This week Harriet releases her debut EP What’s Mine Is Yours to iTunes; a three song strong collection that was written by the 24 year old with English singer-songwriter Judie Tzuke and producer Steve Anderson. The collection arrives as a much anticipated taster for the Hertfordshire singer’s first studio album which has also seen her working with Cliff Masterson, Charlie Dore and Dave Munday.
What’s Mine Is Yours features Afterglow, the emotionally evocative and lyrically rich offering that first introduced us to Harriet back in January, her cover of Tzuke’s 2010 Moon on a Mirrorball cut If (When You Go) and the previously unreleased title track which sees her singing “Some part of me has been here before, You’ll hear it in my voice“.
It’s a self-referential nod not only to the many Karen Carpenter comparisons that the London-based songstress has received since she burst on to the scene earlier this year, but also to the diverse range of artists that she lists amongst her many musical inspirations; her sound having been influenced by the classic songwriting craftsmanship of 20th century heavyweights Hal David, Burt Bacharach and Carol King, as much as it has been by Sam Smith, Adele, Ariana Grande, Michael Buble and George Michael.
Earlier this month, Chart Shaker managed to grab some time to dig even deeper in to the musical psyche of a singer who wears her musical influences proudly on her sleeve and loves to talk about them and how they’ve impacted her own style. So sit back whilst we talk to Harriet about everyone from Spice Girls to The Carpenters, from Goldfrapp to Barry Manilow, and from The Beatles to, of course, Kylie Minogue.
Chart Shaker: What music are you listening to right now?
Harriet: I tend to obsess over a handful of songs and play them on repeat, for days on end. Then I’ll switch to something else. I have my fundamental artists who I always go back to, but I’m always on the look out for newness too. I love Sam Smith’s new album. His voice carries every song so beautifully and the mixture of his warm lower register and angelic falsetto is gorgeous, and so well controlled. I am also drawn to this type of soulful voice, as it is so different from my own. I love I’ve Told You Now and I’m Not The Only One. There is so much happening out there, it is hard to keep up sometimes! Blogs like yours keep me on my toes. I love to be educated about new artists and their music. It’s exciting that the industry is so fluid right now, and is constantly changing.
CS: Are there any particular songs that you associate with your earliest memories?
Harriet: My family are very musical and my dad is hugely responsible for my taste in music. I was rocked to sleep as a baby to The Carpenters (so I am told) and have fond memories of dancing around our sitting room to Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie album – the moment I hear those songs, I am a 5 year old again! For as long as I can remember, music played a big part in my life – with different artists representing particular milestones. On every piece of home-video footage we have, I am singing in the background about everything and anything! Mundane household items, animals, gobbledegook! I was obviously trying to write songs even then! My parents always hosted fantastic birthday parties for me and my sister at home, and we used to play party games to The Beatles instead of Britney. I got teased, but I loved them and still do. It is difficult to pick my favourite Beatles song, but it’s possibly In My Life – When I hear it, I feel my heart ‘sigh’ with an immense sense of relief and security. So music really is my earliest memory; everything seems to centre around it. Very predictable, I guess!
CS: What music chronicled your teenage years?
Harriet: Whenever I hear Stephen Bishop’s One More Night, I am sat in the car with my dad, driving into the middle of the night. Bishop is one of my favourite songwriters and has definitely influenced my own writing. As well as popular bands like America, Steely Dan, and The Eagles always on the background, my dad also had a knack for finding great music, that wasn’t so well known. I am a huge fan of David Gates, of the band, Bread. Both he and Stephen Bishop crafted such beautiful melodies and their lyrics were written so phonetically – a certain vowel sound, married perfectly to the end of a phrase – My dad always pointed these things out to me; he is so analytical, and so I recognised such details from a young age. Gates’ Hooked On You is a perfect example of this.
Like for all of us, certain songs and artists conjure up difficult memories. There are some songs I struggle to listen to, and others that I crave, when feeling a particular way. I have forever been exposed to vocalists who possess that ‘natural voice’ – with no self-created effects or quirky inflections. Whilst I have a huge appreciation for vocal acrobatics, I am not skilled in performing that way – I was always trained to allow my voice to fall out of me, naturally, whilst supporting it well. The 70s has always been my favourite era for music and you will hear so many influences from this time in my own sound – the lead vocal high in the track and fully exposed; layer upon layer of backing vocals; and lush string arrangements.
CS: Can you remember buying your first record?
Harriet: I can’t remember the first record I bought myself… I generally just hunted through my dad’s cassette and CD library and helped myself to anything that had good artwork! I do remember buying vinyls and cassettes from charity shops with pocket money though. My mum had a cassette of The Carpenters and I loved listening to Tony Bennett and Perry Como on a record player my dad gave me. I remember picking up a box set of Ella Fitzgerald, second hand – she is one of my favourite female vocalists – A friend described her voice perfectly when he said it is “like glass” – transparent and clear as crystal – perfection. I used to listen to her a lot a would copy her scatting technique – she taught me to improvise, which was particularly useful whilst I was singing with a jazz band. I would recommend any singer to experiment with jazz – it loosened up my voice… and my mind! Naturally I was a massive Spice Girls fan. My sister and I would fight over the dolls. I loved them. Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life are amazing pop records.
CS: How do your own experiences with love manifest in your songwriting?
