Ben Harper's soulful voice is unmistakable. His unique folk and blues style has won him worldwide acclaim, as well as two Grammys. Since releasing his first album in 1994, Harper has incorporated his signature sound into collaborative projects in gospel, R&B and rock.
Most of his work in the past few years has been with backing bands the Relentless7 and The Innocent Criminals, or with his side project Fistful of Mercy. On his latest release, however, Harper is flying solo.
"I've always based and gauged whether or not my records would be band or solo by feel and timing, and it felt like the right time," Harper tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen. "The songs felt lyrically like they were leaning towards it being a solo record."
Harper's new album, Give Till It's Gone, is his 10th and final release for Virgin/EMI. His first album for the label was a solo effort, as well.
"It's one of those rare situations where I've come to the end of a 10-record contract," Harper says. "My first record, in 1994, was Welcome to the Cruel World. It was a Ben Harper solo record, and [with] this last record, I wanted to go out the way I came in. It felt like the right thing to do."
Outside of his music, Harper is known for his activism with organizations such as Feeding America and The Pat Tillman Foundation, among others.
"I'd like to think I'd advocate for issues that are important, music or no music," Harper says. "I think that life is an opportunity to make your voice felt and heard in a way that represents progress, so I'd be doing it anyway."
Give Till It's Gone finds Harper going back to basics, breaking free from the constraints of touring and having a record label.
"I still don't know what the hell I'm doing," he says. "Every single time I step into the studio, I say, 'Can I still do this? Do I still have it? Have I ever had it?' I suppose there's a good amount of self-loathing that goes into any form of artisanship. But every once in a while, now and again, you make a record where you say, 'Can I do it again?' "