The debut record from the solo project of BK record producer Harper James (also of Eighty Ninety) is a collection of songs crafted late at night—written, produced, mixed and mastered by the artist himself
After falling behind on… um, everything… for the last few months, I finally started writing this post earlier today, buttttt then I got distracted reading a New Yorker piece on Jack Antonoff. I’m not sure why it spoke to me—this is honestly the first time I’ve actually opened an issue instead of just tossing it into the ever-growing, increasingly shameful pile of uncracked mags sitting by my bed since I subscribed back in November—but fortunately, rather than pure distraction, it actually proved to be the perfect jumping-off point for this particular article of my own. (Don’t let anyone tell you procrastination doesn’t pay off!)
Rather than featuring the Bleachers’ frontman’s personal art (though the writer does, of course, work that in), the profile—”Jack Antonoff’s Gift For Pop-Music Collaboration”—focuses instead on the artist and producer’s efforts offstage and in the studio, where he makes magic for and with the likes of Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift. The gist: He’s the man behind many, many hits, and whether or not a person has heard of Bleachers, they’ve likely heard the inspiration and influence of Antonoff, delivered through a different voice and vehicle.
The same, in a sense, might be said of Harper James. A producer, writer and mixing engineer based at Gowanus studio Degraw Sound, he’s worked on records for independent as well as major-label artists that have collectively amassed over 40 million streams on Spotify. In other words: There’s a very good chance he’s been a part of something that you’ve added to a playlist, heard in an Uber or sang in the shower. And while Harper hasn’t (yet) collaborated with Taylor Swift, she did add “Your Favorite Song”—the second single from Eighty Ninety, the project of he and his brother Abner—to her official Spotify playlist “Songs Taylor Loves.” So close enough.
That all said, this isn’t a remix of that New Yorker article, and impressive resume aside, the point here is not in fact to namedrop. Instead I offer this info to illustrate Harper’s gift on that side of the glass and, most importantly, to demonstrate the role that this talent has played in his personal projects—the music he is making for, and by, himself.
Specifically: Not Just Me, the 15-track from his solo project Middle Youth, which he didn’t just write but also produced, mixed and mastered.
Middle Youth’s debut full-length is what Harper describes as “a collection of songs about growing up, trying to be true to the people you love, becoming disenchanted with some things you used to believe in, and seeing the magic in other things; feeling old, hating your phone, getting it wrong, getting it right, becoming acquainted with mortality and experiencing love and the pain that can come with it.”
In other words: life, baby.
Around the release in March, Harper sent over some info on the making of the record, which he created in states of frustration and fatigue during late-night solo sessions that were, it seems, almost a form of therapy.
“Made this record mostly between 12am and 3am on days when I was really burnt out but not quite done saying what I needed to say. The process allowed me to take some of my most self-destructive thoughts and habits and make them into songs so I could take a step back, get some clarity and perspective and give myself a break from myself–if that makes sense. It’s a complete mess but it has to be that way because well, I am a complete mess. If anybody knows how to navigate this landscape of catastrophe please DM. Just kidding (but not really). The truth is, I know it’s not just me feeling this way, and that makes it a little easier.”
He also was kind enough to break down the album’s 15 songs, which range from beat-driven tracks with woven-in whistles to wispy and wistful bedroom pieces, touching on topics including remembrance and regret… sacrifice, self-sabotage and shame … coming of age and climbing out of depression.
Not Just Me —TRACK BY TRACK:
“Everyday I wake up with a headache. I pretend I don’t know what it’s about.”
“This song is about chronic pain. I have a few things that crop up from time to time (only sometimes in the form of headaches) and when I deeply investigate them I often discover buried emotions that are entangled with the physical sensations. And those feelings are often about big things like fear of death, and shame around failures and pain around love and loss. Something that has helped me immensely is the thought that we all experience some degree of these feelings and that I am not special in regards to being vulnerable and imperfect. It’s kind of where the album title Not Just Me came from. The less you make yourself the center of the story of the world, the less things hurt and the more beautiful life can be.”
“I’m walking backwards through a movie score”
“This is a chronicle of my journey from childhood to adult hood. It’s about finding my place in the world and making a home.”
“I say chocolate and you say no, I say forgive me and you won’t though.”
“A daydream of a song. It’s about how the little things and the big things can get all tangled up in the remembering of a relationship.”
I Don’t Need Your Help
“I don’t need your help just to break my heart, I can do that all alone.”
“This is about how we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to heartbreak.”
“Whoever said I needed one anyway?”
“Kind of a stream of consciousness about the relevance of names and my occasional desire to rid myself of any name at all, as if that would allow me the freedom to become a totally new person.”
Love it Ain’t Enough
“Saying things we can’t take back, we used to cut each other slack, everyone just got real tough, sometimes love it ain’t enough.”
“That moment when you realize that just loving someone isn’t enough to make a relationship work, or maybe it is but in that case you need to expand and deepen your understanding of love.”
Look at Myself
“That’s what you get when you see yourself for the first time in a while and you look like hell, yeah you treated yourself bad and everybody else, so what you gonna do? You run away from yourself.”
“When you look at yourself in the figurative mirror mid-pandemic and realize things have started to really go to shit and you’ve got some work to do but you’d rather avoid the issue.”
“It’s all just some chatter to try and stay painless and I’m feeling sadder and pitifully shameless, and creepy bad pictures, they keep me from sleeping, we’re naked all naked my soul is a razor my senses are shaken, anxiety chaser.”
“About how absolutely horrible social media makes me feel and the shame I feel around participating in it.”
Not Just Me
“Nothing really ever gets to me these days. I think I got my feelings all out of the way – forever. When’s the last time that I even cared? Traveling in a jet-stream of poison air, stuck inside a station with blood in my hair, forever.
“About feeling numb and fully burnt out with no end in sight.”
“Don’t let it get to your head, make you wish you could stay in bed until morning. Tomorrow morning. You’re in mourning.”
“About cyclical bouts of depression and coming through it and feeling more connected than you did before.”
Pray 2 U
“Well maybe I should just pray to you.”
“When you lose every argument in a relationship and you decide to accept defeat.”
“I feel like my life has ended up stuck in slow motion. I’ve just been waiting for that promotion while all the things I love sink into the ocean.”
“Sometimes we sacrifice things that are important to us in order to feel safe and secure in the world.”
“And my choices flow like water, whatever was the point? It’s not by design, light from your smile never reaches mine.”
“This is about the feeling that fate controls everything and your life is just a stream flowing inexorably in a direction you can’t understand.”
Honey Let’s Chat
“Honey let’s chat, you know I want you back–you know I want you bad and that is just a fact.”
“This is about breaking up with someone and immediately regretting it and kind of laughing at yourself but also being really sad!”
See Your Face
“And if the light is right it falls so gently into place— the years and happiness I’ve missed I know I can’t replace.”
“When you wake up next to your partner and realize all of what you need to be happy is right there– just out of reach.”
Not Just Me is out everywhere now. Listen, enjoy and don’t be surprised when you suddenly find yourself humming a Middle Youth song to yourself while you’re sudsing up in the bathtub or sitting in the backseat on the way to the bar—
This guy is good at what he does. All of it.
Discover a few of Harper’s favorite places here.
Feature image provided by the artist.