Ben Harper has reformed his old crew The Innocent Criminals. He tells Steve Bell that nothing stops your family being your family…
In the intervening years, Harper has worked with an enviable array of musicians – including subsequent supporting cast Relentless 7, Charlie Musselwhite and even his mother Ellen (with whom he released the album Childhood Home this year) – but is there a special bond with The Innocent Criminals?
“Yeah, there is,” he chuckles. “It’s a collective consciousness and its own instrument in the sense of familiarity and family. But then again playing with Charlie and Relentless 7 is also an instrument, and Fistful Of Mercy and my Mum – the different incarnations all have their uniqueness as far as what I get from them and what I bring to them. But twenty years is a long time – it makes us family. That’s a good amount of time for a tree to grow. Getting back with The Innocent Criminals is like coming home, for sure.”
Excitingly they’re already working on new tunes, and Harper attests that it’s a different feeling having the old gang with him onstage.
“You do feel the difference – there’s an energetic difference in playing with different people because you’re trying to unify and feed off one another,” he reflects. “You’re trying to become one with the sound and the players on the stage with you. With The Innocent Criminals there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of dialogue and a lot of history, and the camaraderie there is like a twenty-year brotherhood. And I’ve never been more confident that you’re going to be hearing the twenty-year brotherhood of The Innocent Criminals in this next record. And that will speak volumes beyond how I can explain it.”
“We’ve done two sessions – two week-long sessions – so far,” Harper enthuses. “I’ve never stopped writing for The Innocent Criminals, so everything that you’ve heard that I’ve released – whether it be with my mum on Childhood Home or the Fistful Of Mercy guys or with Charlie [Musselwhite] or the Relentless 7 – all of those songs were earmarked for those different bands, and the songs that were mainly for The Innocent Criminals I knew when they were being written, or in the process of being written, that I was going to set those aside for The Innocent Criminals so you can imagine from over six years that there’s a lot to pull from. But I’m not overwhelming these sessions, and I’m letting those guys bring songs to the table as well. I told them years ago, ‘When we do reconvene please have material ready’, because I need to be inspired as a songwriter just like I’m trying to enlighten and inspire those guys with my songwriting. I made a point of – not insisting because that’s overstating the point – but craving them bringing me material, and they’ve all done it and the material is blowing me away. I’ve been slanting in that way, as far as creative collaboration goes as a producer and a writer, for some time now to be able to bring that to The Innocent Criminals. It’s growth for us for the band.”
“It’s rooted in records past like Fight for Your Mind (1995) and The Will To Live (1997),” he explains, “but it’s also I think pushing forward into new territories that I think will bring out something that people didn’t expect in us but which had been waiting for us to reach – that would be the best of both worlds for me. Breaking new ground and also sort of having it steeped and rooted in our past creative process.
“If I could get it out next year, I’d be shocked; it’s probably going to come out early 2016, I’m thinking. Instead of going in and doing a marathon three-month session and having a deadline to hand the album in, at the moment I have no deadline and I want to take full advantage of that. I’m going to try recording in a way that I’ve never done before, which is go a straight week – block out a week – burn a little midnight oil and work hard for a week and then pull back. This way I’m going to get a heightened perspective on my own creative output, because one of the toughest things to do is really realise what you’re doing – it’s hard to critique what you’re doing while you’re doing it. It’s almost an unfair prospect in any art form. So the first week we’ve got three songs, the second week we’ve got a good part of five songs – which is almost a song a day over seven days – and I’m probably going to do close to a dozen week-long sessions and pull the material from that.”
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Complete interview: http://themusic.com.au/interviews/all/2014/12/18/ben-harper-steve-bell/