Elizabeth Harper is, for all intents and purposes, an ordinary person. She likes to dance, and read and eat Mexican food. Needless to say, she also happens to be a totally awe-worthy musician that almost immediately elicits guy and girl boners alike with both, her physical attributes, as well as her undeniable talent.
You may know her as the coquettish leader of Class Actress, just one of the many bands bursting out of Brooklyn’s burgeoning indie scene. Just make sure not to call them an indie rock band. “We’re all making pop music, but coming out of this weird, indie-rock scene. None of us like indie-rock music. So let’s make indie-pop music with our own vision, not have an assimilated formula.”
Harper put out a self-titled record in 2005, released only in England and Japan. She toured England and after returning home to New York, she noticed a lull in the music scene. At the time, Brooklyn was “a wasteland,” she says, citing the end of an era that gave birth to bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and Interpol. Soon, Harper’s attention was turned on to a new local act called Chairlift, she was blown away. “Holy crap, I love this band; I love this music,” she recalls. They became fast friends and creative allies.
Harper had been recording with Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift when she started to feel a shift in her songwriting. She decided to ditch her “cumbersome” guitar and get more involved in electronic instruments. Enter producers Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal. Harper sent Richardson some of the recordings she’d recently done with Wimberly, and he surprised her with a CD of his own remixes of her songs. Very soon afterwards in 2011, they got together in her apartment and started hammering out the songs that would become Class Actress’ first EP “Journal of Ardency” and feature-length LP “Rapproacher” (French for “to come close to”).
Class Actress is touted as a romantic-emo band, an unapologetic throwback to the synthpop sound of the ’80s. Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Madonna; these are all listed influences. Losing the guitar for electronic drums and synthpop was a natural progression for Harper. But that hasn’t made her lose her singer-songwriter sensibility. She likes the beats, likes making people move but feels that she can combine that with emotional relatability. “Dance music is dance music. When you go to a rave, you’re not there to listen to words, you’re there to feel. Since I come from more of a songwriting background, I’m more partial to the pop song… the love song. I want to enjoy music as a vignette, as a small story, as something I can carry with me.”
That kind of storytelling in music is something Harper cherishes. One of her current artistic inspirations is pop-performer Robyn. “She’s been doing this thing for a while, and her songs have a lot of beautiful longing and sentiment to them. They’re not so unabashedly ‘girl power.’ They’re more subtle. She’s more vulnerable than most artists,” she said.
That vulnerability is a trait that Harper believes gives music more staying power. “You find with a lot of female singers, it’s all about empowerment. Which is great and everything, but if you think about the big super-hits over time, they were the most vulnerable tracks. Think about it, who’s the biggest artist out there right now? Adele.”
Also important to Harper, is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. She always takes books on tour, new ones as well as old favorites. She adores minimalist fiction, especially the works of Raymond Carver. “[Minimalist writers] never talk about the situation, they just describe the moment. I love that there’s such a lack of emotional description.” That lack of emotion depicts the more mundane aspects of life, but usually does it in a way that is insistent on compassion. That kind of compassion, highlighting everyday life is prevalent in Harper’s lyrics.
In 2011’s single “Weekend” (above), she paints a picture of a love-torn woman by simply singing lines like, “I pace the room every time you leave” and “You make me late for work/You make me late for church/So hold to me”. Class Actress has achieved critical acclaim and amassed a strong following. In 2012, the group set out on a tour of the US and Canada, including club dates and festivals. Harper isn’t ashamed to embrace her success. “Before, I was just really struggling to find something that moved me at every cellular level,” she says. “This is what it’s like to make music you’re really proud of– you can listen to it on your headphones a hundred times a day and really enjoy it.”