Jasper Harris: From Young LA Native to Electric NYC Creative
By Sam Goodman
Editor in Chief
IN THE BEGINnING
Jasper Harris is a 19 year-old NYU student in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. However, Harris is more than a music student; Jasper is a lover of the way sound can take you places both physically and mentally— places that you never imagined. He is an artist. A crafter of stories through the chords he plays and the sound he creates. A boy who knows that we are nothing without self expression.
At what age did you first begin your journey with music?
"When I was four, my mom brought me to a Meet the Symphony event where I was able to try out all the instruments in the orchestra – brass, strings, woodwinds. Afterward, she turned to me and asked which one interested me. 'None of them,' I said. 'I want to play the piano.' So we got one. Now, I play piano, vibraphone, and marimba. In high school I started in classical percussion in the orchestra – timpani, snare drum, cymbals. I also like to tell people I play the computer."
When you were young, what career did you think you were going to pursue?
"I always knew I was going to pursue music. Alternative careers never crossed my mind. I will admit that for a brief period of time I wanted to be an inventor. Deep in the archives, there's a video of a buck-toothed me demonstrating my automatic bird feeder hat, but I don’t think that will be leaking any time soon."
How did you start producing music during high school?
"I started producing after my friend Tobie introduced me to the program Ableton, and my first production mentor Lawrence Grey during my freshman year of high school. Lawrence also ran a production group for high schoolers called YPG (Young Producers Group). I got my foundation in production from Lawrence and YPG. I am forever indebted to both Tobie and Lawrence."
"There was never so much a motivation as there was a need to do music in my life— a need like sleeping or eating."
Face the Music
It is truly Harris' destiny to sit down at a piano bench, or with his computer, or with one of five other instruments and create. And he certainly has no lack of passion for and insight into the music world.
Who is your favorite artist?
"My answer for this question used to always be Cashmere Cat, and I still gawk at everything he does – he is a master of sonic texture and evoking emotion through the electronic music medium. My story would be incomplete if I didn’t acknowledge how big of an influence he was in making me the producer I am today. I used to lock myself in my room and study his songs for hours at a time. Nowadays, I’m not so much obsessed with him as I am inspired by him: inspired to be myself and honor my own path, just like he did for himself."
What is your favorite song?
"My favorite song is Kenaston off of Chilly Gonzales’ Solo Piano II."
What music word do you wish people would stop using?
"I want to implode when people use the word “collab” seriously. It's unfortunate because the concept of collaboration is wonderful but that word is a meme within itself and almost always a sure-fire way for me to take an interaction less seriously. I also really don’t like it when people try to sing or verbalize electronic sounds. I’ll be working with someone who wants the ever-overused flume-type synth and they’ll ask if I can make the 'wub wub wub' sound and that’s always a bummer."
Which track that you created are you most proud of?
I have a song called “Never Enough” that I really love and hope finds a home with a special vocalist. For me, the track feels like the apex of a lot of the work I’ve been putting in to understand how pop music currently functions sonically and structurally.
"when I go to the computer with the intent of creating a pop hit, usually what comes out is a bunch of jargon that sounds like wannabe radio music. When I start a track without a specific goal, I end up creating a lot more fluidly. I’ll be messing around at the piano and accidentally play the most almighty chord progression. you sprint to the computer to get the idea down and the song writes itself in 20 minutes."
JOURNEY TO NYU
'The city that never sleeps', 'If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere', 'In a NY minute', 'The concrete jungle', 'The capital of the world', of theater, of art, of music. 'I want to be a part of it.' NYC is the city where a creator will get up in the middle of the night and to head to an art studio, stage, recording session. It's the city where creatives like Jasper can thrive.
On your college search, what two schools were you deciding between?
"It [was between] NYU and USC. And to be frank, I was convinced I had to stay in LA to pursue music. I have no idea why I had that notion in my head but I couldn't have been more wrong and I'm grateful every day that USC denied me an audition because I think that narrow mindedness would have led to a really tricky decision had I gotten in. The most amazing, fate clarifying, things have happened to me at NYU and in NYC and the thought of ending up anywhere else almost makes me sick to my stomach. NY was my destiny. Everything in my life pointed to NYU as the place to go. I had spent my entire life in LA up until that point. It was time to move on to something new."
What is your favorite part about being in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music?
"My favorite part about being in Clive is the continual exposure to and personal interactions with flourishing, professional creatives. A good example of this is the “Creativity in Context” class that every freshman takes during their first semester. In this class, successful artists come speak on their creative pursuits and everything that has led them to where they are in their careers. From visual artists to restaurant owners to pop stars, all have valuable advice to offer and all are open to working with the students."
What is it like to be an up and coming producer in New York City?
