ACL Music Fest Sunday Interviews
Meet Ben Harper's Austin-bred Band of Gypsys
Ben Harper & Relentless76pm, AMD stage
According to Ben Harper, there are three generally accepted options for pregig music listening: the artist's own material in an isolated environment, mutually agreed-upon band music ("Bob Marley, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, that's the top-shelf stuff"), or – when no consensus can be reached – silence.
On his way to an Austin gig in 1998, Harper made a rare exception when his driver – the singer for the then-local buzz band Wan Santo Condo – asked to play him a demo. "I was floored," Harper recalls. "I played their tape for everyone I knew who could make anything happen for them.
"That's how great I thought they were."
Harper stayed in touch with Wan Santo Condo guitarist Jason Mozersky in particular, inviting him and his Oliver Future bandmates – bassist Jesse Ingalls and drummer Jordan Richardson – to sit in on a 2005 recording session, which became "Serve Your Soul" on Harper's ambitious double album, Both Sides of the Gun. After extensive touring with the Innocent Criminals in support of 2007's Lifeline, Harper decided it was time to try a new direction.
"I knew there was more to it than that one song," Harper explains. "I've always only made the sound that was the most honest and raw and sincere in the moment that I was going to record. That's why my records have been so diverse."
Dubbed Relentless7, the Austin-bred trio is Harper's Band of Gypsys, a powerfully lean and versatile classic-rock backdrop that complements his Southern grit and soul. This year's White Lies for Dark Times is Harper's most impassioned and promising work in close to a decade, and that's only the beginning.
"What I sense happening here is the emergence of a Relentless7 sound," he stresses, still reeling from a recording session the previous night that lasted until 4am. "I hear it; I taste it; I feel it. We're breaking through to something beyond any place we've ever been."