(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BEN HARPER (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) When your whole world is shakin'.


After spending nine months traveling and performing around the world playing shows almost every night, most people, they'd be ready for a break. After Ben Harper's last tour, he and his band, The Innocent Criminals, they didn't do that. They went straight from the road to the studio to record their latest release, "Lifeline." It's made up of songs written during the tour's pre-show sound checks and recorded in seven days without the aid of any computers. Take a listen.


Are you okay with there being certain little imperfections because that's sort of part of the thing?

Mr. HARPER: Yes. Yeah, we all had to embrace that, and didn't know - and be brave enough to say this is what's going to give its strongest voice, is knowing that the rawness is a part of the sound.

BURBANK: Is that a confidence thing, too? Because…

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

BURBANK: …this is a fairly new radio show, and every time we mess up, we look at each other and kind of go, gulp. Maybe if we'd been doing it 10 years and people know that we're legit, maybe - is that part of if for you?

Mr. HARPER: No, I would not be worried about the legitimacy issue, nor should you guys, be because you're behind the mike. And you know what?

BURBANK: Thank you, Ben Harper.

Mr. HARPER: It's your gig, and that's why you're talking and other people are listening. And there's a certain point you have to embrace that and own it. There's no room for false modesty. It's more irritating than overconfidence.

STEWART: Well, all of Ben Harper fans are saying you two, be quiet.

BURBANK: Yes, seriously.

STEWART: Let Ben Harper play. What song are you going for us first?

Mr. HARPER: I'm going to play "Fool For A Lonesome Train."

STEWART: Okay, great. This is Ben Harper.

(Soundbite of song "Fool For A Lonesome Train")

Mr. HARPER: (Singing) It's late and I can't sleep, I've made promises that I can't keep. Cobblestones and broken bones, has a kingdom but he's got no home. Last night is still ringing in my head like that lonesome whistle in the rain. Whoa, I'm a fool for a lonesome train. I'm your fool for a lonesome train.

The lifetimes we've left behind with strangers. Promises and lies both have their dangers. Now I just can't be wrong enough, and I can't hide for long enough. So far away, but I still feel your pain. Lord, I'm a fool for a lonesome train, yeah. I'm your fool for a lonesome train. I try to say goodbye, but I never got your name. Now, I'm your fool for a lonesome, oh, that lonesome, lonesome train.

Lord, I'm a fool for a lonesome train. I'm your fool for a lonesome train. I know I sound crazy, but I'm painfully sane. Now, I'm your fool for a lonesome, that lonesome train.

(Soundbite of applause)

STEWART: Sometimes, either you play "Lollapalooza" over the summer and obviously play a lot of big festivals, but you're playing smaller, sort of sit-down theaters this fall?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, yeah.

STEWART: What's the challenge of that? I mean, I can imagine playing "Lollapalooza," it's just - it's easy to get excited. It's easy to dig in.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, kind of.

STEWART: But when you have people sitting very politely with their hands crossed…

Mr. HARPER: That's a challenge.

STEWART: …yeah.

Mr. HARPER: I mean, and it's a different mindset, because you can't, you know, enthusiasm doesn't necessarily equate to a good or a bad show. It's not - well, they didn't stand until the second to last song, they weren't a great crowd. It's not about that. But then, there's a push-pull, and that some people want to stand, some people don't. And the people who don't want to stand are usually sitting in front of people, are sitting behind people who do want to stand…

BURBANK: Right. Ironically, that's how it always works out.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, so that gets challenging.

BURBANK: Do you think that - well, our producer, Dan Pashman, has seen you, I think 130 times live or something.

Mr. HARPER: Thank you, Dan.

BURBANK: And every show you've ever performed, he's actually been there. He was that guy. But he said that he, in his own life, feels like he's calming down a little bit. He's getting a little bit older. He said he used to want to wait for five hours and be the very first person in the line, pushed up against the gate watching you. And now, he's, you know, he says I want to sit down and listen to Ben. Do you feel like your fans are maturing? Do you feel like you're maturing? Is anyone maturing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, let's hope so. Let's hope so, you know. And that's the dance, man. Sometimes, you mature right alongside people. I mean, it - I have reached a point in my life where I - you realize you're growing alongside - you're growing with these people, you know. These people - there's been sort of a relationship to where you've grown up with the generation of people who have, and we've played a part in defining each other, and it's really (unintellgible).

STEWART: Surfing around on the Net, found your version of "Purple Rain."

Mr. HARPER: Okay.

STEWART: You did that a few days ago?

Mr. HARPER: We did navigate that.

STEWART: Is that right? Where was that?

Mr. HARPER: That was in Minneapolis, at the fourth or fifth show of this tour.

STEWART: You did "Purple Rain" in Minneapolis?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, yeah.

STEWART: Dan, do we have it? Can we play a little bit of it?

