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TANAYA HARPER The X-Press Interview

Tanaya Harper
While her second EP Slow Motion Breakup officially came out in March, Perth singer-songwriter Tanaya Harper is finally launching it in a live setting. After streaming a live performance of the EP on Instagram, Harper is now taking it to the stage, with a seated show this Saturday, June 20 at Lyric’s Underground. The latest release follows in the wake of Harper’s successful 2018 WAM nominated debut EP Some Kinds and navigates mental health, relationships, growth and loss, showing Harper at her most vulnerable, reaching soaring heights and burrowing lows, often in the same breath. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Harper to find out about the journey so far.

You’ll be doing your first live show in some time this Saturday at Lyric’s Underground. What are you looking forward to most about getting back onstage?

Number one, I’m most excited to play with my beautiful band mates again; Sara, Luke and Beau. They’re so damn good at what they do and it’s always such a pleasure to hear what they do with my songs. Number two, having an audience. Live stream gigs are super weird and I’m so excited to finally play to real-life flesh and bone people in front of me.

While this might be your first live show since the lockdown, as you mentioned you did perform via live stream on Instagram for the release of your EP Slow Motion Breakup back in March. I can’t imagine that was something you expected you would ever be doing?

(Laughs) I never expected to be live-streaming the release of an EP. There’s two ways of looking at it. On the one hand, you and your team have worked tirelessly over months dealing with promotion and publicity and logistics and funding your project and the emotions and thinking about the EP songs every minute of every day. All this is building up to the big fat number that is release day, followed by the bigger number that is the launch gig date. You get excited and nervous and you kind of can’t wait till it’s all over because it’s really exhausting. So considering all that, I should have been super pissed off that just as I was reaching the finish line all the plans just vanished.

But I felt the opposite. It was weirdly freeing having the calendar wiped clean. Having the EP birthed on Spotify one morning brought it back down to the basics – just some music that I wanted to put out. The live stream felt anti-climactic in a performance sense, but everything else felt kind of relieving that I didn’t have to stress about selling tickets, about whether I’d be playing to an empty room – none of that is what the music is about. That’s just the excess stuff. So in short, it was fine really.

It must still feel a bit more ‘real’ launching it in front of three dimensional people this time though! Do you feel the format of this show with limited numbers and seated audiences is an opportunity to connect on a more intimate level with your music and lyrics?

I’m very excited to be playing this intimate format. Although I’m proud of all the components of my songs, the lyrics are definitely why they exist in the first place, so to play to a seated audience is going to bring the focus all the more to the messages within the EP that are likely missed when people are standing and shuffling and half-talking to someone. I’m extremely excited to play to real life people! The weirdest thing about live stream gigs is that there’s no banter with the audience, and that’s something I’ve realised is a huge part of my performances.

I like people, I like to talk to them. Sitting there alone in your room laughing at yourself while people watch you through their phones from their rooms is actually pretty fucked up. That’s insane. Lyric’s Underground is a beautiful venue and it’s an honour to be launching Slow Motion Breakup in such a thoughtfully put together venue. Important: It’s a relatively new venue so it has that irresistible ‘new room’ smell.

And speaking of which, is there anything you feel ties this EP together lyrically? What were you going through when you wrote this EP and how did that come out in the songs?

Slow Motion Breakup is kind of like my attempt at scraping the inside of my skull to remove all the sticky tar of negative self-talk trapped in there that has crippled relationships with myself and others. The line in Don’t Go Outside “would you speak to a child the way that you speak to yourself?” summises the EP pretty accurately I think.

And moving onto the style of music, are there any particular artists you feel have inspired your sound and any in that specifically influenced what you did on this release?

Key artists that have inspired my overall sound (are) Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke and Emily Haines. For this EP I’m not really sure I looked to anyone specifically for what sound I was trying to achieve. Whilst we were recording the EP in Feb 2019 I was listening to a lot of Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Angel Olsen and Mac Demarco – I don’t feel like any of those artists are very apparent in the EP though.

I do remember trying to aurally convey the lead guitar line in Evan Keele to Beau, I did a weird guitar voice sound and then said “you know, like The Pixies?” So there’s just splashes of everything I love here and there. I intend to treat my future debut album very differently though – EP’s are more fun and relaxed, but I do feel I would rather a direction and a concept for an album.

You are sharing the bill with local songwriter Leah Grant who also put out an EP during the lockdown. What can you tell us about her music? Is it a similar vibe as your own or a little different?

Leah is amazing. If you like Sharon Van Etten then you’re going to LOVE Leah. There are so many shades to her voice – one moment warm, and then suddenly very haunting and sobering. We do share a similar vibe, lyrics for both of us are of the greatest importance I’d say. They’re very personal songs. I’m really excited to see Leah play with her full band, it’ll be an experience.

The last few months have given a lot of artists some time to work on their craft and also write new material. With gigs starting to return, can we look forward to any new music from Tanaya Harper going forward?

I have a new song that is pretty much finished, but I’ll admit that I simply enjoyed the isolation that Covid demanded of us. I’m never going to get another 2 months of absolutely no work again, so I embraced it and watched all of Better Call Saul and spent weeks upon weeks of quality time with my cats and partner. It was wonderful. Rather than writing and gigging I actually already have another EP ready to start planning on releasing later this year, so there isn’t too much pressure to start writing again just yet, but the time will come.

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