Harper Lines: Singer for Harper and the Moths

Harper Lines, singer of Harper and the Moths, photographed at The Perch in Chandler, by Nicki Escudero

Harper Lines, singer of Harper and the Moths, photographed at The Perch in Chandler, by Nicki Escudero

Harper Lines

Harper Lines fronts one of the Valley’s catchiest bands, the pop rock group Harper and the Moths. With singalong lyrics and melodies that are guaranteed to get crowds dancing, the band amps up their live show with chic attire and lighting effects. Lines takes lyricwriting seriously, as he strives to write songs audiences can relate to and even learn from, and the group is hoping people love their new single and video, “Nighttime Tremors,” which also has a remix version.

When he’s not playing music, the 32-year-old Chandler resident works in marketing for the Apollo Education Group and studies at University of Phoenix. Lines talked about why he’s so passionate about music, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.

What brought you to Arizona?

I came back to Arizona for music. I was born in Mesa, raised in Phoenix and went to Corona del Sol High School before attending Mesa, Scottsdale and Chandler-Gilbert Community Colleges. I moved to Seattle for a couple years, and came back because the band I was in, Harper and the Moths, was recording records, and I couldn’t come back every month or so to do a show. We were not generating the traction I wanted to, and I missed my friends and family.

What’s your earliest memory of being interested in music?

I always have been. I have three older brothers, and I remember when I was 12 years old, one of my brothers who was 16 or 17 at the time schooled me on Radiohead and [Led] Zeppelin. He was sort of my musical guide, because I was picking up on whatever my brothers were listening to.

What’s your musical training and history with bands like?

I’ve taken three musical composition classes, in college. I learned how to play piano when I was 7 or 8 years old and had classes for a few years. I did choir in high school. I started a pop punk band when I was 15 called Headfirst, in which I sang. We did that until I was 21, and we had a lot of good things happen, some fun tour stories and good experiences.

Then, I was in a band called Vitruvian from when I was 23 to 26, and then I was in a band called Sunset Rider and the Skeleton Army from 27 to 28. At 29, I started doing Harper and the Moths, and we put out our first record last year.

How did Harper and the Moths form?

[Harper and the Moths guitarist] Chan [Redfield] and I had played in Sunset Rider together, and I wrote the first record, which was kind of the first record I had written everything on. The second record, I wanted to work with a live band instead of having studio players come in and play the compositions that I wrote. It was really annoying, and I wanted to be in a real band again. Chan was in a band called Dead Eyes of London at the time, and I told him I had some songs, and he had some songs, and we started writing and wrote the second Sunset Rider record together.

We did that for like six months, and then I moved to Seattle. When I got to Seattle, we wanted to keep writing together but wanted to make the sound something different. Dead Eyes is very much a garage rock band, and we kind of had that influence in Sunset Rider, but we wanted to make something that was a straight pop record. Whether it was pop rock, pop indie or pop R&B, it needed to be a pop record, which made me kind of adjust my vocal stylings a little bit.

As far as writing pop, what I decided is, five or six words are all you need for a chorus. You need five or six words that form a statement, and when people hear them the first time, they’ll just get hooked in. We tried to write according to that and write all the hooks in kind of an Ernest Hemingway, less-is-more approach.

The Vitruvian stuff was very soapbox-y, political and post-punk rock, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. To be a pop vocalist, I had to really focus on the singing. We adjusted the music accordingly and made everything less messy, where all the musical parts are now there to support the big picture, rather than having an ego solo part here or there. Less is more with everything.

Why did you decide to go in a pop direction?

We had never done it. Everyone in Harper and the Moths has been in bands for years, and no one in Phoenix was really doing it, and no one in Seattle was doing it. All the live bands I’ve seen in the past couple years are very genre-specific, either jam indie bands, or blues-soul-funk bands, and we wanted to make a band anyone could see that they’d appreciate, that had elements of everything in it, and that’s pop.

How did you meet all the members in the band?

I’ve known [bassist] David [Campbell] since I was 13 years old. I met him at Aprende Middle School, we lived right down the street from each other, we went to high school together, and we’ve been best friends forever. He’s a really unique bass player. Lately, he and I have been listening to a lot of funk and R&B to try to bring some other depth to the band. He’s been diving a lot into Niles Rodgers and the late ʾ60s to ʾ90s funk/R&B movement and picking up on those bass lines and grooves. He doesn’t play with a pick, all fingers and slapping, and he’s just a really, really bright writer. He gets the big picture.

Chan I’ve known since we were around 16. We met playing a show together – he was in Jedi Five, and I was in Headfirst. We played in the same punk rock music scene since we were teenagers. He’s one of the most versatile musicians I’ve ever known. He is a great guitarist, not meaning he can solo, but meaning he can play what needs to be played when it needs to be played, and does. He listens to so much different music, and he’s not afraid to try anything new. He’s also really humble, has a great personality, and has great hair.

