Harper Starling’s energetic Euphoria reached number one on the Billboard Dance Club chart, and her new single, One Call Away brings a new level of energy and excitement that shows her incredible range and versatile talent. We’ll be watching the charts for One Call Away in the coming weeks! With a story taken from her own life and just the right amount of sassiness, One Call Away is Harper’s own message of empowerment, and of the importance of living her life the way she wants.
Harper talked with us about her career, her music and her Midwestern roots.
You’re a prolific songwriter! You just dropped your new single, One Call Away, and Euphoria wasn’t that long ago. And, there have been so many more in between. What’s your routine for songwriting?
There are a lot of things that really influence me. Sometimes it’s whatever is happening in my life, and other times it has to do with friends, or stories that I hear from other people that I find intriguing and want to write about, or put a different spin on which hasn’t been written about before. When I have the concept, I usually start thinking of lyrics which have a strong meaning behind it. With Euphoria, the word actually came to me in an article I was reading online. The word stuck out, and I said, this is a common word, but it’s not used a lot in music. And it’s very powerful, and I knew I wanted the song to be about that. When I think of euphoria, I think of bliss, ecstasy, freedom, and it kind of went from there. So the girl I wrote it with, Kasia Livingston, has written for Britney Spears, the Pussycat Dolls and Jessie J, she was really inspired by that. We just hit it off, and within an hour, Euphoria was written.
Your new single, One Call Away, is another great dance number. What was the story and inspiration behind that?
I take that one from my own life. When you boil everything down, the premise of the entire story is that people mean well and think they know what’s best for you, but at the same time, you need to tell them, you know what, I need to live my life the way I want to, and thank you for your input, but I’m over it. So, it’s my way of saying I’m over it as well, I’m one call away from telling you to go eff off.
I like that message!
I needed to write something a little bit sassier. I love Euphoria so much, and it was a really empowering song, but you know what, I needed to get this out. And so I wrote that with a guy named Carlos who was a part of Jackie’s Boy, and he’s written for everyone from Madonna to Justin Bieber. I definitely wanted a little more urban undertone to the dance song, and that’s what we got.
Euphoria hit number one on the Dance Club chart, and it’s easy to see why, it’s a very energetic piece of music. What’s the message behind that one?
With Euphoria, the message behind that is really letting go of your fears and your doubts, and being yourself and following your dreams. It actually parallels my own life. I really struggled with this very a long time. I was initially going to school for Physical Therapy. I got my undergrad degree, was in graduate school and had about a year and a half to get my doctorate, but it was not what I wanted to do. I was scared to pursue a career in music. I had doubt in myself that I wasn’t good enough, and I finally had to let that go. And lo and behold, it all worked out for me!
I understand that sense of self-doubt, we’re both Midwesterners. There’s always that urge, all those people telling you to do something practical. Music’s okay, writing’s okay, but you have to do something practical.
Exactly! It’s always like, oh, that’s really nice that you do that as a hobby. So what are you doing for money? I know I’m very fortunate to be able to be making a career in music.
One thing I noticed in Euphoria is that there is some eighties influence there. The eighties were such a great time for music, and for fashion, too. You should have seen me in the eighties, I had the big hair, the platform shoes, oh man!
I was going to say, were you a mullet man? Honestly, I think what inspires me about that time is the avant-garde excessiveness of it. There was something very youthful and exciting, and I feel weird saying this word, but very euphoric about it. Every time I watch an eighties movie, or listen to eighties music, I can’t help but smile, and I can’t help but want to get up and dance. And I’ve been influenced by multiple artists, and my parents both listened to a very eclectic mix. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, Prince – it’s been ingrained on me since I was little.
Which of those artists were the biggest musical influence that helped shape your current style?
The biggest influence for me is really more current. I’m a massive Lady Gaga fan. I’m a “little monster” to the core! I have loved her since 2008 before she got big. I watched every interview, every performance, I love her aesthetic, I love the music and the message behind it. And she goes full-out. I don’t ever want to bore my audience. But I also love that she is talented, she doesn’t just rely on a shock factor, and I respect that very much. Another huge artist for me is Freddie Mercury from Queen, I feel like he’s the male version of Lady Gaga, three decades earlier. Michael Jackson, king of pop. And Cindy Lauper, I like that she is very quirky, she did her own thing, she danced to the beat of her own drum and I really admired that. When I was younger I couldn’t pinpoint why I liked her so much, but I liked that she was different. That always stuck with me.
It seems like a lot of those artists, besides being great recording artists, all paid attention to their fashion sense. They dressed a certain way, always a little flamboyant, but never too far over the top.
I think we’re seeing a return to that in the music scene, or at least I’d like to see a return to that. I do get tired of seeing people up on stage in old dirty blue jeans and t-shirts.
Yeah! I will not ever be performing in blue jeans and a t-shirt. My go-to outfit a lot of the time, if I’m just going out for a bar night with my girlfriends, is a band t-shirt and a leather jacket and some brightly colored jeans, but when I’m performing, I like to make a statement. I like to be a little more out there. Not too far outside the box, I won’t wear a meat dress, no edible clothes! But I don’t want to be dressed down, that’s not my style.
