Known for his improvisation on stage, singer/songwriter Ben Harper tells Billboard.com that he brought the same mindset into the studio for the recording of his fifth studio album, "Diamonds on the In
Known for his improvisation on stage, singer/songwriter Ben Harper tells Billboard.com that he brought the same mindset into the studio for the recording of his fifth studio album, "Diamonds on the Inside," due March 11 from Virgin.
"This record was a little bit different because I wanted to see where we would go bringing a song out of thin air," says Harper. "Even though the songs were written, there was no pre-production. It was just in the studio, here is the song, and go. No demos, nothing. Just instant spontaneity and improvisation, which I think is the reason why this record sounds like this record sounds."
The 14-track set is a quintessential Ben Harper album, with styles ranging from rootsy rock ("Touch From Your Lust") and funk ("Bring the Funk"), to countrified jams ("Diamonds on the Inside") and worldbeat African explorations ("Picture of Jesus," which features Ladysmith Black Mambazo). What remains to be seen is whether or not radio will once again embrace the performer, as was the case with hit single "Steal My Kisses" from Harper's last release, 1999's "Burn To Shine." With or without the spotlight, Harper is the type of artist who requires the mainstream to come to him.
"'Steal My Kisses' really set a fantastic foundation and I'm so appreciative of what that song did," Harper says of the cut, which reached No. 15 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart. "It was enough of a hit to bring a bunch of new people to what I do, but it wasn't so much of a hit to discourage people who had already been there from being down. It also showed people who have been there from the beginning what a hit looks like on this band. So, if and when another one breaks, it won't be a shock. Even in hit circumstances, the music is still roots, it's still against the grain, it's still alternative. I mean, how much human beat box [featured on 'Steal My Kisses'] did you hear on the radio at that time? None. So, even if it is a hit, it is going to be a hit on our own musical terms."
Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals are currently in rehearsals, preparing for what should be a year of touring, including an Australian and New Zealand trek later this month and a mostly outdoor stateside jaunt this summer, both with opener Jack Johnson.
This upcoming tour marks the first time Harper will be joined onstage by touring guitarist Nicky P and keyboardist Jason Yates (Macy Gray/Mazzy Star). Fans can expect an ever-changing set list spanning his entire catalog, along with a few choice covers (Jimi Hendrix's "Stone Free" and "Manic Depression," and Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" were mentioned as possibilities), as well as a lot of new material.
"I can't wait to tour this entire record," says Harper. "I've never been more excited musically in my entire life. I can't wait to play these songs."