Tuesday 18 February 2020

Backstage with Harpers Ferry

A folk band with big plans, SoGlos speaks to Gloucestershire-based trio, Harpers Ferry, about inspiration, upcoming festivals, and dancing grannies.

First things first, tell our readers a little about yourselves.

We’re a three-piece called Harpers Ferry, with Ben Harvey and Christopher Rayner on guitar and Pia Varma as the lead vocalist.

What is your genre or style?

We are first and foremost a folk-rock band, though our sound is constantly evolving and heavily influenced by country and blues music. I suppose you could call it ‘Americana’ or ‘roots’ music.

We try to pay homage to artists of the past but we always want to keep the music current and relevant to our generation. Instead of singing about peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll, we write about technology, pressures with modern living, issues like that.

How long have you been established?

The band, as it is now, emerged two-and-half-years ago when Pia joined the nascent Harpers Ferry, formed by long-term musical partners Ben and Christopher. Although many augmented versions of the line-up have been experimented with in that time, the nucleus of the band has always been its three founding members.

Where are you all from?

We each hail from completely different parts of the world. Ben was born and raised in Cheltenham, Christopher moved to the area when he was five from New Zealand, and Pia was born and raised in California and moved here almost four years ago.

How did you decide on the name, Harpers Ferry?

Weirdly, the one member of the band who has never lived or even been to America, Ben Harvey, came up with the name. He is obsessed with American Civil War history and Harpers Ferry is one of the most significant towns associated with the Civil War.

There are many historical events which took place in Harpers Ferry, such as John Brown’s raid, which brings up lots of controversial questions about slavery, violence and freedom. As we are a band that likes to ask questions it seemed fitting. Pia randomly managed to visit Harpers Ferry on a road trip to Nashville right after joining the band, which seemed like a good sign!

What would you say your main influences are?

Our main influence is music from the late 60s to early 70s. This was a time of music with a message. We love Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Carole King and The Band and have been compared to Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Airplane. We are also influenced by contemporary artists such as Dawes, Fleet Foxes, Mandolin Orange and First Aid Kit.

Each member brings something unique to the table, which makes the whole thing much more collaborative. For example, Ben keeps us grounded in the folk and country music traditions, Chris brings a wide array of influences and styles with his playing and arrangements and Pia’s song-writing and vocal talents keeps the band in the present, completing the amalgam.

What stage is the band at, at the moment?

We’ve just recorded a single and an accompanying video and will be promoting it heavily over the next couple of months. We’re also putting together material for a forthcoming album and full concert schedule for 2016.

And who usually goes to your concerts?

We have a very varied fan base. Actually, Pia’s 91-year-old grandmother was dancing her socks off at our last gig! A large percentage of our audience are certainly people who remember or appreciate the music of the Woodstock generation.

What’s your favourite venue you’ve played at in Gloucestershire?

We loved playing the Phoenix Festival in Cirencester; this was our first experience of a big stage.

What other festivals have you got your eye on?

I think we all aspire to play at the Cambridge Folk Festival but, of course, there are many amazing venues and festivals in the country. And Glastonbury wouldn’t be a bad gig!

How did your recent gig at the The Frog and Fiddle go?

It was our attempt to recreate the culture and tradition of the country music scene in Nashville. We played alongside Two Ways Home, Gypsy Fingers and Black Feathers, three bands with a local association that we rate most highly. The evening was well-received and we were taken aback by how many people enjoy this type of music.

Which other bands would you most like to play alongside?

One of our current favourite bands is Dawes, who we are hoping to see when we play the Moseley Folk Festival in Birmingham. The band effortlessly combines the vintage west coast sound of their mentor, Jackson Browne, with a contemporary pop-soul sensibility that isn’t just merely pastiche.

Well you certainly seem to know your stuff, can you recommend one album to our readers you don’t think they will have discovered?

Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes. It’s a brilliantly conceived project by legendary producer, T-Bone Burnett, to record recently re-discovered Bob Dylan lyrics from the period he spent with The Band at Big Pink in 1967. Artists include Marcus Mumford from Mumford & Sons, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, and Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

Unfortunately our music endeavours have yet to pay the bills, so Ben and Pia work for companies in Gloucestershire and Chris provides private guitar tuition and teaches music in schools around the area. So, making music pretty much takes up all the spare time we have!

Number one ambition?

Make a living from music.

What advice would you give to local artists trying to make it in the industry?

There are no shortcuts; know what you want and who you are. Practice like crazy, gig like crazy. Put yourself out there, have patience and go with the flow.

Where can fans see you perform in the next month or two?

We have a number of gigs planned and in the pipeline in the next month including the Moseley Folk Festival and the Attic Folk in Cardiff. We aim to be much more active in the Gloucestershire area very soon, so please keep an eye out on our website.

Where can SoGlos readers expect to see you in a year’s time?

We very much hope to be touring a full album release, appearing at as many major festivals as we can, and presenting more online material for our burgeoning fan base.

For more information see harpersferryshow.com directly, or keep up-to-date with the band's latest news at facebook.com/harpersferrymusic.

By Alice Lloyd

© SoGlos
Thursday 03 September 2015

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