For Euphoria, you worked with Derek and Doug Perry, and they bring a lot of energy to the table too, and in the video, there’s a little bit of whimsy. What’s it like to work with Derek and Doug?
I love them so much, they are so sweet! I knew they were already established deejays, especially in the Los Angeles scene. Initially when I wrote Euphoria we did it as an acoustic version in a lower key, and I knew I wanted it to be a dance club song. When we pitched it to them, they loved it, and they really understood my influence of the eighties and they wanted to incorporate that into the track, which was executed perfectly.
When Euphoria hit number one on Billboard, that must have been such a big thrill! What was the first thing you did, when you looked at Billboard and saw your name right there, next to that big Number One?
I screamed! Oh gosh, I remember, I was out with friends when I found out that I went to number one. I was already really excited when I cracked the top ten, and it just kept going up, and then it went to number two, right underneath Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris. And I said, oh my gosh, if I get this next week, this is crazy! And sure enough, we got number one. I passed up Shaggy and Sting.! My dad commented that it was really weird seeing your name at number one and Sting at number three, and when you were born I would play it all the time. I’m so thankful to everybody that has listened to that song, that has shared it, commented on it, I could not ask for a better outcome. I’m so happy that people have connected to it.
You have another interesting story, you overcame Tourette’s Syndrome and discovered that singing was the only thing that could ease the symptoms. When did you first discover that?
I still have Tourette’s and I always will have Tourette’s, but it was really bad when I was little. The onset was when I was eight years old. For those that don’t know, Tourette’s is essentially involuntary tics within the body, and sometimes vocal tics. As a little kid, that’s very scary, because you’re no longer in control of your body, and back then, we didn’t know that’s what I had. So I became really withdrawn after that, because kids would say rude, mean things, and I figured the less I talked the less I would be seen, and I became a wallflower at that point. Then I happened to notice that when I was singing and dancing, the tics would stop. It worked out wonderfully in a very blessed way that the thing I enjoyed doing most was the best medicine for my tics.
You were involved in music from a very young age, you had classical training, studied opera, and then you did the practical physical therapy thing. What made you abandon that Midwestern sensibility and turn back to your musical roots?
I just couldn’t picture myself doing physical therapy for the rest of my life. I had to take a serious look at my life, and I realized that a third of my life from this point was going to be dedicated to my job, and I didn’t want it to be something that I was miserable doing. Kudos to all the other physical therapists out there, and I know many of them. It’s great what they’re doing, but if you’re going to be miserable at a job, I can’t fathom doing that. So finally, I said, this is it. I have to go for it. I told my parents and went to my professors, and said, this is what’s happening. I really enjoyed this, but can’t do it any more. They wished me the best, and I’m lucky to have the support of my parents and my family.
Then you met up with some of the guys from The Violent Femmes and that became a unique musical partnership. How has that helped shape your musical career?
That was definitely the catalyst for everything that came afterwards. When I said I was going to pursue music and not do PT any more, I went to my dad, and he went to a family friend who knew Sigmund Snopek from The Violent Femmes. They’re from Milwaukee, and lived only about ten minutes away from where I was living. He and I were only going to do one or two songs, but when he listened to the songs I had written, he wanted to do a full album. So for the next year and a half we worked on music, and gigging all over Wisconsin, which culminated in me opening for Sheryl Crow at Summerfest. That performance got onto YouTube, which led me to my old management label in New York, which then led me to moving out here to LA. So, everything happens for a reason. That’s said so much, but it’s true.
Speaking as a Midwesterner myself who has lived both here and in California, there’s a huge difference between the two. What do you think is the biggest difference between the Midwest and Milwaukee, and living in Los Angeles?
Oh boy, there’s a lot! Obviously the weather. It’s the Midwest and you get like four feet of snow, and I’m not a cold person. Since I was eight years old I have not liked snow. In LA, there’s a different vibe out here, almost a different mindset. There are a lot more creative people out here, a lot of people going into the arts and the entertainment industry, so you have to be willing to go with the flow and try different things, and have a thicker skin. It was definitely an adjustment. But I have adjusted to it, and can’t picture myself living anywhere else.
What’s next on your agenda?
I would love to go on tour and open for a major act, all over the US, believe me. I’m gearing towards that. I definitely have a couple other singles on the way to follow up on One Call Away. I also might be doing a UK radio promo tour as well, and I’m excited about that.
That sounds exciting, you can enjoy all the warm beer over there in England!
I was told there’s a lot of warm beer! I come from the land of beer and cheese, and warm beer to me is taboo! But I’m really excited about it, London is one of the top places I’ve wanted to visit.
One thing I’ve noticed myself about London, and a lot of Europe, is that people there have a better sense of style.
Yes, they do!
You see the men in bowler hats and all that.
Then around the Midwest, it’s like, meh, you’ve worn that for the last three days, sure, why not. Does it smell? Eh, it’s not that bad, you’re fine. That sums it up.
Thanks so much for taking time to chat today! When you do a tour in the Midwest, be sure to let us know.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.