Q&A: Harper Simon

The spawn of Paul Simon plays Indy on June 26.
Harper Simon plays Indianapolis on June 26 (Photo by Frances Turk-Hart)

Harper Simon, son of Rock and Roll Hall of famer Paul Simon, makes his Indianapolis debut on Wednesday, June 26, at the Deluxe at Old National Centre. Although he has performed for multiple albums and late-night shows including The Late Show with David Letterman and NPR’s Morning Edition (with his favorite being Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), the 40-year-old singer/songwriter released only his second album ever in March of this year, Division Street, an amped-up version of his acoustic folk-inspired first album.

We wondered how Harper has evolved from the streets of Sesame (no, really, his first performance was at the age of four on Sesame Street) to the streets of L.A., New York City, and as of this week, Indianapolis. So we asked him:

HANNAH LEE: How did the writing process differ from your first album to your second? There is definitely a different sound for each.

HARPER SIMON: Well, for one it was different in that I worked out the architecture of the record with Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello’s Attractions. I wrote the stuff, but I really just worked it out, just me and Pete and my producer, Tom Rothrock. So it was a little enclosed unit. It was very much about my electric guitar being really out front and all the rest of the decoration came later.

HL: So do you work best in those tight-knit groups?

HS: I like working with Pete. He is a special person and a special talent. I’ve admired his work for so long. And I’ve admired Tom Rothrock’s work for a long time.

HL: How would you describe your music to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

HS: I would say they’re pretty conventional albums out of the model of ’60s and ’70s type singer/songwriter albums. They’re traditional in a sense, and hopefully they have something original to add to something already from a well-worn past.

HL: Is there a musician who you’d call your favorite?

HS: There is no way of calling somebody my favorite. I have so many different favorites. It would have to be my favorite bass player or solo. I can tell you from guitarists I like Charlie Christian for jazz.

HL: Was there a certain time when you realized being a musician was what you wanted to do?

HS: I think when I was in my early teens, I found myself going into certain kinds of record stores and I was very interested in different subcultures. I wanted to be part of a subculture. I identified very much with counterculture and subculture and wanted to be a part of it if I could, and I wanted to play guitar like the kind of records I was buying or whatever I was hearing on MTV that had just started at that point. So, whatever was being filtered in when I was coming of age made me want to get involved with rock and roll.

HL: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming bands?

HS: Just make stuff that your friends will like. Don’t try to make anything commercial. Just try to impress your friends and make sure you try to tell the truth. Try to tell your version of your truth.

HL: What are you looking forward to during your first stay in Indianapolis?

HS: I just hope people come and I’m sure it’s going to be fun. I’m really excited about what’s in store.

Simon plays in support of The Polyphonic Spree at Deluxe at Old National Centre on June 26. Tickets available via Live Nation.

Photos by Frances Turk-Hart and Charlie Gross