Hailing from Birmingham, but residing between Los Angeles and London, meet ‘Harlea’.
Having released singles intermittently for three years, Harlea has recently shared her latest cut ‘99’. tmrw had a chat with Harlea and went over her most recent release and what she has been up to since her previous single ‘Beautiful Mess’.
‘99’ unites the best elements of Harlea’s previous singles. Taking some of the noughties bubblegum pop elements of ‘Beautiful Mess’ and a Link Wray gutsy nonchalance provided on ‘You Don’t Get It’, her latest is a pop ballad with a rock n’ roll sneer. Her vocals are crackled with a thin layer of distortion as she provides one of the more dynamic performances of her catalogue. ‘99’ narrates the ill-advised romance between two individuals, encapsulated appropriately with the chorus, where Harlea sings “we was going 99, driving in the fast lane, missing all the signs’.
Having rearranged the interview as Harlea was biking on the day I suggested, I was naturally compelled to ask her about what that entailed.
“Mountain biking, yeah, yeah,” she corrected me with a laugh. “That’s why we’re here [in LA]. We spend every summer out on the bikes. It’s good, but you get lost in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not the best when you want to contact civilisation. But yeah, no, we’re here for one more week, so I’m going to try and get back out.”
As an artist who has been releasing music very much on her own schedule and terms and who doesn’t carry the most extensive social media presence, the lack of contact with civilisation seemed a comment that resonates with her music work too. Harlea has previously discussed that she doesn’t feel “over-exposed” and, citing the fact that her music has less mainstream appeal, feels this is a good thing.
Since the release of ‘Beautiful Mess’ Harlea has been tweaking and working on multiple tracks that are yet to be released. As said before, she is someone who thoroughly works to a schedule and only releases something she’s pleased with.
“I’ve got a catalogue of songs,” Harlea says. “So on top of writing, I’ve just been finalising those. I find with art, as an artist, that your [work] is never finished. So, I’m still sitting with a lot of songs and tweaking them and trying to figure out how to make them better. And, yeah, decide which one at the time is the one that I want to run with, and that’s what I go with. So, yeah, I’m in no rush,” she laughs, “I take my time. When I’m ready, that’s when I go for it. It’s a process. Sometimes you can hate [a song], and then a week later you suddenly hear something else and you’re like ‘let’s try that’, and you love it.”
Moving on to her latest single, Harlea describes the story behind ’99’. The single is, like ‘Beautiful Mess’, distinct from her first two tracks. She discusses taking on the challenge of ’99’ and working with different producers.
“So I was in the studio with Rock Mafia out in Santa Monica, and we were writing,” She explains. “They had this song that they loved, and they asked if I wanted to try. I heard it, and I absolutely loved it. It was a slightly different style to what I’ve been working on and what I’ve been used to. I thought I’d try the challenge and, I don’t know, I just fell in love with the song once I started working on it. That’s how we got ‘99’. There wasn’t that much [to it], other than just putting vocals on and working the production a little bit there wasn’t that much to change because it was such a good song.”
Harlea continues. “I’ve got my style which still on songs which I’ve written on like ‘You Don’t Get It’ and ‘Miss Me’. Those songs are mine. ‘Beautiful Mess’ and ‘99’ I collaborated with the producers on a song they had already written. I think you can hear that – you can definitely hear that – but I’m always up for a challenge and taking risks. If the song’s great, you can’t deny it, you know? I took some risks, but they definitely work.”
Discussing the lyrics of her latest track, although they do not reflect her own experiences, she found the subject intriguing nonetheless.
“I found them quite hypnotising. It’s a powerful tug, you know, am I doing the right thing?” Harlea says of the subject of incautious romances. “It feels so good. Should I roll with it or let it go? It hit a nerve with me. Not necessarily from personal experience, [but] maybe more the dramatic idea and how that would feel. I know people that have been there and [I’ve] seen it, and it’s like ‘what are you doing?’ You can relate with that feeling; that sorta bad but good.” She pauses and continues smilingly. “Like eating a dessert or something. I’m not sure anyone’s thought of that song as a dessert instead of a romance. It just hit a note me [and] I just wanted to run with it.”
Harlea plays no other instruments. Although this is something she has attempted in the past, she is yet to have much success with it. Of course, this does not impede her ability to direct and orchestrate the sound that she wants.
“I still don’t technically play instruments,” Harlea says. “It hasn’t really been something I’ve had a lot of success with. The piano is something I used to play and is one of those things I keep meaning to take up, you know, life gets in the way. The guitar I’ve tried, and I’ve failed, I don’t know if it’s [a] curse,” she pauses and laughs, “but I’ll keep trying!”
Harlea describes how she has had to seek out musicians and producers that can create the kind of music that she wishes to make. “For me, it’s working with people that I trust and know me and get me and, you know, I’ve been very fortunate in that department,” she confesses. “I’ve got some great people that I’ve worked with. Jimmy Messer out of LA, he has been huge in terms of helping me find my sound and express what I want to express. I’ve got people to be grateful for that.
That was one of the struggles I had at the beginning; trying to find my path with finding people that understood what I wanted in a musical way.”
Harlea was at a playground with her toddler during the interview, so it felt fitting to ask her child’s thoughts on ‘99’. “She’s just way more interested in Cinderella and Elsa from Frozen,” she chuckles. “She definitely likes it when Mama comes on. Although I have to say it has to be the [radio edit] version, not the explicit version, because she’s picking up words left, right, and centre so we definitely don’t need to encourage that right now.”
You can check out the music video to ’99′ below: