STORY: GABRIEL CHARLES TYLER, VERONICA ROZE
Elizabeth Harper, the front woman for Brooklyn-based synth-pop trio Class Actress, is no stranger to the music industry. The budding Pop star has been around the block before, releasing a self-titled solo debut in 2004. Although years have past and Harper has traded in her acoustic guitar for a synthesizer, she has not left behind her substance
When asked to describe her transition from acoustic songwriting to dance music, Harper said, “It wasn’t hard. It was sort of the whole system of self-discovery, where I grew up dancing to dance music, I grew up listening to Hip Hop… that was what I loved. Then, I had this weird depressing phase where I was listening to Elliot Smith, so I learned guitar by learning his songs.”
In the age of the Pop machine, mastering the acoustic element of her craft gave Harper the tools she needed to distinguish the group’s sound from watered-down Pop acts who know nothing about songwriting.
“I’m not trying to put down a lot of modern artists, but it’s such a lot of bleeps and blops, and I’m not into that. I’m into songwriting. I’m into Prince. I’m into fucking forreal songs, and so I wanted to learn how people wrote songs. So you have to learn the Beetles and all of that stuff just to learn how that works, and that’s how I transitioned,” Harper said.
Class Actress consists of Harper and producers/keyboardists Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson. Harper and Richardson crossed paths in 2009, transforming her previous guitar-based sound into a more synth-driven one, which consequently became Class Actress. Soon after, Rosenthal joined the group, and the trio released their debut EP, Journal of Ardency, on February 9, 2010 on Grizzly Bear member, Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records label. Like most things in Harper’s life, the name for the group’s debut EP just came about. “I was sitting in my friend’s art studio, and we were talking about who we were dating and I said, ‘So, who’s next in your journal of ardency?’ It was just a quip that came off the top of my tongue,” Harper said. Whether she wanted it to or not, Harper could not deny that Brooklyn influenced the sound of Journal of Ardency.
Harper moved to Brooklyn right at the end of the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Interpole phase,” and she admits she wanted to leave because she thought it was dead. However, a chance meeting with Richardson changed her mind. “I didn’t like a lot of the producers I was working with because they were sort of technical based, and I saw his band and he was dressed really cool,” Harper said. Harper admits it was Richardson’s look that first caught her attention.“He had a vibe about him that was quintessential. I thought this guy, no style is going to touch him, nothing’s going to touch him,” Harper said.
It is no surprise Class Actress’s debut studio album, Rapprocher, released on October 18, 2011 by Carpark Records, features a sound much unlike Journal of Ardency. Harper wanted to make the Pop music she had grown up loving. “It was a DIY Pop scene. We all wanted to make the music we grew up listening to. The ‘90s was N*Sync and Britney Spears, so we grew up listening to Pop, Pop, Pop,” Harper said.
Rapprocher is a capital-P pop album, and unapologetically so. On the album cover, Harper lies on white sheets, making seductive love faces to the camera’s lenses — it draws you in, just like the raw sexuality of the album’s tracks. “I think with Rapprocher, I wanted to be kind of less bookish because I was trying not to be so cutesy and clever. I was trying to make it more straightforward, but I think with the next record I might go back to my roots and take things a little darker,” Harper said.
Harper’s voice just fits with the synthesizer, especially on stage — as a ‘80s baby, she’s drawn to its sound. “The synthesizer in the ‘80s was the disgruntled youth, folk instrument. It was like in the ‘60s, how people had guitars and decided to sing about what they didn’t like. The ‘80s had the synthesizer,” Harper said.
Harper almost seems to have an old soul — she loves donning vintage furs. “I inherited a lot of them from my grandmother. I do have a lot of fur coats, and I hate to perpetuate the idea of fur because I think it’s disgusting. But I can’t help but love my vintage furs because I’m from California and I always wanted to wear coats, but I had to always wear a fucking bikini everyday because I was growing up in LA,” Harper said.
And, like the old soul she is, Harper does not shy away from the Madonna comparisons — she welcomes them. “God I love Madonna,” Harper said. “She has this quote, where she’s like, ‘I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.’”