Folk singer Peter Harper to sing from his latest album at SOhO
Peter Harper wrote “Survive” before COVID-19 struck.
Little did Mr. Harper realize the song, which is the title track of his album, and others on the album would prove to be prophetic.
“There’s a lot on that album that when you fast forward a year after the album was completed, you’re landing on all these hot button points where lyrics fit so poignantly,” Mr. Harper told the News-Press.
“When you write a truly great song, it fits into the existence of the world you live in,” the folk singer and guitarist said by phone from his Claremont home. “ ‘Survive’ works right now, and it’s the type of song that will always work. There’s always a fight for survival, a need for freedom, to never give up.
“I think when you write a song that really fits into a human need, an across-the-board human need,” you’re writing outside of time,” he said.
Mr. Harper and his band will perform songs from his album “Survive” at 7:30 p.m Wednesday during a family-friendly concert at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, 1221 State St., Santa Barbara.
It’s a venue the former Santa Barbara resident knows well.
“SOhO — I absolutely love that place,” he said. “I played it for the very first time when I was just starting out as a musician.”
It was 2014, and Mr. Harper, a sculptor-turned-musician, was opening for Donovan Frankenreiter at SOhO. Mr. Harper’s brother, Joel, met Mr. Frankenreiter and gave Mr. Harper the musician’s phone number.
“I called Donovan, and he said, ‘Send me the album,’” Mr. Harper said.
After listening to Mr. Harper’s album, “Peter Harper,” Mr. Frankenreiter was impressed.
“He called me and said, ‘This is really cool. I’m going to take you on the road with me,’” Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Harper went to become a frequent headliner at SOhO, a venue that is popular with local and out-of-town bands.
“Every single time I play there, no matter who the sound engineer is, I feel so comfortable,” Mr. Harper said. “It’s an incredible venue with great owners who care about music and want to promote live music, which is a blessing of sorts. Then there’s Santa Barbara and the people who live there and appreciate live music. It’s not always that way in America.”
Mr. Harper’s album “Survive” was released recently, and he said songs like its title track can make a difference during difficult times.
“I could not have gotten through this pandemic without having that song ‘Survive’ in my head,” he said. “Knowing that you can give that to the world, knowing that you have no control over its success or failure, is in and by itself the award for the creation of a song.”
When this writer listened to “Survive,” he heard a driving beat and a growing intensity. The lyrics match the music:
“No matter what you try to say,
“Nothin’ can take this away.
“I know I am alive and I will survive.
“I will survive.”
Mr. Harper said the song has a sense of urgency that fits the pandemic and that the music helps its listeners.
“When you’re home and alone and been on the couch for a year because you’ve been quarantined and you’ve been going crazy, there’s this mantra that comes with a beat, with a built-in inspiration that got a lot of people through the pandemic,” he said.
Mr. Harper, who grew up in Claremont, was born in a family known for its Claremont-based Folk Music Center.
His brother Ben Harper is a musician. His mother, Ellen Verdries, plays guitar. His grandfather Charles Chase was a craftsman known for his musical instruments, and his grandmother Dorothy Chase loved to play anything with strings.
Mr. Harper earned his bachelor’s in political science at Pitzer College, part of the Claremont Colleges, and his master’s in fine arts in 1999 at New York University.
Mr. Harper became a sculptor whose works are in the collections of actors such as Laura Dern, Meg Ryan, Henry Rollins, Woody Harrelson and Danny DeVito.
But one day, he had the epiphany of another career.
“I was in France at the Louvre,” he said. “ I was in line to see the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world. There was an incredibly long line.”
As Mr. Harper saw people take selfies with the Mona Lisa behind them, he realized he would never create anything more famous than the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece.
He knew he would need to do something different to reach a broad audience.
“I realized I’ve got to try another door to express all the things I’m going to express to the world,” he Mr. Harper said.
So Mr. Harper picked up his guitar and started writing and singing.
“Music has this space. It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, music fills the need for everyone,” said Mr. Harper who’s married with two sons, 13 and 16, and a 5-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback called Banjo.
“There’s a song that fits all the moods and moments. There’s always a song to help you through a problem.”