10.31.12 Sydney Morning Herald Article/Interview
The Sydney Morning Herald
November 1, 2012
After more than two decades in the industry, Ben Harper still credits his Australian fans with the launch of his long and illustrious career.
Ever since the American singer-songwriter's popularity soared here in the late '90s, the country has held a special place in his heart.
''It was the first English-speaking part of the world that recognised the music I made as a large group en masse,'' he says.
''I really think that spread around the world in the way that nothing else could have.''
The songwriter makes his return to Australia this month to perform his first-ever acoustic solo tour.
An Acoustic Evening With Ben Harper will take in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney - with many shows already sold out.
The intimate gigs promise to display Harper's range of music styles from southern gospel, '70s funk, blues, reggae, to straight out rock'n'roll.
And while Harper will no doubt bring out his trademark Weissenborn guitar, he's also planning to demonstrate his skills on a number of different instruments, including the piano and the ukulele.
''[This tour] was something that I'd never done before but talked about forever and it seemed like the right time to give it a shot,'' he says.
''I love the freedom, I love the way it features the songs, I love the way you get to re-invent the songs and I'm finding it definitely brings out something special in each one.
''I'm having fun with Diamonds on the Inside solo and I'm having a great time with Burn to Shine solo.''
While in the country, the Aussie-lover hopes to spend some time winding down and visiting some of his Sydney friends.
''I can't wait to get there,'' he says.
''After the Sydney Opera House shows, I'm going to stick around the country for an extra week and hang out with friends, skate, surf.
''I'm going to skate as much and at as many places as I can - during and after [the shows].''
The acoustic tour will provide the perfect setting for the tunes from his latest offering By My Side.
The album is a collection of his favourite love songs and ballads from his 20-year career.
Despite his personal ups and downs in love - primarily with his estranged second wife Laura Dern - the musician knows his songs mean a lot to his fans romantically.
''They're special to me because writing songs in and around love and the optimistic side of love is one of the most important parts of the art of songwriting,'' he says.
''And I'm glad to be able to compile what I think is my strongest foot forward in that direction.''
Album favourites By My Side, Diamonds on the Inside, and Waiting on an Angel are set to make an appearance in his live show, but there's one song from the record that is particularly personal.
The father of four wrote Crazy Amazing for his youngest daughter, Jaya.
''I'm not in the business of singing impersonal songs,'' he says. ''[This song] says it all. That kind of sums her up: she's just crazy amazing in every shape and form. Both my daughters are.''
Harper has also been working on an album with renowned harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite set for release on January 25.
With a mix of blues, gospel, roots and R&B, Get Up! is a project Harper has wanted to work on for more than 10 years.
The artist has recorded and performed with a long list of musicians, including Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Rickie Lee Jones and Jack Johnson, but he labels this experience as the ''collaboration of a lifetime''.
''It's the best thing I've ever done - I'll make more records in the future but it will never be as good as this one I'm working on with Charlie,'' he says.
''The blues is home for me and it brought me home in a way that nothing else can do.''
His connection to Musselwhite is more than just a collaboration, he sees the musician as somewhat of a mentor.
''I learn from Charlie every time I'm around him,'' he says.
''I've got plenty to learn musically, creatively and hopefully - at a certain point - I'll have plenty to give too but for now I'm still in the learning stage.''
And that's not the only project Harper has on the go.
When Fly caught up with the musician, he was in the US working with Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines on her first solo record.
The producer found time for a brief chat between recordings - an interview that was particularly tricky to pin down given his hectic schedule.
''I've got so much going on that I'm basically living cup to cup - one cup of coffee to the next,'' he says.
''If I ever went into hiding, they could have a record out every year for the next five years! I've got a lot of material sitting around.''
The artist can't help but wonder, however, if records will continue to be produced in the future.
He expects they will become a thing of the past, with EP-style formats set to regain popularity.
''The biggest change in the industry - to me - is the way people are more absorbing songs than records,'' he says.
''But, for now, I do still love putting together a collection of songs that will pull people towards the middle, that will have different styles and sentiments. You might gravitate towards certain ones but eventually it pulls you into the experience, which is the whole record,'' he says.
''I still think there's a great amount of value to at least the challenge.''
WHERE: Canberra Theatre Centre
WHEN: Thursday, November 8, 8pm
■ Naomi Fallon is a staff writer, a music lover and a keen baker