Peter Harper Interviewed

Singer/Songwriter Talks Art and Music

Peter Harper (center) and his bandmates ​— ​from left, David Leach, Zack Lodmer, Joti Rockwell, and Ethan “Pops” Chiampas ​— ​bring their infectious folk/Americana/soul to SOhO Restaurant & Music Club Saturday, January 19. Harper and crew stopped by the Independent for a live Side Notes session.
Paul Wellman

Peter Harper’s road to singer/songwriter was circuitous. Although he grew up in his family-owned music store, Claremont Folk Music Center, he decided to pursue fine art, earning a Master’s of Arts from NYU and having a successful career as a sculptor. Then things changed — or more precisely, the world changed — and Harper wasn’t finding satisfaction creating visual art as he once had. So, he set down his sculpting tools and picked up a guitar.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Harper, who also teaches fine art at California State University Channel Islands, released his self-titled debut record, touring the U.S. and Europe to get his music out to the people. In 2017, Harper went back into the studio and created Break the Cycle. Produced by Grammy Award–winning engineer Sheldon Gomberg, the album features introspective lyrics backed by an amalgamation of blues, folk, and rock music. Thoughtful, articulate, and easy to laugh, Harper is a delightful raconteur, and our recent phone conversation wended from topics such as how people consume art to playing for intoxicated crowds in dive bars. The following is a snippet of our conversation.

Why did you decide to change artistic directions? Some of the things that I was trying to say in my sculpture … that I felt were really critical and important on a social level, weren’t getting across. That was frustrating. So I made bigger sculptures. Then I made sculptures that became interactive. Those helped, but it still wasn’t having the impact that I was hoping for. When I picked up the guitar to try to convey those similar messages, the songs really have…profoundly done that, in a way that the sculpture couldn’t.

Was it hard to shift media? How do you incorporate your fine art into your musicianship? Initially I thought, “Uh-oh. I’m trading one for the other,” but ultimately, it has been a fusion of everything. … [For example, for] my last album, Break the Cycle, I pressed 200 copies of that album in vinyl. … I hand-drew every single album cover. Each album cover became a one-of-a-kind work of art in a limited-edition pressing. I got about 30 albums in, and I thought, “Oh, my God. I’ve got 170 more. What did you do to yourself?” I just kept going, and now that it’s done, and I can look back at all the artworks — what a phenomenal experience to be able to meld my skill sets. So the art isn’t lost. I’ve found other ways to weave it in.