"Being a young producer in New York City is nothing shy of exhilarating. Opportunities literally lie around every corner, you can’t go anywhere without being inspired, and once you get one opportunity, it seems a million follow thereafter. It feels like it’s all there for the taking if you want it. But that’s the thing, you can’t just want it, you have to be proactive about your dreams or nothing happens because the city will function just fine without you. Sometimes it means leaving for a session after you’ve already gotten into bed for the night and sometimes it means walking in the freezing cold in unfamiliar neighborhoods to a destination you’re not even sure exists. Whatever it means though, it is always worth it. And even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment, the experience under your belt is invaluable."
Do you see yourself as more of an LA kid or NYC kid?
"Overall, I see myself as more of an LA kid; I find immense solace in the sunshine, the ability to escape to the beach at a moment’s notice, and the comparatively more down-tempo atmosphere. However, I do identify strongly with the inherent hustle of much of the NYC youth. A lot of people think that LA moves fast, and compared to most cities in the US, it does, but New York is a fully separate beast in this regard. All of these young creatives in NYC are working towards similar goals and once you find a community of like-minded people there, a win for one person feels like a win for everyone and that is something special that NYC seems to have over LA."
"The energy of New York is electrifying. There is something palpable about the pace and the chutzpah of the city that makes me want to create as much as possible."
There is nothing more important for a young artist to remember than to trust in their artistic journey. It is truly a wonderful thing to be able to manifest a dream through hard work and passion, a message that Jasper deeply connects to.
What legacy do you hope to leave on the people around you, the music world, and the world as a whole?
"I hope to leave as true a legacy as possible: to be remembered as accurately as I can be for all that is great about me and for all that is imperfect."
Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years? 20?
"I think in 5 years I’ll be making a contemporary piano album and in 20 years I’ll be a dad."
And finally, Jasper, what is one wish you have for the future?
"One wish I have for the future is that people and trees can be friends again."
"I hope to be remembered as someone who lived for music and piano and family and best friends and girls and adventure and nature and true love. but, also as someone who over-thought most situations, who was a wee bit more emotional than your run-of-the-mill dude, and who had a deep obsession with card magic. As long as my legacy is honest, I’m happy with it."
Japer's advice to aspiring young producers:
- "Allow yourself to get lost in an obsession.
- Understand the concept of 'planned spontaneity'. For instance, if you know an important artist is about to come into the room, have your music playing when they walk in. Oops.
- My lawyer once told me: “It’s the music business, not the music friendship.” In other words, do what is best or feels most right for you, even if other people might be temporarily upset like a manager or a collaborator. When you go into a session, focus less on leaving with a tangible piece of music, and more on leaving having established a good relationship with your collaborator. Good relationships are everything.
- Embrace your mistakes, they’re all lessons. It’s so much easier to go through life seeing mistakes as learning experiences to benefit from as opposed to ultimatums.
- Become the best socializer you can. Understanding how to talk to people and being able to hold your own is often just as crucial as making amazing music.
- Always record everything – from improvisations on the piano to sounds on the street to conversations with artists. You never know when you’ll capture the perfect idea.
- Keep a journal. I write in mine first thing when I wake up and last thing before I go to bed.
- Make music that you want to make. Make music that makes your heart happy. That will always prevail over conforming to stylistic trends. Always.
More about Me
Learn more about Jasper like his favorite movie, go-to TV show, favorite slang word, and more!
What is your favorite way to relax?
I really like going to this little street near my house in LA called Larchmont. Larchmont has the main street feel of a small town even though it’s in the heart of the city. It’s the perfect aberration from all the chaos – it’s full of cute little coffee shops and bakeries and it’s so family friendly. Larchmont is the perfect setting for dates or working on music or people watching. I don’t necessarily go there to consciously relax but the street always has a mellowing effect on me. I feel refreshingly simple when I am there. It has such a special place in my heart.
What is your favorite slang word?
"One of my favorite words this past year has been 'goober.' You’re a goober if you slip in public, you’re a goober if you eat french fries with a fork, you’re a goober if you take baths. I do all those things."
What is your favorite movie?
"My favorite movie is a tie between Superbad and Borat. For the past two weeks, I’ve been using the Borat accent relentlessly. It's the perfect way to ease tension or lower the potential stakes of a situation: 'Don't be mad at me, gypsy woman!' But more than that, the accent is simply a beautiful way to take in the world. I’ll be walking down the street and see a flower that I would normally dismiss but in Borat mode, it is a spectacle to behold. 'WAh Wah WEe WAHh this flower is, how you say, very niceeee!'"
—J A S P E R
Follow Jasper on his music journey by following him on Instagram @jasperharris!