Harriet: I am fortunate enough to have found love – in many things – in my family, friends, places, feelings, and music. Sadly, my parents separated a few years ago, after being married for nearly 30 years. I underestimated the effect this would have on me. I wrote a song with a wonderful pianist, Clifford Slapper called Myths & Legends, which was written in my mum and dad’s shoes. The song ends with the line, “faces look the same, but people change”. This separation made me realise that love doesn’t always follow the path you think it will. Two songs I listened to a lot at this time were Clifford T Ward’s Change Of Heart and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again. Beautiful.
When I first started songwriting on my own, I was single and had recently moved to London. Most of my songs during this period were about these two things – this beautiful city and… being single! However, the irony here being that all the music I listened to consisted of mainly love songs; about being madly in love and not being able to live without someone – a lot of Burt Bacharach! I believe that deep down, despite us not wanting to admit it, we all want and need to be loved and taken care of. Relationships and love get complicated. Whenever I needed to escape, I used to go running a lot in the West End and was obsessed with playing Goldfrapp. As well as the earlier hits, Ride A White Horse and Ooh La La, at the time, I had their 2010 album Head First on repeat (particularly the tracks Alive and Rocket) – I adore Alison Goldfrapp’s voice and I have always found their whole sound addictive and mesmerising.
In the same month I first worked with Steve Anderson, I was dating this guy and we used to drive around central London for hours, listening to music – playing each other our favourite songs – it was a very special time. Oleta Adams’ Get Here was a regular, along with David Gray’s Ain’t No Love. And when one night, I was presented with Manilow’s We Made It Through The Rain, I couldn’t believe it! We also listened to George Michael pretty excessively – I became obsessed! That voice!! I love You Have Been Loved and his version of Let Her Down Easy from the new Symphonica album. Despite listening to so many love songs, I had never really had the feelings there to write one of my own. Steve and I met at the perfect time and when we wrote Can I Keep You, it felt like something very special had happened. The song’s meaning needs no explanation – For me, Can I Keep You is a surrender – to needing love and needing a particular person.
CS: Which classic track do you wish you had been a part of recording?
Harriet: Oh my goodness, there are too many! It depends on the frame of mind I am in. In no particular order, ABBA’s Thank You For The Music is definitely high on the list – I love singing this song. Benny and Bjorn are arguably two of the best songwriters in the world – every phrase, a hook – genius; Clifford T Ward’s The Best Is Yet To Come. He is such a hugely underrated songwriter and I would love to cover this song; Leon Russell’s A Song For You is one of my favourite songs of all time – the lyric is perfection and I feel very connected to this song – when I hear it, I get the same feeling inside as I do when singing Afterglow – I feel complete.
I Have Nothing by David Foster & Linda Thompson is a masterpiece, and Houston’s vocal performance is, as always, exceptional. David Gates’ Clouds is magic – The whole ‘suite’ (Clouds/Rain) is wonderful. Melody, lyrics, chord progression, arrangement – everything – fantastic. Also, Lana Del Rey’s Video Games is sublime. I was in love with it when it was released, and subsequently went through a phase of writing very abstract lyrics and melodies – I think the haunting quality of her voice, blended with such a visual, cartoon and dreamlike narrative is electric. I wish I had written it. And of course, Adele’s Someone Like You is probably the answer for most songwriters to this question. The ability to communicate something that everyone has experienced into 4 1/2 minutes of musical simplicity is genius. No tricks, nothing clever, just honesty. Magic.
CS: Are there many tracks that you’d be more reluctant to admit to having on your iPod?
Harriet: I’m not ashamed of any music I like – But some people would probably tease me for listening to Barry Manilow I Write The Songs and for having Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu on my gym playlist!! I don’t believe in being ashamed of music preferences. If you happen to connect to a particular art like music, and it means something to you, then let it be. I think people miss out when they restrict themselves to listening to just one genre or one artist. The connection between the listener and the song is a beautiful thing, and when a spark ignites between the two, it cannot be put out.
CS: Which track are you most proudest of being involved making?
Harriet: Ahhhh! What a brilliant question!!!!! This is a really tough one, as I am connected to all the songs I’ve written and performed – They all come from the heart. I think probably Can I Keep You because it is so universal and simple. When I first started songwriting, everything was so long and wordy! This song defined the moment of being able to create something that was so simple, yet had such a strong and clear message. Steve and I LOVE words and could easily fill up every possible space of a song with a lyric, but in this case, we forced ourselves to keep it as simple as possible – For the first time, we were not afraid to let words like “I don’t need the world… don’t need to sleep… don’t need to dream…” escape into the lyric, and to combine them with deeper feelings like, “You saved my life for me. And though my soul is old, I’ll be young forever”.
Actually, come to think about it “proud” is perhaps not the right word or sense, as each song I’ve written is special and incredibly emotional. In fact, an experience whilst writing a song recently for the album is one I’ll never forget. Particular personal circumstances at the time inspired the song and the whole process of writing and recording it was indescribably special. It was a profound experience to be a part of, and the end result captures everything we wanted it to.
I wrote it with Cliff Masterson who is an wonderful arranger, songwriter and conductor. He was part of the team behind Kylie’s sensational Abbey Road Sessions. I love that album – Lucky…Never Too Late…Flower… Transformed into dream-like, orchestral beauties with Cliff and Steve’s arrangements. Such a brilliant concept. It was a real privilege to be writing with Cliff for my album. I look forward to performing it live.
I think what determines that feeling of satisfaction and pride with a song, is the story surrounding it and the memory of how it was written – how much of that special ‘electric energy’ was in the room. It’s difficult to describe what goes on when a song is being written – but you know the difference between when it’s a job done and when it’s magic.