Time Out São Paulo

Ben Harper: interview

Folk-blues-reggae singer Ben Harper talks skateboarding, Vinicius de Moraes and his passion for Brazil, ahead of his concert on 9 December.

What do you expect of the São Paulo concert? And what is your connection with the Brazilian audience?
I’m not sure about the set list yet. I usually write it an hour before the show starts. And Brazil is one of the most passionate and culturally rich places I’ve ever been. I like to say I have a connection because I’ve been there so many times and each time it feels more home-like. Physically, I feel like I’m looking at people who look like me. And, well, São Paulo is like landing on another planet – like someone took New York, Chicago and Paris and just dropped it in one place.

Do you feel inspired by Brazilian musicians and songwriters?
Well, when it comes to writers and poets, for me it’s Vinicius de Moraes. He’s one of the greatest lyricists ever.

Do you have a special album of his that you like to listen to?
Yeah, there’s this one record of his from the ’70s that I grew up with … I don’t remember the name of it. But it was one of the first records that, when I was young, gave me the same impression I would imagine people in Brazil get when they hear American music that they can’t understand. It moves you. And it moved me at a young age even though I couldn’t understand what they were singing.

They’ve confirmed [Brazilian chanteuse] Vanessa da Mata for your show. Could talk a little about your collaboration with her?
Oh, Vanessa is the best! I’d like to do a couple of songs, maybe even write with her; that would be great. I don’t want to set the stakes too high, but I would really like to, maybe, write something especially for the tour.

You’ve also collaborated with Ringo Starr?
It’s magnificent. It’s something that you can only dream of. The first song I ever sang by myself was ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ which, you know, he sings in Sgt. Pepper’s [Lonely Heart’s Club Band]. But never mind that. I mean, he’s one of the greatest living drummers. So, when you think of teaming up with him, one of the greatest musicians and with an extraordinary solo career … it’s all a huge honour and it keeps growing. And he’s a great guy, a great person to be around.

About solo careers, you recorded your last album by yourself. How does it feel to record alone and in a collective?
There’s something about the creative process that, when you’re sharing with other people and being with them, it ends up growing and you push yourself further, beyond where you would ever go on your own. That kind of environment brings out a different sensitivity in what you’re doing, and it’s a crucial component to not keep doing the same songs.

When it comes to partnership, some humans can make their lives alone – it’s possible. But creatively, it’s more like painting: you can’t just use the same colours in every painting. It’s just not an option. You can’t take the same photograph every time and live with art forms with no differences. So you need other colours, other sources. It’s a crucial component of growth.

You formed Fistful of Mercy last year. How was that different from your other works with the Relentless 7 and the Innocent Criminals?
It was a different process, a different way of creating music – a different way of getting a band. It’s a collective of three solo artists. It was a lot of fun. It’s a huge challenge, but it also represents a special place creatively for me to be able to go. I hope we can some day come to Brazil, Fistful of Mercy.

You’re a mix of Cherokee, Jewish, African-American … do you think that mixture is reflected in your songwriting?
I’m sure it does. I can’t say how because I’m a kid raised in Southern California. I wasn’t raised on a reservation, I wasn’t raised in Africa. My mom is Jewish and I was not raised in Israel. So I’m just a Southern California kid. Genetics do play a role in how you consciously or subconsciously manifest your true self. In that way, I’m sure it plays a part, but I just can’t define it so clearly.

Does it make you feel at home in Brazil? We are also really mixed here …
Exactly! And that’s really the most exciting part of it.

And what are your main concerns when you’re touring the world?
My main concern when travelling around the world is finding a place to skateboard!

I wouldn’t have imagined…
[Laughs] Yeah, at nighttime, I have to find like a train station that is bright. At daytime, I need a place that’s not too crowded so I wouldn’t be kicked out, ’cos skating makes a lot of noise. If it’s raining, I have to find a place that is covered and dry, so I don’t slip.

Well, here in São Paulo people skate a lot on Avenida Paulista, it’s a real trend.
Oh really? I’ll have to visit that place.

Do you have plans for the future?
I do. I record often – I’m not good at letting songs linger in my mind. I don’t know, because sometimes I think I put out too much music too soon and people might get used to hearing it and taking it for granted. I don’t care too much about that stuff. I just want to record my music and skateboard and tour.

By Time Out São Paulo editors


blog comments powered by Disqus

Outras notícias recomendadas

São Paulo: Football

Strip club

Interview: Arcade Fire’s Win Butler