s solo album, Get Thee Behind Me, gracefully settles in the space between past and present. Not like the iCloud illusiveness, more subtly floating from above. It’s been around long enough to know the modern struggles yet it echoes back '60s rock and Ray Davies’ pleasantries.
The songs were born free and undiluted, with no conscious plan by Harper to release into album. But with a general consensus from some friends, and a powerful itch behind the songs, Harper decided it was ready for them to leave the nest.
You may recognize Harper for his get up in Nashville soul pop group, The Magnolia Sons. Don’t be mistaken. The soul hasn’t left Harper. It’s transferred into a different musical body, one that is still bright and emotionally colorful, with a little moodiness and experimental spirit.
As Harper describes, “When you filter something you love through your own crazy brain, that's when you make it your own.”
Get Thee Behind Me is reminiscent of Zombies Odessey and Oracle, yet dances around modern alternative rock like Beck or Spoon. It’s an impressive album for a long-awaited debut, and we’re happy to see it take on the real world.
Benjamin A. Harper’s release show for Get Thee Behind Me Friday July 24th at The Basement is sold out, but you can catch him at an in-store performance at Grimey's that evening at 6pm.
Interview with Benjamin A. Harper
Get Thee Behind Me listened to as a whole, has a really beautiful spectrum. Songs like “Sunshine” and “The Queen” render more upbeat while “Get Thee Behind Me” and “Old Window” are a little more transcendental and moody. Were the songs written throughout a long period of time?
Most of the record came out of demos I'd made over a period of three or four years, but the oldest is "Old Window." That thing has been around since at least 2009! The latest is the last track, "Get Thee Behind Me (Reprise)" which happened a month or so before I sent the album off to be mixed. There were only two that I wrote around the same time, "The Queen" and "Leave This Place Alone."
Your website states, “The album started as a series of home demos but as Harper kept building on the material, it quickly became apparent the production needed to make its way out of the house.” What was the process like? Did you begin recording at home?
The process starts with me sitting at my computer with a basic idea. I use the word "building" because I built these songs in a way that I'd liken to building Legos or putting a puzzle together. I keep trying things, sometimes for way too long, until I find the combination of pieces that are most interesting to me. It's the first music I've made predominantly on computer. It's become one of my favorite ways to write. All of this record was created like this. It wasn't truly complete until I enlisted Jordan Lehning to mix and John Baldwin to master and really make it sound great.
What’s the significance to you of the theme or title, Get Thee Behind Me? What do you want people to feel out of this album?
"Get Thee Behind Me" and "Get Thee Behind Me (Reprise)" are about loneliness in this age of social media. It's about the terrible effect the ubiquity of phones and social media has on human relationships. How is it that in this age of unprecedented capabilities in communication, so many people are just terrible at communicating? But I'm not preaching I'm speaking from my own experience with it. "Get Thee Behind Me" is about my own dysfunctional relationship with social media and technology. Now go "like" Benjamin A. Harper on Facebook! Do it!
The Magnolia Sons draws on retro vibes. Your solo album also reaches back into the past, but to a different era with influences like The Kinks, Bowie, and The Zombies. However, you also bring it to times and accomplish making it quite your own. With so much rich experience and influences, how are you able to make it your own or to bring out these classic elements to modern music?
I think most songwriters always start out trying to emulate a song or artist that they love. I almost always start out thinking "I want to write a song like this song or that song by such and such artist." It sparks an idea and ends up coming out very different from what you intended. When you filter something you love through your own crazy brain, that's when you make it your own. I do listen to music made now. Some of my favorite current artists/bands are Beck, The Strokes, Spoon, and Tame Impala. The Nashville rock scene is really great too though and I'm always hearing Nashville artists that are inspiring me to make better music.
This album is great! What took you so long to make a record just on your own? How is it different than playing with the band? Will you still keep the suit get-ups?
Thanks! I think it took me so long because I didn't start recording these songs with the express purpose of making an album to release. I was just writing for myself and I was doing it in between writing and performing with Magnolia Sons over a long period of time. It was only after I had most of these songs in demo form that I thought "oh wait, I have almost an entire album's worth of material here!” I played it for some friends and the general consensus was that I shouldn't just sit on these songs, so I did a Kickstarter and ran with it. It's different than recording with a band because I got to take my time and do what was aurally interesting to me without other cooks in the kitchen. I'll be playing with a full band on July 24th though! Suits? I think I'll keep it more on the casual side for this and leave the get-ups for Magnolia Sons.
What are three favorite albums you never get sick listening to?
Not an easy question! There’s so much incredible music out there and it depends on the season. When fall hits, I'm always listening to The Zombies Odessey & Oracle, Beck's Sea Change, and Rufus Wainwright's Want One. Spring/Summer: The Beatles The White Album, The Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. I'd better just stop there.