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Ben Harper

The singer channels Hendrix, Stones for set of hard rock and raw blues

Austin Scaggs Jun 21, 2009

Ben Harper’s got a new band ”“ Relentless7 ”“ and a new sound: On White Lies for Dark Times, Relentless7 guitarist Jason Mozersky, drummer Jordan Richardson and bassist Jesse Ingalls bring out Harper’s heavy side with tunes that channel Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Queens of the Stone Age. “Right now, this music is taking me in a very specific direction, and I’m following it,” says the singer-songwriter, 39, checking in from London. “It’s absolute, unapologetic rock music.” This summer, Harper will road-test the new tunes at festivals in Europe and America ”“ including stops at Sasquatch, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.

What did it feel like starting from scratch with a new group?

It felt like putting the training wheels back on and connecting with music at the core. Real musicians judge each other by the sounds and the lyrics, not by how many gold records they have. We put all of our past accomplishments behind us.

Since you’re playing with new guys, has your guitar playing changed much?

I’ve relearned my instrument through this band. Jason Mozersky is incredible. It’s caught me off guard. I’m practicing again, and woodshedding in my hotel room. I’ve been practicing scales!

What music do you guys connect over?

Jason, being from Texas, has Stevie Ray Vaughan as a reference. We’ve been rediscovering Albert King together. He’s as punk rock as he is blues and soul.

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You met Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at David Lynch’s recent benefit in New York. What did you say to those guys?

I actually ran into Paul the night before, at dinner. He came over [to our table] to let me know that he had the exact same sweater as I was wearing ”“ grey with blue stripes and stars. He actually pulled out a Polaroid of him wearing the sweater. And Ringo is the most extraordinary drummer I’ve ever had the privilege of sitting in front of. He’s cut from the same cloth as John Bonham and Keith Moon.

I’ll never forget seeing you play in the Bonnaroo Super-jam with John Paul Jones and ?uestlove a few years back.

That’s not only one of the greatest Bonnaroo memories ”“ like when I saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse there ”“ but it’s one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. I’ve played with John Paul Jones, Ringo Starr and John Lee Hooker. Fuck! If I had to seal up the book right there, I wouldn’t feel let down.

You once told me that you sometimes ride the bus to help find inspiration.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York City, so I’ll take the subway up to Harlem, walk around, then ride the bus back to Soho. I like to look in people’s faces and project what I think their life is about. ”˜Number With No Name,’ on the new album, is a good example. Everyone tells a story with their look, or even just a glance.

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What album have you listened to more than any other?

It’s either Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full or Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken.

Those are very different records.

You’re talking to a guy who’s played with Ringo and Rahzel. So it makes sense in
my world.

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