Rolling Stone has called Corey Harper “John Mayer’s breezier fraternal twin,” and the comparison is almost impossible to not agree with upon first listen. The young songwriter grew up on classic rock, pop, rhythm and blues, and is trekking cross-country this month to bring his melodic vocal chords to Walden’s Angry Orchard Harvest Festival on September 23.
Hot on the heels of dropping his new single, No Good Alone, we got a chance to talk with Harper about his life and process, including how he stays grounded while working alongside industry legends.
So you were born in St. Louis; how old were you when you moved to Oregon?
[Laughs] I love when people say “Or-eh-gone.” It’s so funny.
As opposed to “Or-ih-gun?”
Yeah, man. Both are correct. But, we moved on like my fifth birthday. Like around that; not like, “Happy birthday! We’re moving to Oregon!”
Yeah, that would be a pretty terrible birthday present. You’ve credited your parents and an environment of very eclectic rock & roll for a lot of your inspiration, though. Did growing up in such disparate locations feed into that in any way?
Well my parents are originally from California, but my dad grew up on a lot of classic rock and blues. My uncle, who lived in Kansas City, has always been a huge blues fan as well, so living in that area made that music a lot more conducive to our life living there. We were around it all the time; my dad always had amazing records he’d play. It was always playing in my house no matter where I was.
It was like another language that I spoke because it was just something I grew up with. I was lucky to be able to grow up in St. Louis; it’s one of the best, most prominent homes of the blues.
You moved to L.A. a few years ago, where, among your own projects, you helped start Winston House, sort of a crash-pad/venue for young musicians and performers. Can you tell us a little about that?
I moved down to Venice and I was living there before it was really called “The Winston House.” It was me and my friend, who is also named Corey, and he had been supporting me and my music and wanted me to come down and introduce me to some people. We ended up having a place where we played music all the time, people were coming around listening to me play, friends of ours played and it kind of snowballed, and it’s now called “The Winston House.” There was no time where we were just like, ‘We should start this,’ it just kind of happened.
It’s helped everyone to focus on their own things, but also have somewhere to go and drink with your friends, listen to music and hang out and enjoy the perks of something starting for something so simple.
I go to Winston all the time. I live a couple blocks away, I’m always looking for people to book there. I’m in no way part of the business side of it, [or] the creating or producing sides of it, but I’m always there and it’ll always kind of have my heart.
About a year ago you released the first few videos for your EP On the Run. Certain visual elements pop up repeatedly: the landscapes, the beat-up white Ford pickup truck-
Yeah, [the truck] actually got stolen right after, the day after that. It was the director’s, my buddy named Peter [Mosiman], and it got stolen. How crazy is that?
That’s crazy. Though that sort of answers the question: Since a lot of those elements were popping up in the same set of videos, were those filmed back-to-back? Can you tell us about that? Or is it just that frustratingly beautiful in L.A. every day?
It’s pretty much like that every day, man. Right now it’s like 102º and scorching hot.
They were all filmed in a period of like eight months. Two of them were directed by my friend Alejandro [Reyes Knight] — which is why you see some of the same vibe — and then On the Run and Beneath were filmed by Peter. They’re both amazing, both very different directors and filmmakers but both good friends of mine.
We just had a vision and didn’t think too hard. You don’t have to think too hard about that music so we should have a video that is also kind of the same, is parallel to the song. It’s easy and it’s fun.
You’re gearing up to perform alongside Niall Horan (formerly of One Direction), and have opened for the likes of Cody Simpson and Justin Bieber. How have these artists influenced your own writing and performing styles?
It was a blessing for me to kind of move out here and get in with these guys. We’re all kind of the same age; not the same life path, I guess, but we all love music and all share this same love for creating music for people to listen to. It’s really easy to hang out with people like that.
Getting together with guys like Justin and Niall and Cody, guys who’ve been making music way longer than me, is really inspiring because some of these guys are guys I looked up to when I was growing up, some of them older and younger than me. It helped me humanize that world of entertainment and music, in the sense that they’re listening to the music I like, they’re humble people, they’re human, they make mistakes.
Music is funny. It’s hilarious and also really deeply emotional. It can help you and it’s a tool, too, going to this other world and taking people to this other world where they can be healed by it, and also love it and put them in any mood you want. You’re kind of this curator of this lifestyle for people. [Being around these people] really helped me get a grip on the vision I had for music and ultimately just have fun with it, not think too much about it because everything else comes out of your control. Fame doesn’t come by pressing a button, it just happens. I’m riding with what I got right now. I love that people love my music and I love that people come out to shows. I’ll continue to make music people like if they keep listening and they keep coming out.
Speaking of new music, your latest single, No Good Alone, is a little bit of a new sound for you — a little poppier, more Stratocaster than steel string. What went into writing this new track?
I just had this vision of this song and I played it all the time acoustically, and I just wanted to switch things up, give people kind of a new taste. I love artists who have never been afraid to try new music because they trust their fans and listeners; the people they’re engaging with follow along with them.
It’s a hard thing to do, two styles of music, but if you do that I feel like you can get anyone on your side. I love pop music. And I love rock music. And I love country. I love so many kinds of music and I love to just explore all those worlds. It takes time to do that.
I imagined in my head [No Good Alone] sounding exactly like that. It was produced with Andrew [Wells]. We sat down and talked about it, and it came out exactly how I imagined it. It was just perfect. It was fun, man.
What have you been listening to, recently? What’s on your playlist?
Oh, dude, I’ve been listening to the new Noah Gundersen. He’s a singer-songwriter from Seattle. He’s got a new album coming out called “White Noise” that I’ve simply been ecstatic about.
I listen to so many kinds of music. If you looked at my Spotify ‘Recently Played’ you’d be so confused.
I’ve been listening to Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Chris Stapleton, The Head and the Heart, a friend of mine Phoebe Bridgers — she’s a singer from L.A. I listen to Logic. The new Portugal The Man, I love. They grew up in Portland, repping the 503. I listen to so much stuff, man, it’s constantly changing but I still have my core. Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole; big rap fan.
Before we let you go, do you have a bucket list of sorts for venues you’d like to play? Any others here out East?
Madison Square Garden, for sure. That’d be the ultimate. The Ryman Theater in Nashville. There’s a place in Atlanta called Eddie’s Attic that’s amazing, kind of like a Winston House feel, a very small, very intimate venue that’s always kind of been on my bucket list for playing. I’d love to go play over in Europe too: Albert Hall, those kinds of places.
I hope to check those all off someday.
Harvest Fest will be held at Angry Orchard on Albany Post Road in Walden on Saturday, Sept. 23. Activities include arcade and lawn games, a tour of the cider house, tastings, and of course plenty of live music, starting with Corey harper opening the main stage at 2:30 p.m. General Admission tickets are still available online for $70.