Elizabeth Harper is a singer and songwriter currently residing in Brooklyn, NY.
Elizabeth and I met outside my apartment building on Bleecker St. After floating around the East Village for about an hour, we sat down to eat dinner and talk at Supper Restaurant in the Lower East Side. She is working with her band the Matinee on finishing their forthcoming record.
Epilogue Magazine: How do you describe your music?:
Elizabeth Harper: It's hard to say because do you describe something in terms of previously understood music? Or do you describe it in the way you feel?
The first record is really different from the new stuff, but then again it's the same. Have you heard the new track "Broken Adolescent Heart?"
It's derivative of the first record which was really lyrically-based, "Broken Adolescent Heart" is kind of like that but the arrangements are really different, sort of like a Roxy Music or Tears for Fears feel. It's more lush pop rather than janglely. I just wanted to do that. I switched from guitar to playing keyboard—and the first record is all written from guitar.
What is your approach to songwriting? Is it direct or are you trying to appropriate a song by other artists?
No. I'm just a songwriter. It's all self-referential. It's all based on managing emotions. I'll have a melody, or a texture, or a concept…a lot of it is literary-based. Some of the current lyrics start with a phrase, but then a lot of it is me sitting down, and if I'm feeling feelings that are overwhelming me they have to escape somehow. It's like a drug. They come off my mind and I open my mouth and put my hand on an instrument, whatever comes out comes out.
Is music the only way you channel that impulse? Do you write poetry or anything like that?
I write long tragic e-mails to my therapist. (laughs).
I mean, I do and I don't. I keep starting the novel and get to the third line, and think…maybe I should just rewrite all of F. Scott Fitzgerald, like line by line…and then I get distracted.
You’ve been called the ‘Female Morrissey’ how do you feel about that?
It's a humongous compliment obviously. I don't know what to say. I'm a huge Smiths fan. I love Morrissey. It's a really great compliment and I'm grateful for it. I could never…he's so funny. So great. But I don't think…it's very humbling. I want to live up to that.
There was a blog recently, after we played a show recently in Williamsburg, and someone wrote "girl Morrissey." I was like " Is this happening? Cool."
What are the recurring themes in your music?
I think the recurring theme is salvation and rejection. And how you survive it. I think that's where the girl Morrissey thing comes from.
What are you working on right now?
We're finishing the current record. Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift produced a few songs, and now we are working with Jorge Elbrect of Violens/Lansing-Dreiden. I also have video project with Caroline of Chairlift and other Brooklyn girls in bands, called Girl Crisis that's pretty amazing.
How do you feel about the recordings so far? How does it stack up to the previous record (2005's self-titled release)?
The songs from the first record…I really don't play them often but I still think they're great songs. I think "Trouble in the Palace" is a great song.
Do you want to keep with the lo-fi feel you had on the first record? Or did you want more production this time around?
I think I've graduated. Graduated from lo-fi, absolutely. I live my life so much in the moment…I just know what I like when I hear it.
Are there other artists that you've developed a kinship with? What other artists do you talk about? I'm trying to make this a little better than the usual influences questions.
My influence is my everyday life. (in regard to kinship artists) Caroline (Polacheck of Charlift) is my close friend. She's been so influential to me.
Does being grouped into "the Brooklyn scene" bother you?
No because we're all friends. We really do all hang out together, date each other, sleep with each other…it's true. I'm sure there's lots of bands in Brooklyn that I don't know or that I would like to, or that I've met…I give Chairlift the credit. They started the scene.
When did you start developing as an artist? Is there a particular defining moment that sticks out for you?
I think it starts as a child. You dress different then everyone else, you write a poem…you know what I mean? My dad is a musician. There's a photo of me as a little girl holding my dad's guitar, that says I called it a "singboard".
What's your goal for 2009 for the band, your life, your writing?
It's all the same thing. Nothing matters beside this. Making it, playing it, writing it, and singing it, and sharing it, and experiencing more life.
Due to the internet the "overnight success story" is more real than ever. Do you think that getting big can happen to fast and stunt future growth as an artist?
I just feel like there's just a huge waterfall of music and it's hard to catch up.
It's like a wormhole…a wormhole's like a black hole But it's got this unstable bridge, to a white hole in another universe. (a wormhole, which is similar to a black hole but with the singularity replaced by an unstable path to a white hole in another universe.) There's so much available you never really know where you'll end up. Time has been folded over, there are all these short cuts. You used to have to work hard to be cool, you know? Cool came from the streets, from Keith Haring making a mural. It's easier for artists, it's definitely easier, BUT you still have to work really hard all the time.
Favorite Bob Dylan album?
What's the one with his arm around the girl?
Yeah, the Freewheeling Bob Dylan. Have you had that moment where you're walking down the street, and you have your arm around a girl, and you're like "I'm in New York!"
That always does it.
Do you think the 60s Bleecker Street scene resembles the Williamsburg scene now?
Is it? Wow.
Favorite Beatles song?
"Here Comes the Sun." I know that's a weird choice. Just makes me think of the first few times I stayed up all night, and was liberated from convention.
Can there be another Beatles?
Yeah. But it would be have to be a political, cultural, musical cataclysm.
Elizabeth Harper & The Matinee Interview
Photo by Bek Andersen