Ben Harper

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY None NonePublished Mar 1, 2003

What are you up to?
I just played a couple of Bob Marley Day festivals. That was great. Went to Legoland and Sea World with the kids. Just taking life a day at a time. I'm rehearsing 12 hours a day and in full-on pre-production for the upcoming tour.

What are your current fixations?
Michael Moore, backgammon and the Lakers.

Why do you live where you do?
Because it's central to family and friends in Los Angeles.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art.
Van Gogh's painting "The Harvest."

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Bob Marley in 1978 at the Starlight Amphitheatre in L.A. It was a huge moment in my life. When you see something that brings more to life than just life, it's a special moment.

What have been your career highs and lows?
That's the challenging part of being a performing artist. Highs and lows can be from one day to the next. It's a reflection of the emotional fragility of artists - up one day, down the next. When that can be defined through your art, you start to understand addiction better and eccentricity better. When a part of your emotional stability depends on the creativity you're putting out on a daily basis, you're riding a wave. You're being thrown around, emotionally. It's another way of existing, for sure. You can have a career highs and lows within 48 hours. It's a continuum and that's the challenge of being an artist day to day as far as a live medium. You leave yourself open to those highs and lows regularly.

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Boo. Don't put that, because I don't want to perpetuate that. One time we opened up for a Pearl Jam crowd, and that was challenging, but they opened up to us by the end. That's the thing - if you can change boos to hoorays, you're actually accomplishing something.

What should everyone shut up about?
Michael Jackson.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I need to listen to what I say in casual conversation more clearly, and not dominate the conversation. Listen to what I'm saying before I say it, and realise that I don't really need to be saying anything.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I don't let any advice go. I keep it in.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I haven't had to yet. People have left, but it's been mutual.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Vancouver and Victoria. I don't even want to put it out in print — it's like a fantastic cultural secret. I don't even want anyone to know how beautiful they are. Everyone's gonna end up being there. Why would you be anywhere else, really? What am I doing in L.A.?

What is your vital daily ritual?
The sports page.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I feel that it has pros and cons. Creative copyright should be respected, and there's a musical place for it. Creative copyright should not be broken — people should respect it and not violate it. On the other hand, it's a part of progress and it's a great way to get music quickly. It's a strong part of reality today. I go both ways. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I'm like yeah, that's great, free music for the world. Fantastic. Sometimes I'm like "These guys are stealing my money." It just depends on the moment. I'm definitely seeing both sides. I'm seeing it aid in the destruction of record companies. All the good sounding records that everyone loves, whether it's Nevermind or the White Album or Blood on the Tracks — all these records cost a lot of money to sound as good as they do. Without people to front a good amount to make great sounding records, there's going to be a whole world of shitty sounding records out there, that after a few listens really bum out your ears, whether you know it consciously or unconsciously. Music doesn't just fall out of the sky. It takes a lot of promotion to get music to a large group of people. The Nirvana record - someone had to pay Butch Vig. Someone had to pay a couple thousand bucks a day for the studio. It takes a lot of money for records to sound as good as Nevermind, and it takes a lot of promotion to actually get it to a bunch of people, and then for a cultural/musical movement to take place. Revolutions, whether they be social, cultural or musical, aren't free. Downloading represents a free revolution. So yeah, music's been way too expensive for way too long and people are pissed. It makes sense. There are both sides, which I see clearly, and I actually see both. I'm not just a person in the music business, I'm a hardcore fan. I'm not the happiest person in the world when I get five records for $120. That bums me out too — I don't care how much money I have in the bank, that's still too much bread. The bottom line is, the future of music is CDs for $10. People don't really want to sit around and wait to download a CD that's not going to sound that good and not have the artwork. Bottom line is, the point of purchase reward is an inexpensive product. If CDs were ten bucks and also had DVD footage and great artwork, I don't think people would be bummed at all. I think the problem would be solved.

What was your most memorable day job?
Driving a produce truck from midnight till noon the next day. You'd open up the bed of the truck and say a prayer that the expensive raspberries weren't crushed by the iced broccoli. It's all in the packing, baby.

How do you spoil yourself?
Front row Laker seats.

If I wasn't playing music I would be:
Working any job I could to support myself to play music.

What do you fear most?
Myself. Not being the person that I think I am, not living up to the expectations I've put on myself, or more frightening, not living up to the expectations others have on me. Knowing who I can be but not being able to meet myself there.

What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Oh, any old excuse will do.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Hanging out with Mike Myers. Everyone has something to learn from him. He's a highly intelligent man — it's just wild hanging out with him.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Jesus. I don't know what we'd eat. Probably Philly cheese steaks.

What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
This is exactly what my mom wants me to be doing.

Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
Those kinds of questions, I don't answer. I think words are powerful and connected to fate, so I don't talk about death and such. Not including songwriting — singing and talking are different breeds.

On his fifth studio album, Diamonds On The Inside, Ben Harper continues pushing his musical stew of folk, rock, blues, reggae and funk to new limits, all the while maintaining his passionate lyrical message. Raised in the Southern California desert, he originally filtered his desolate surroundings into his slide guitar playing. After mastering the unorthodox lap steel technique and putting together his backing band, the Innocent Criminals, Harper's music soon took off in any direction he saw fit, ultimately transcending the narrow categories most artists fall into. Yet, this is often overshadowed by his worldview, one that promotes the inherent goodness of humankind, while never ignoring its ongoing struggle for freedom. On the new album, an endless number of musical influences can be picked out, creating a much more rewarding listening experience than Harper's last studio album, Burn To Shine, which contained a few too many mainstream rock trappings. His appearance last year on the Blind Boys of Alabama's Higher Ground seems to have rubbed off, and reaffirmed the healing power of his own music. Diamonds On The Inside is another huge step toward Harper establishing himself as a true global artist, as well as a force — in the spirit of Bob Marley — for positive social change through music.

Jason Schneider

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