Harper’s new album has the write stuff
SNOWMASS VILLAGE Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals have recorded seven studio albums, and on every one, Harper wrote most of the music. But with the eighth, “Lifeline,” released less than a week ago, Harper said, “It was different as far as anything I have done recording.”
The band headlines the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival Friday in Snowmass Village, following a performance by Nickel Creek. Harper’s first album, “Welcome to the Cruel World,” released in 1994 and followed in 1995 by “Fight For Your Mind,” established Harper and the Innocent Criminals as a powerhouse on the music scene with lyrics of depth and a soulful feel.In performances this summer, Harper has rocked out with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and played a much-hailed version of “Dazed and Confused” with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. On the new album, the Innocent Criminals took a more active role, something Harper said has been a long time coming and a shift that he sees improving their musical output. “It sure was great writing with the band,” Harper said in a recent conference-call interview with journalists from across the country. “I didn’t even know if it was possible. Everyone just removed their ego from the table and brought their best musical foot forward.”
Harper paused, however, when asked whether or not he minded taking input musically from other members of the band. When pressed on the question, he said the process was slightly painful but better than ever once it got rolling. “For someone introverted and isolated in the writing process up to that point, it was a huge shift for me,” Harper said. “The music I heard coming from these guys as individuals … these guys were kicking such rock ‘n’ roll ass night in and night out.”Normally, Harper said the band will have three weeks of pre-recording time to work on an album before going into the studio. With this album, the band worked on the songs during sound checks and in dressing rooms during a European tour. “It did give us an extra month,” Harper said. “It became a giant organism of ideas, and everyone was trying to make it better by the day.””Lifeline” was recorded in Paris, France, a city that Harper said helped him and the band create a vibrant feel. But when one reporter asked about why the decision was made to record there, Harper trailed off into a political rant about the U.S.
“I challenge America to be what it claims it is,” Harper said. “I support the troops, that’s why I want them home. You can’t support the troops for an unjust war. I’m not one of these blind-faith type of guys. There are wars that have had to be fought, this isn’t one of them. That wasn’t even your question.”From the beginning, Harper has been known as being outspoken and active in his beliefs. And many of his songs speak of protest and revolution. “It felt great to be able to walk to the studio in that environment,” he said, “and not have to pass about 20 strip malls on the way.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com