The Will To Live
While discussing the songs on The Will To Live, Ben Harper says, "It's the next step. It's like crawling to walking to running to flying. Those are tough steps from one to the next." However, one spin through the songs on this album will prove that Harper and The Innocent Criminals have taken off in fine style. From the electrifying "Faded" to the gems "Roses From My Friends" and "Glory & Consequence," Harper again pushes through the envelope of his musical vision.
Of course, to hear him explain it, this album is just part of an ongoing musical evolution. "I can't keep making records like Welcome To The Cruel World, he says, referring to his 1994 debut. "I could, but I would never want to, because that's the challenge of making the records that I make. They are not in one particular rhythm. It goes in different rhythms and movements in each record, song to song, extremely. I could have just made an entire rock record or an entire ballad record or an entire soul record, but that's not my life. My life is different movements; it's different rhythms in my heart and in my mind."
Likewise, he explains, each listener can interpret them for themselves and he, in turn, can hear different meanings within,thelonger he plays them. "You can really hear into them quite well as far as what was going on either in my life, in my head, or in my heart," he explains. "It really doesn't matter, when it comes down to it, if it was something I lived through or something that I saw someone live through or something I read about. That doesn't matter, it was just an emotion at the time that was musically inspirational to me."
The songs that appear on this, his third release, were written during the band's nearly two year tour to support Fight For Your Mind. That tour took them from North to South, from the United States to such far away places as Turkey and New Zealand. Along the way he's been playing to a legion of fans that are hip to Harper's sound. "The crowds have been really, really receptive, excited and know the music. It's a great joy to travel around the world and hear different languages sing the lyrics," he says.
The tour enabled the latest version of The Innocent Criminals, which features old and new members, to tighten their sound. Joining Harper is Juan Nelson, who's been with Ben since the "Cruel World" tour, on bass and drummer Dean Butterworth, who joined the band for the tail end of the Fight For Your Mind tour. During the sessions, which lasted just a month, Harper and crew played live to get the feel for the songs and then Ben would layer his Weissenborn parts on top. That process not only enabled them to capture those precious musical moments, but also allowed Ben to work a touch of analog tape trickery into the album. As an example he points to the intro of "Roses From My Friends," which is ten to twelve Weissenborns tracked backward and then one forward, playing low end slide over the bed of the other guitars.
From Welcome To The Cruel World to this release, Ben's learned a bevy of musical and life lessons. "I've realized it's quite a challenge to go from record to record, because no one is going to paint the same picture every time, no one's going to take the same photograph and no one's going to make the same record. People evolve and they grow and their lives grow.
"The bottom line is that you really can't lose the firm grasp on the root of what it is you're doing; you can't lose grasp of the roots of where your music comes from. If you stay close to the root then you really won't lose the feeling and the spirit of where your songs come from to begin with..."
And as he explains it, his root is the acoustic Weissenborn guitar, which has become his signature. "If I picked up a Strat all of a sudden and disregarded the Weissenborn, then started playing with a couple of keyboards and maybe some horns," he pauses for a second, "I'd be in trouble. I'd be far from the root. I stick with the Weissenborn; it says something new to me every day. Every time I pick it up it sings something new. As long as I keep close to the root, whether it's acoustic ballad songs, harder rock songs or something in between, as long as the music stays close to the root, then it'll stay sweet fruit."