(Soundbite of song, "Purple Rain")

Mr. HARPER: (Singing) I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain. I only wanted to see you, see you laughing - only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain. Purple rain, purple rain…

And it's unrehearsed, too. Like, everyone in the band is kind of like - I said, too bad you got to get (unintelligible). We had finished - we played a show, and we were backstage sort of plotting on an encore. Oh, man, it was too bad you guys were on a "Purple Rain." Ha-ha. And there were like…

STEWART: Oh, but we do.

Mr. HARPER: Hmm, well, you know, then they do it together, rehearsed it in a matter of minutes and brought it to stage. And I - the thing is, I didn't know it was going to be a keeper. So I said this is the only time we're going to the song on the entire tour. And God, I want to play it again. So I'm kind of trapped by my own sort of…

STEWART: Well, you could use this opportunity to change your mind about playing it again. You could let people know right here on NPR that you might play this again.

Mr. HARPER: Fair enough. I think "Purple Rain" is going to see the light of day at least a couple more times.

STEWART: In your downtime, we understand you're a baseball fan.

Mr. HARPER: I am.

STEWART: What do you think about the series? How you feeling?

Mr. HARPER: I think it's going to be - it's going to be hot. Boston's going to be tough to beat. Yanks are right there, though. It's going to be interesting.

BURBANK: But are you - wait. Are you Dodgers fan?

Mr. HARPER: I'm a Dodgers fan, so I am basically at therapy, yes.

STEWART (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Is there a better place in the world to watch baseball than Chavez Ravine?

Mr. HARPER: There is not. Although, I was just in Pittsburgh, and I think it's PNC…


Mr. HARPER: …Nancy Park, and that looks gorgeous. I mean, it's basically inviting the entire city of Pittsburgh to come and be a part of the culture of baseball. It looked beautiful. By the way, Pittsburgh, I had a great time at Pittsburgh. It's the new Andy Warhol Museum there is gorgeous.

STEWART: Oh, it's fantastic.

Mr. HARPER: Isn't that great?


Mr. HARPER: They're getting it together still, but it's on the way to being something extraordinary. It is extraordinary. What am I saying? I mean, it's…

STEWART: And that great ethnic food.

Mr. HARPER: …on the way to being even - that's right. At the great…

STEWART: It's at a outside market…

Mr. HARPER: …restaurant.

STEWART: …there's amazing, amazing ethnic food in Pittsburgh. Have a good time. So yay, Pittsburgh. The new album is called "Lifeline." Do you have a favorite song on it? I know that's like rock 'n' roll 101, but I'm always really curious.

Mr. HARPER: It would depend on my mood, so I don't mean to, you know, answer the question with a non-answer but I don't. I don't.

STEWART: Well, can we get you to play your favorite song of the record right now? Whatever your mood is right here?

Mr. HARPER: Sure, absolutely. I hadn't really decided on a second one.

(Soundbite of song, "Fight Outta You")

Mr. HARPER: (Singing) They'll look you in the eyes and stone you, then turn and disown you. Don't you let them take the fight outta you. They'll walk all over your name till they find someone else to blame. Don't let them take the fight outta you. Secrets hide their lies inside hidden alibis, don't you let them take the fight outta you. They put the world on a hook, it's worse every time I look, don't let them take the fight outta you.

I would rather take a punch than not give you a shot. I'd rather find out who you are than who you're not. Should have known better than to mistake business for love. Should have known better than to mistake a fist for a glove.

It will be in your honor till you're not needed any longer. Don't let them take the fight outta you. And don't believe the headlines, check it for yourself sometimes. Don't let them take the fight outta you. The lies you live become you, the love you lose, it numbs you. Don't let them take the fight outta you. They'll say that you've arrived, that's just a high-class bribe. Don't let them take the fight outta you.

I would rather take your punch than not give you a shot. I'd rather find out who you are than who you're not. Should have known better than to mistake business for love. Should have known better than to mistake a fist for a glove.

There's always someone younger, someone with more hunger. Don't let them take the fight outta you. They'll say you're one and only, then straight up leave you lonely, don't you let them take the fight outta you. Like a transplant patient waiting for a donor, don't let them take the fight outta you. Like a half empty balloon after a party in the corner, don't let it take the fight outta you.

(Soundbite of applause)

STEWART: Ben Harper, thanks for coming by THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

Mr. HARPER: Oh, yeah. Thanks for having me here.

STEWART: Ben Harper's new album is called "Lifeline." The video of his performance here at the BPP headquarters, it's on our blog at npr.org/bryantpark. We're also going to post a little bit more of our interview with him, including his tribute to public radio. It's very funny. You're going check that out.

BURBANK: You haven't heard the tune of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED whistled until you've heard Ben Harper whistle it.

STEWART: That does it for this hour of THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, online and on the radio. I'm Alison Stewart.

BURBANK: And I am Luke Burbank. Thank you so much for listening. Enjoy a little more of Benjamin Harper.

(Soundbite of song "Say You Will")

Mr. HARPER: (Singing) Darling, won't you say that you will? Oh, say you will…

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