Item added to your cart.

Checkout
Close
ReleaseProduct
Starmaker
Artist
Honey Harper
Label
ATO Records
Catalogue Number
ATO0513
Release Date
March 6, 2020

On a typically grey London afternoon in Autumn 2017, Honey Harper found himself in the Tate Britain, standing before JMW Turner’s painting The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. The expression “found himself” is used intentionally here as its meaning in this scenario is twofold. Firstly, he quite literally found himself in front of the painting, registering his physicality in both this particular space and this moment in time and, secondly, he found himself awestruck and realized a new facet of his constantly evolving self-identity, the impact of which shaped his debut LP, ‘Starmaker,’ to be released 6 March, 2020 on ATO Records. What may at first seem like disparate elements, Turner’s painting, or paintings, plural, as we’ll discover, and Honey Harper’s ‘Starmaker,’ are in reality intricately linked. Success and failure, love and melancholia, history and homage, beauty and the sublime, are all contradictions and themes which are not only present in both masterpieces, but central to their creation and existence. Before moving to London, England in January 2015, Harper had only heard the name ‘Turner’ in passing. Born William Fussell in 1989 in Adel, Georgia (a small town near the Okefenokee Swamp) Harper’s family quickly relocated to Hollywood, Florida where he immersed himself in the arts more readily available in southern Florida: disco and country music. His father was an Elvis impersonator who introduced him to Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, and Hank Williams, and his mother watched ‘Grease’ with him every month introducing him to his lifelong style icon, Olivia Newton John. At the age of 10, Harper’s family returned to Georgia, this time to the suburbs of Atlanta, where he would spend his teenage years performing in both church choirs and punk bands. On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Harper left home, beginning his journey to become the Starmaker celebrated in his album’s title. The name – ‘Starmaker’ – is inspired by the Joni Mitchell classic ‘Free Man in Paris,’ which is an ode to the stresses of having to play the game of the music industry. Co-written with his wife, Alana Pagnutti, the album is not a commentary on Mitchell’s words but it explores similar ideas about fame, fortune, and failure. “I'm the starmaker,” he offers. “These songs are primarily about my journey to create them. The album as a whole, is about my relationship with my wife and loved ones in the search of this success and fame.” This journey is clearly articulated in some of the album’s strongest tracks: ‘In Light of Us,’ ‘Tired Tower,’ ‘The Day It Rained Forever’ and the title-track, ‘Starmaker.’ ‘In Light of Us’ describes the first few years after Harper first left home; a period of rich musical and personal discovery that set him on his path towards becoming Starmaker. ‘Tired Tower’ documents his estrangement from his grandparents due to their religious beliefs, and his journey away from that world and their country. ‘Starmaker,’ recorded with Sébastien Tellier in Paris, loops in an endless, ethereal sound symbolizing the endless internal struggle to succeed, made explicit when, with George Jones style vocals, he croons: “I know you want more, but it’s hard to know just want you want it for.” In ‘The Day It Rained Forever,’ over the Carpenters-via-Burt Bacharach-style composition, Harper honestly and regretfully sings about his previous musical projects: Promise Keeper, a European art-pop project, and Mood Rings, the Atlanta-based shoegaze/post-punk outfit. Turner had similar tropes in mind when painting The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. As Harper would come to learn, the painting which had struck such a chord in him had a prequel of sorts. In London’s National Gallery, which Harper passes through on his way to record at the legendary Dean Street Studios in Soho, hangs the first part of Turner’s narrative, Dido Building Carthage (1815). Together, this broken diptych tells of the rise and fall (the success and failure) of a great empire through subject matter and symbolism; for instance, a toy boat floats in the first work but sinks in the rising waves of the second. Like Turner, Harper uses symbolism to explore some of the more difficult themes he addresses. At first take, the first single, ‘Strawberry Lite,’ released as part of a two-track EP on February 27, seems to speak to Harper’s crippling fear of flying. Indeed, the song begins with a clip of a plane taking off before floating into a dream-world of clouds and rose-coloured skies. But the anxiety of taking off and relief of landing can also be read as a metaphor for the process of creating and releasing an album. Like the opposites explored in Turner’s painting, stress and disappointment are paired with relief of letting go and, as Harper sings, “knowing for sure that you’re going to be fine.” The majority of songs on 'Starmaker' embrace contradictions and dichotomies in both subject matter and style. Love and sadness, melancholia and happiness, success and failure, come in and out of focus. ‘Something Relative,’ is an elegantly simple ballad about a friend of Harper’s that died of an overdose. The sparse picked guitar contrasts the flowing, melodic strings as Harper hopefully sings about his lost friend. ‘Tomorrow Never Comes,’ a Big Star meets The Eagles turned kraut-rock instant classic, speaks to the early days of Harper and his wife’s long-distance relationship; the happiness of finding someone you love tarnished by the eventuality of having to say goodbye. In Dido Building Carthage, a tragic story of love and suicide is contrasted with the hope of building a new empire. The juxtaposition is mirrored in the surface of Tuner’s painting where classically-painted figures appear and simultaneously fade into a looser, more abstract handling of the landscape. Visually, Harper himself seems to evoke sharp contrasts and contradictions. He is imposing: tall, and very broad, but he’s also inviting, gentle, and noticeably sensitive. Watching him sing one can’t help but notice how out-of-place his large, soft lips look perched above his exaggerated, sharp jaw. On stage, he wears a deep space-black Stetson and white hoof-toed, 3-inch heels while he seamlessly floats between looks of dark despair and a goofy grin. Sonically, contrasts are in many ways the most unique and essential elements to Honey Harper and Starmaker. As Pitchfork pointed out, Harper’s music carries a “celestial twang that owes as much to Spiritualized as it does to Merle Haggard.” On ‘Starmaker,’ ‘Suzuki Dreams’ is the most obvious example of this. Partly recorded in Budapest with the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, Harper explains the song is “me sitting down with Lee Hazlewood to write a Disney score for a movie about a deer and an otter who fall in love.” All the songs on the album support Harper’s idea of making cosmic country not just a philosophy, but also a visual and sonic aesthetic. Turner’s Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, like so many of his works, can be read as an homage to the artist Claude Lorrain. Harper wears his great respect of those that have gone before him with the same easy admiration. The second single, ’Vaguely Satisfied’ is strongly influenced by the Italian-Greek singer-songwriter, Mariangela Celeste, so much so that Harper lists her as a co-writer of the song. Even the name Honey Harper, taken from the surnames of his great-grandparents, creates something new while embracing its connection to the past. His journey back to country music, the music of his childhood, after significant explorations in vastly different styles, demonstrates his respect for his heritage. Though Harper explains he started writing country songs again “because my wife told me to,” he also recognized that he could add to a genre with beautiful sounds but negative connotations. With the release of his critically-acclaimed 2017 EP, released on Montreal’s Arbutus Records, ‘Universal Country,’ Harper began to reinvigorate and reinterpret his legacy, creating timeless country music for people who don’t like country music. Of course, a discussion of Honey Harper’s style and evolution would not be complete without mentioning Gram Parsons who undeniably influenced tracks like, ‘Tired Tower.’ However, when speaking of his unique brand of cosmic country, Harper cites just one inspiration: Brian Eno’s Apollo, which to him is the most cosmic Americana album that has ever been created. Both Harper and Eno gracefully explore the sublime in their music, creating a delicately balanced sound which seems to somehow occupy a physical space. As Stephen M. Deusner noted of Honey Harper, it is music which is “weightless in sound and heavy in feeling.” When asked about what he wanted ‘Starmaker’ to achieve, Harper explained that he’d like for it to enhance any emotion that the listener has been feeling from the beginning. Just as Turner has long been considered the master of his unique style, with ‘Starmaker,’ Honey Harper is set to become the torchbearer for a revitalized country sound.

Digital Track List

  1. 1 Green Shadows 3:11 Buy

    Green Shadows

  2. 2 In Light Of Us 3:12 Buy

    In Light Of Us

  3. 3 The Day It Rained Forever 2:58 Buy

    The Day It Rained Forever

  4. 4 Something Relative 4:02 Buy

    Something Relative

  5. 5 Tired Tower 3:27 Buy

    Tired Tower

  6. 6 Suzuki Dreams 3:03 Buy

    Suzuki Dreams

  7. 7 Vaguely Satisfied 2:40 Buy

    Vaguely Satisfied

  8. 8 Someone Else's Dream 3:26 Buy

    Someone Else's Dream

  9. 9 Tomorrow Never Comes 3:37 Buy

    Tomorrow Never Comes

  10. 10 Strawberry Lite 2:54 Buy

    Strawberry Lite

  11. 11 Starmaker 3:39 Buy

    Starmaker

Close
Loading:
--:-- --:--

This site uses cookies. For information, please read our cookies policy.

Accept Cookies
Edit cookies preferences