Second Acts And Next Chapters With Jessica Harp
Don Henley did it after the Eagles. John Fogerty managed it after Creedence Clearwater Revival. Paul McCartney pulled it off twice after the Beatles and Wings. Now, Jessica Harp is hoping for that elusive second-act success.
For Jessica Harp, this next chapter in her career comes after a wildly successful debut album, a project released in 2006 with her best friend and then pop-star Michelle Branch under the band name the Wreckers (shortened from The Cass County Homewreckers, given to the girls by Branch’s husband). The duo’s first and only album, Stand Still, Look Pretty, included the Billboard number one single (and now radio mainstay) “Leave The Pieces,” and the pair would go on to win a CMA for Best Vocal Duo Of The Year and score a GRAMMY nomination for Best Duo or Group Performance.
Few would compare Harp’s early success with that of those previously mentioned legends, but the comparison does underscore the difficulty of finding success as a solo artist after a winning stint as part of a group. For proof, just ask Richie McDonald and Randy Owen, who have both shown that impressive credentials as lead singers in Lonestar and Alabama don’t always translate solo radio play or album sales.
Fast-forward to 2009: Harp had a solo single (“Boy Like Me”) reach the Top 30, and her second single, the title-cut from her upcoming album A Woman Needs, is hitting radio now. The 9513 got a chance to sit down with the lovely songstress and talk about the new album and life after the Wreckers.
KEN MORTON, JR.: You have a brand new album that will be coming out in the coming months–tell me about the new project.
JESSICA HARP: The album doesn’t have a date quite yet, it’s the new single that’s coming out soon. The album isn’t actually going to be out until early spring. It’s sort of been pushed back. It was supposed to come out in September but my record label went through a bunch of changes and it ended up getting pushed back. The record is coming out early spring, but the new single is coming out called “A Woman Needs” which is the title track for the record. It has actually been shipped to country radio so people can start to hear it. I just shot the video for it and that will hit CMT in January.
KMJ: Is the album finished and in the can or are you still working on it?
JH: Nope, it’s been finished for awhile. I would have loved to have it out a year ago, but you know how things go in the music business. It’s slow going. It’s hurry up and wait.
KMJ: Sonically, what can we expect from the album in terms of influences and sound?
JH: I would say that for anyone who listened to me when I was in The Wreckers, I think The Wreckers sort of had a folk-country influence to it, this record is definitely straight up more modern country. What I really love about the record is that Jerry Flowers produced my record and he’s an up and coming producer. A lot of people don’t know this, but there are about five producers in Nashville that are incredible producers but they do everything you hear on the radio. I loved having someone with a fresh set of ears produce my record because while it’s very much modern country, it sounds very fresh to me.
KMJ: I recognize Jerry’s name as the bass player in Keith Urban’s band–did you meet him while you were on tour with Urban as part of The Wreckers?
JH: Actually, my husband and Jerry have been friends for years. When we were going on tour with Keith, my husband said, “You have to write with Jerry. He’s an incredible writer.” And Jerry and I started writing and clicked and really hit it off. He wanted to get into producing. He took a chance on me and I took a chance on him and I’m really proud of what we came up with together.
KMJ: What I’ve heard so far is decidedly more upbeat and more energetic than what we heard from The Wreckers. Did you make a conscious effort to write songs and pick songs that had more energy to them?
JH: Definitely. I would never knock The Wreckers at all. I love that record. But I definitely experienced a country festival of 30,000 people and had a set of a bunch of sad sappy songs. One of my biggest goals when putting this record together was making a record that would be a blast to play live.
KMJ: I know you’ve written all but three of the songs on the upcoming record. How important was it for you to tell your story on this album versus look for outside songwriters?
JH: It’s always very important. I’m a singer but I’m also a songwriter and I always have been. It’s kind of cheesy, but my songs are kind of my personal journal. They’re my little diaries. They’re very autobiographical. I like to let people know who I am through my music. If I’m going to cut an outside song, it has to be a song that I think that I could have written or something that I’ve experienced. Because when I go into that vocal booth, I have to mean it. It’s very important that there’s a lot of me in any given song or record.
KMJ: When you’re going through catalogs on songs that you didn’t write yourself, what specifically were you looking for–what kind of songs would catch your attention?
JH: One of them was “Boy Like Me.” That was a song that Jerry wrote and played for me early on and I just loved it because it was fun and sassy and I hadn’t heard anything like that before. I wanted to cut that one. Another one was a fun up-tempo throw your hair back type of song that I thought would be geared towards a live setting. The other one was a ballad that knocked me off my feet. It’s a beautiful and incredible ballad that I can completely relate to and feel like it was something I could have written. I listened to 300 to 400 different songs while writing for the record and preparing for the recording process. Those were the three that stuck out for me.
KMJ: I know there’s a certain Country Music Hall-Of-Famer that’s on the record with you too, isn’t there?
JH: Yes! Vince Gill was quite kind in agreeing to come play on my record. I met Vince when The Wreckers played the Opry and he was hosting. He was actually a Wreckers fan and like the record and mentioned that he’d like to collaborate someday. After I started working on my record, there was a song called “Homemade Love” that we had cut that I felt would be just perfect for Vince to sing on. I was at an awards show and sort of tracked him down and stalked him. (Laughing) “Do you remember when you said you want to collaborate? Would you still like do that?” He was gracious enough to come in and sing on it and it made the song all that more special.
KMJ: Do you have any favorite songs or tracks on the album yet?
JH: I think that one is probably one of my favorites–not only because Vince is on it, but because it was one of the first love songs that I’ve written that I didn’t think was cheesy. I’ve always had a difficult time writing love songs. It’s a lot easier writing the sad songs. I really love that song. Also, “A Woman Needs” is special because it’s about women finding their own place in life and finding their path. I can really identify with that. It really sums up the theme of the record for me.
KMJ: The Wreckers was more melancholy in theme. This new album seems a little feistier. Is that more representative of who you are as a person?
JH: Yes. I wanted people to see different sides of me. And while there are some of the sad heartbreak songs, there are definitely more feisty songs. That is definitely a piece of my personality. I wanted people to see all sides of me as an artist as well as a songwriter.
KMJ: What do you have planned in touring or promotion as we get closer to the album’s release?
JH: I don’t have anything set in stone yet. I’m waiting for the new single to get up and going. But I’ll definitely be touring next year and I would imagine by the spring I’ll be hitting the road. That will be the point in time we start going and won’t be home for a year. We’ll be busy.
KMJ: You need be spending time with your husband now while you can, right?
JH: Definitely. We’re enjoying a little downtime.
KMJ: Are you still in contact, and do you regularly communicate, with Michelle Branch?
JH: Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re label-mates and proud of each other and proud of each other’s records. That was a long friendship so there’s no way we couldn’t follow each other’s lives and careers closely.
KMJ: I have one last question for you–and this one is meant to be a little open-ended. What is country music to Jessica Harp?
JH: Country music has always been–and it’s probably why I was drawn to it at such an early age–songs about real people and real things. They’re songs that are easily relatable and songs that mean something to people. Growing up, being a country music fan, there were always a number of songs that really meant something to me. As a songwriter, I’ve always felt like Nashville and country music were my home.
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