I got to know [drummer] Nick [Ramirez] when Sunset Rider played a show with Dead Eyes of London, which he played in, but I had met him a couple years before at another show when we were playing in different bands. Nick plays in like four different bands, and we’re all just music lovers who want to put out good music.

[Our keyboardist and vocalist] Kelsee [Ishmael] worked with Chan, and they had known each other but never really talked or hung out. Kelsee heard he was in a band and checked out his tunes and mentioned she played keyboard and could sing. She’s so humble, because she makes us sound so much better than we are with everything she does. He asked her to play in Dead Eyes of London, she played a few shows, and I saw her play with them and was just blown away. Her vocals are so great, she always plays the right stuff, and she’s just a glowing ball of happiness.

What’s the key to successful band chemistry?

The main thing is personality. I’ve been in a lot of different bands, and there are always one or two people who can get along for the sake of the band but aren’t really friends or have that much in common outside of the same goal.

I would say shared vision and purpose is important. We’re not trying to do anything but have fun and put out great music because we want to put out great music. Whether anything happens, or there’s a deal, we’re still going to keep doing this because we love doing this. Once we agreed to that, none of us have egos about it.

That helps a lot, because there seems to always be one person who’s pushing really hard the wrong way because he’s too eager to become something, instead of just being satisfied with what he has, and no one in the band does that.

How did the title come about for the band?

People think I’m a super-narcissist, but I’m not – it wasn’t my decision. I never wanted to use my name in a band, but Chan thought it was a really good idea. He said, “You’ve got a really interesting name, people know you and your name and identify with you anyways, so let’s do it.”

I wanted a band anyways that had a throwback ʾ60s vibe, like Diana Ross and the Supremes, but I wanted an animal. We talked about animals for awhile. We couldn’t use “rabbit” because a lot of people have that, and we couldn’t use “wolf” because like every indie rock band has “wolf” in their name.

We went with “moths” because they’re beautiful and kind of disgusting. The immediate visualization you get in your mind is a giant, dirty, hairy moth, so we wanted to take that, but make it dark and sexy.

How would you describe your songwriting process?

The first record, it was basically me and Chan, just emailing each other ideas. Now that I’m back in Phoenix, and we have Kelsee in the band, we’re all writing at the same time together. It’s us coming into a room, someone will play a lick or idea they have, and we’ll all go around it, writing together.

Why did you decide to add a keyboardist?

I always wanted one. Every band I’ve ever been in, I was always trying to play keyboards and sing, or have someone accompany me. I wanted a female, because my voice is unique, and when men accompany me, sometimes the vocals can rub more. The timbre of my voice is just different and sounds better with a female.

What do you hope people take away from your singing?

I try to be really honest with everything, and I think people can see at our live shows what I’m singing is something I really mean and have experience with. It’s soulful, but I still try to have that rock gusto power.

It’s honesty. I’m trying to make the audience know I’m expressing not because I wanted to sit there with a guitar and write a pretty song, but because I felt like what I’m saying should be said.

What inspires your lyrics?

Real life. When we’re writing, the first thing I pick up is a melody. Usually, from my experience, whatever I come up with first is usually the best idea, because it’s what subconsciously, naturally occurs.

Once I get a melody, I start with the verses, and then the chorus will be a catch phrase. I try to think of some sort of phrase that best encompasses the emotive tone of the music. Whatever the hammer and nail of the chorus is, I try to make a broad stroke of the rest of it and fill it in.

What are some of those real life experiences that inspire your lyrics?

I think it’s what any musician writes about: love, loss, the human condition, struggle, all of that. I think we’re kind of going off a positive note now, whereas the last record was darker. I think it’s about trying to struggle with your self-identity and how any relationship you have with another person needs to be a give and take. It’s about what that means for how I act and react in relationships. I’m trying to relate and identify with people.

What is your plan for future releases?

The one thing we all agreed on is we would all just write singles after the first EP. That way, it encourages us to write more, sit in the studio, rehearse more, and only put out the songs we think should be put out when they should be put out. That way, we’re staying current and are on the pulse of everything.

The problem with putting out a record or EP is it takes you six or eight months to write all the songs, then polish them, then you do pre-production, record the record, and do post-production. By the time you put it out, you probably don’t want to even play a few of those songs anymore because you’ve probably written things you think are better. You’ve put all this money and energy into something you’re going to be promoting for the next year, year-and-a-half.

We have like nine songs and could go in the studio right now and record them for a record, but I think it’s better to stay current and to keep us in the cultural zeitgeist by constantly having new material out every month, month-and-a-half.

We’ve been thinking about doing some sort of subscription-based thing, where people would have unlimited access to anything we put out, including the print files and posters we do. We’re looking at just testing this out and seeing how it goes.

