There’s a few things everyone just expects from college. No matter where you go, every freshman starts out with the idea that secondary education is synonymous with partying, late nights, cramming for final exams, and of course, the quintessential College Dude™ playing acoustic guitar in the quad. Halfway through my second week at CSUF, I ran into the latter… I just didn’t expect him to be a successful musician who was relatively well-known and currently touring.
11:30 AM on a Wednesday afternoon, Orange County’s going through a heatwave, and it’s just about 101°, but a crowd is gathering at the outdoor Becker Amphitheater. Led here by the posters scattered across campus, the audience is sitting in through soundcheck, anxiously waiting for Corey Harper’s full set at noon. He’s standing on the tiny steps of the amphitheater (more of a courtyard, really), dressed in black, from head to toe (somehow not dying of heatstroke since he’s wearing ripped jeans and a flannel). He’s singing and smiling and tuning his guitar, stopping every so often to thank the audience for coming out, and cracking jokes about the heat.
About a half hour later, the show starts, and that’s when everyone really forgot about the weather. Harper’s breezy sound, paired with soulful lyrics and cool guitar strums (accompanied by Dylan, his debonair electric guitar player) transported the audience to somewhere else. Even while performing the West Coast inspired tune, “California Sun”, his soulful sound went hand in hand with the image of a cooler beach somewhere, far away from all the troubles in the world. His set was simple yet captivating. Harper doesn’t need flashy lights, or elaborate chord progressions to win over a crowd. What he has is all he needs: his voice, his charm, his guitar, and an unmistakable knack for music that only comes from natural talent mixed with years of passion and dedication. Performing his newest single, “No Good Alone”, on acoustic, Harper delivers a sound all his own, a mix of soulful songwriting and bluesy classic rock influences.
The set was fantastic, well worth braving the blazing heat, but the best was yet to come. Harper and his crew stayed out for over an hour after his show, spending quality time with his fans, talking and taking selfies with anyone who wanted. After every interaction, he would ask people for their names and usually say goodbye with a ”thank you” and a hug. Here’s a guy who really means it when he says he loves connecting his fans.
At the very end of his visit, after all the pictures had been taken and the stories had been swapped, he was kind enough to allow me a quick interview. I walked back with Harper and his manager, feeling welcomed, more like a friend than a novice journalist. He tells me about how he started playing guitar at age thirteen, inspired by the music that surrounded him growing up, saying that he, “...heard a lot of music through my dad and mom, they loved music so much, and they grew up on that classic, 60s/70s rock, so I was always around music, ever since the time I was young“. He also reveals that the first song he learned to play was “Blackbird” by The Beatles, and the “deciding thing” for his musical career was “when [he] watched the Fleetwood Mac videotape of “The Dance” live show they did in Burbank”. Harper is somewhat of a musical chameleon, playing not only the acoustic and electric guitar, but also piano, drums, and bass (but that last one’s just for “fucking around on demos”).
Recently, Harper has seen mainstream success with his music, and has been touring constantly (either by himself or alongside the likes of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Justin Bieber, among others). Harper says the most valuable thing he’s learned during this experience is to “Always get out and see the city you’re in. See it on your own time, and always eat the food that is native to that place, what it’s known for! It’s always good to eat good, and travel, and go out and see the city and connect with people while you’re there. It kinda keeps your head level”.
As Harper’s manager, Jordy, catches up, walking beside us, I notice a merch t-shirt flung over his shoulder. Besides Harper’s name, the black tee has two delicate white flowers printed on it. These flowers pops up frequently- they’re Harper’s “Favorite Part of Loving You” single cover, and he has almost the exact design tattooed on his forearm. Harper sports a multitude of tattoos, most of them minimal, drawn in black. I tentatively ask about the meanings behind the ink; if he’s willing to share, that is. Harper smiles enthusiastically, before rattling off explanations for each of the designs, pointing as he goes.
The inspirations that lay beneath are as straightforward and earnest as the art pieces themselves. Harper has a bird on his inner arm, a Robin, a tribute to his mother of the same name. He has a bunch of smaller pieces, mostly stick ‘n pokes done by friends, “Pacific Northwest” written in messy cursive, a small heart on his wrist, a wave on his ribcage, and a tiny lightning bolt are all in this category. Respectively, Harper reveals, “I got it because I liked it”, “this one literally has no meaning”, and “it’s self explanatory”. Specifically, the lightning bolt is a tribute to Electric Avenue, the street the Portland native lived on when he first moved to Venice Beach. But what about those ever-present flowers? “Yeah, my friend designed this, and I liked it a lot, so I got it tattooed,” he responds simply, with a shrug.
As we reach the parking lot and our walk comes to an end, I ask the question on everyone’s mind.
“So you just released “No Good Alone”... is this a teaser for something? Are you working on new stuff?”
“Yes! Yes, yes. All of the above. I am working on a lot of new songs, I think I have a vision of what I want to do, with maybe a project or an album… I’m just recording, you know, recording a lot of songs, singing a lot of songs, playing as much as I can.”
Last but not least (I don’t want to reveal too much), keep your eyes open for new material in the coming year. We haven’t heard the last of Corey Harper; he’s just getting started.
“No Good Alone” is now available on iTunes and Spotify, and tickets are currently available on Harper's website for his North American fall tour dates.