Harper, Criminals embrace underdog status on new CD
nina dragicevic/metro toronto
As the Bible says, even God took the seventh day to rest.
But not this musical deity: Ben Harper booked six days in a Parisian studio with the Innocent Criminals, but stuck around for a final day to polish off recording their latest creation, Lifeline, in a mere week. The result? A damn near immaculate collection of old school aching soul and a joyous blend of blues and rock.
The album’s first audience, oddly enough, was the band’s set-up crew and venue workers — the songs were written live on stage during sound checks a few hours before the show each night. Harper grew tired of warming up with the same songs, again and again, for months at a time.
“It didn’t start as a record,” he says, sipping carefully on a coffee, “it started as needing a release. (It was) having the greatest musicians in the world on tour and not wanting to be repetitious.”
Although the group was road weary, coming off of ten months on tour, the music belies the travellers’ burnout. Harper explains that the songs themselves pulled his band out of exhaustion.
“The enthusiasm of the material completely counterbalanced, if not completely outweighed, that lethargy and road weariness,” he says. “It was very much an opportunity and a chance for this band and I think we all knew it — we all had faith in the material enough to know that it was a special musical opportunity. The weariness definitely gave way to the intensity that went into every note.”
While it started as sound check tinkering and turned into a full-length album, Harper’s hopes for the record goes one step further: Lifeline could be the defining moment of an already acclaimed and arguably brilliant career.
“This band has never broken, it hasn’t been our path,” he says. “We’re the kings of the underground, straight up, and I’ve embraced that underdog status with open arms. That’s another part that gave us the enthusiasm in the studio — I hope this record signifies that this is this band’s hour, it’s this band’s time. No matter what that means in sales or radio play, I feel it’s a musical arrival and I hope it resonates to the world.”
But an apex doesn’t foretell an end, Harper insists.
“Who knows what I’m chasing or what’s chasing me,” he says, “but I’m still more motivated to write the best song I’ve ever written than I was when I started.”
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