What inspired “Nighttime Tremors,” and what do you hope people take away from the song and video?

We went on this cabin trip to Payson [Arizona] and decided we would just lock ourselves in the cabin, write, and see what happens. The first two singles came out of that cabin trip. We were writing a lot of late ʾ60s, early ʾ70s-style rock n’ roll. “Nighttime Tremors” was inspired by the Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Neon Trees, and that New Wave sound.

Lyrically, it’s about the things that keep you up at night. The chorus is, “These are the nighttime tremors,” and everything in the verses is built around that. The first verse is about a relationship gone bad and internalizing all of that. The next verse is about me trying to find happiness.

It’s about the human experience and not being able to sleep at night. I barely sleep and sleep maybe five hours a night. I’m not really a night owl, I’ve just never been able to get more than six hours of sleep a night.

With the video, we shot it with like six GoPros and one actual camera, all in three hours. We got all our friends together at a roller skating rink, and we’re really happy with how it turned out.

What can people expect from the next singles?

The next single is called “Giving Up,” and we plan on releasing it mid-April. That one is actually pretty dark lyrically. I was seeing a girl who had just gone to rehab who decided to live in an out patient treatment house. I felt guilty because we broke up. She told me, “Just so you know, I’m giving you a way out. You don’t have to keep dating me. I’m going to be OK.” I had a really hard time with that. I did call things off, and I felt a lot of guilt about it.

We know what the next two songs after that are going to be, but we just don’t know who we are going to record them with yet. I don’t want to drop names, but we have two people we really want to record with. We’re going to record demo versions of the songs and pass them off to those producers to consider.

How would you describe the local music scene? What do we have going for us, and what needs to be improved?

I would describe it as one of the best local scenes in the nation and possibly the world. The reason I say that is because you can take a handful of flyers or Facebook event requests and sort through them, and on every one of them, you’ll at least be able to find one band that is extraordinary – not just decent, like, “Hey, my buddy Greg is in a band, you should go see them” — like extraordinary.

I could gush about local artists for a long time. It might be different for me because I’m in it and have seen all these musicians grow. Living in Seattle for two years, I only saw really professional performances by maybe two out of every 10 local bands I saw. At any show I go to here, that I just show up to, I’m always blown away by a band I have no seen before.

It hasn’t always been like that. That’s something that’s changed in maybe the past five years. It’s been beautiful to see it grow and see these musicians you played one or two shows with have this remarkable impact and make this big music community the way it used to not be. There have also been a lot of venues popping up in the past three years that have also made a big impact.

As far as what could be improved upon, getting people to shows is always hard. That’s always been an issue, though. It’s just hard to get people to go to shows, unless it’s at the venue they were planning on going to anyway. But one of the reasons why it is improving is that you have venues like Crescent Ballroom, which I’ll go to at least once a week just to hang out and see what’s happening, and I’ll catch a great show I didn’t expect to see.

I think the promoters are doing a great job. It’s a totally different landscape, and promoters are actually nurturing talent now in a way they didn’t before. Promoters like Stateside Presents and Psyko Steve Presents are giving local acts better shows and are helping them grow and connect the dots. I don’t know if there’s much to be improved on besides getting people to shows.

How do you hope to impact people during a Harper and the Moths performance?

We try to present a very polished presentation, with the lights and our attire and actual performance, but at the same time, I love that nervous tension. That’s the area I want to occupy. When I’m in it, where the audience can’t help but look at us, because we’re presenting something they’re unsure about and haven’t experienced before, that’s what I want.

I want people to come away from a show saying, “I’ve never seen a band like that before. The music was great, the presentation was great, and who are they? Where are they from?” That’s probably the best compliment we receive, is when people come up and ask us if we’re local. That’s great and makes me really happy, because we’re a band that’s just now back in the local scene.

What are your goals?

With Harper and the Moths, the goal is to constantly up our game and be the best at what we do, which is being a rock n’ roll pop band. Whether it’s having a national or international presence or just being appreciated locally, the goal is to produce quality music, recordings and performances.

Personally, I’m writing a children’s book, which will be out around August. We’re finishing all the artwork for that now. Justin Barker, who does all the Harper and the Moths artwork, is doing illustrations for it. It’s called Arthur and the Egg, and it’s about an orphaned platypus that is raised as a duck.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to be in a band?

Make sure you have the time, because working a full-time job and having such a time-consuming hobby or form of income is exhausting. Between working 40 to 60 hours a week, practicing two to three times a week, and having a show or two a week, it’s tiring.

Make sure your loved ones and people who care about you are on the same page and want to help watch you grow through your growing pains.

Learn about other Valley musicians and music professionals:

Learn more about Psyko Steve Presents owner Stephen “Psyko Steve” Chilton here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about DJ and Elvis Before Noon bassist Mr. P-Body here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Scattered Melodies drummer Josh Montag here on Phoenix People.

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