Last summer, at the end of New Zealand’s second major lockdown, Harper Finn dropped us a lifeline. His third single ‘Dance Away These Days’ was the perfect antidote to months of frustration; it compelled people to disconnect from the real world – if only for a few minutes – and lose themselves in the music. The song has now been certified Gold, and Harper is just warming up.
Of Filipino and New Zealand heritage, he was raised in the Auckland suburb of Devonport. Starting piano lessons at five, Harper took a break until he arrived at Takapuna Grammar (which has an impressive list of talented musical graduates: The Veils, The Checks, Gin Wigmore, Lorde). There he became the go-to piano guy for his school’s bands and any other occasion that called for a tune – he credits music teacher David Stent for his encouragement. Harper’s musical calling really came to the fore when he became the keyboard player for a sprawling 8-piece hip-hop group, appearing at some of the hottest R18 venues while still underage.
Harper says his mother plays a big part in his musical influences. She was a music reviewer, and fed him a diverse diet of music, everything from The Zombies to The Clash to Kate Bush, to Blur and The Verve and more currently Tame Impala. They still regularly chat about new music and he always values her recommendations.
Harper Finn takes a disciplined approach to his own songwriting, playing piano every day and experimenting with melodies, chord progressions and lyrics. The piano is the starting point and the testing ground – once a song works well in its entirety on the piano, he takes it to the band to add their own touches. Harper may write the songs, but “we walk in as equals”. His lyrics are conversational, taken from what he hears around him and things his friends say, exploring the meaning behind a phrase, and finding the extraordinary in the mundane – “people who don’t see themselves as poets can sometimes say the most profound things”. At the same time, his lyrics are riffs on a theme, “I don’t want my songs to be diary entries,” and listeners can take away their own meaning.
When it comes to performing, Harper Finn loves movement, exploring the play between masculinity and femininity, confidence and vulnerability. He choreographed the video to ‘Dance Away These Days’ and says that being involved with making the video, “was one of the best moments of my life – it made me realise that I was sure about how I wanted to present my music”. In his live performance, he’s drawn to the idea of the consummate front-person, citing Christine and the Queens as an inspiration.
At Rhythm and Vines last summer, Harper and his band treated the crowd to what became one of the anthems of the 2020/21 summer – a version of the Goldenhorse classic ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, transformed from a wistful pop gem into an instant dance floor hit with the help of local producer nice enough.
2021 has been a year of travel for Harper. A successful national tour in May to support follow up single ‘She Said’ was followed by a writing and recording trip to Sydney in July. Caught there when the trans Tasman travel bubble closed, Harper decided to make the most of his time away and headed to Los Angeles to connect with his producer and other writers. The fruits of the extended journey will be apparent when his new EP is released in 2022.
Harper lets out some teasers about his forthcoming EP Newcomer. Excited about releasing his first cohesive body of work, he says that a theme that runs through the EP is summed up in its title: the feeling of being a newcomer – not just to the music scene but harking back to experiences many of us can relate to: starting a new school, moving to a new city – feeling vulnerable, and learning how to navigate that. The Newcomer EP will be released in early 2022