If you like your songs served up with a twist of heartache and a whole lot of Americana soul, Bob Harp is your bartender. The San Franciscan musician is making his way down to Culver City on Saturday to play at the Cinema Bar.
Harp grew up on the East Coast in the Washington, D.C., area, where he worked for an independent record store, among other odd jobs. This gave him the musical resources and inspiration he needed to pick up a guitar.
“That’s where I got my vinyl addiction. That exposed me to a lot of new music, and I heard a lot of things I had never thought to listen to before,” Harp said.
Listening to old jazz, folk and R&B, Harp became rooted in American classics and migrated to California to get serious about his music career.
“Ever since the Gold Rush, that’s where everyone comes for something new,” Harp said. “I just wanted to get a fresh start musically.”
There in San Francisco he met Anton Patzner of Judgement Day, who played violin on both of Harp’s albums, “Good Misery” in 2005 and “Collecting Dust” in 2009, and Patzner sometimes accompanies Harp live. They became good friends and musical allies.
“Bob found me playing on the street in Berkeley. We hit it off, and he asked me to play on his album. On some songs we would just improvise, and on others we already had ideas for a melody, so we’d play that. On some songs we doubled up the violin to make a more epic, orchestral sound,” Patzner said.
Another addition to “Collecting Dust” was Jordan Feinstein of The RituaL, who played keyboards and some bass, as well as helped produce a song on the album. Feinstein notes Harp’s capability to combine the traditional sound with his own.
“Bob plays very authentic American roots music. It’s not very commercial ““ Bob’s is serious music. He’s got all those influences in there, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but it still very much sounds like him,” Feinstein said.
Harp himself realizes his ability to elude preconceived notions of genre and set up his own sound within an established structure.
“I just write music I like. It’s hard to say that I fit into any genre. I like things with a little groove and soulful vibes, so a lot of my music is slow and melancholic. It’s a sort of timeless, moody folk music,” Harp said.
Much of Harp’s originality comes from lyrics, which are carefully interwoven into his music to create a tapestry of a story, feeling or scene.
“Some of them are story songs. I’d say heartache is a big part of me, writing about what I’ve lost, both women and other things. I spend a lot of time driving, so there’s definitely a road element to my music, too. Setting is important,” Harp said.
Other people take note of Harp’s gift with words. Patzner said his favorite thing about Harp’s music is his lyrics.
“He’s a writer and a poet. He’s got some interesting things to say. His vocals also have a lot of vulnerability in them that you don’t get to hear in pop music today. I see Bob as a lone cowboy type of guy,” Patzner said.
While he may be the lone cowboy type, Harp has layered his most recent album, “Collecting Dust,” with more instrumentation and variety, with the help of musicians like Patzner and Feinstein. Harp said after four years of experience since his last record, he had more of a vision of what he wanted.
When he is not in the studio, Harp is either listening to, writing or playing music. One of his first shows was with a friend’s band opening for Journey, playing in front of thousands of people. While his concerts since then have been a bit more intimate, he still enjoys playing live. As far as future plans, the road’s wide open.
“It’s hard to say. It’s a tough road, you just gotta stick with it. I’m definitely always writing and playing guitar,” Harp said. “Sometimes I like to change my songs around a little bit when I’m playing them to try and keep things fresh.”
Although Harp is rooted in timeless tradition, he revitalizes his music with new ideas. In addition to developing his sound, Harp is expanding his territory. This is his second show in Los Angeles.
“There’s a big scene down there for music, and there are a lot of outlets for it so that’s why I’d like to make it to L.A. more often. Hopefully this will be the second show of many more to come down there,” Harp said.