Harper Simon, Paul Simon's son, releases debut solo album -- at age 37

By McClatchy Newspapers
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

People might think having a famous musician for a dad makes it easier for a new artist putting out his first album.

But ask Harper Simon, son of Paul Simon, to weigh the pros and cons, and his response might be surprising. "I cannot think of that many pros, to be honest," he says.

"There are definitely way more cons. There's just a lot of contempt prior to investigation. Maybe people are somewhat right. There have been vanity projects, people putting out records that are not totally viable."

His pedigree aside, Harper Simon is something of an anomaly in music. He's 37 and just released his first solo album. Not because music is something he just recently started, but because, he says, if he was going to do it, he was going to take his time and do it right.

"I always wanted to make records and play music," he says. "I've always been trying to write a good song, get better and get up to a place where I could do something I was proud enough to release. It's been a struggle." Had he just wanted to capitalize on his last name, he probably could have done so sooner. But when Simon speaks, it's obvious he's passionate about making a quality album, front-to-back. That's not necessarily the norm in the pay-per-song iTunes era.

"You don't want to put yourself out there until you're ready," he says. "You really only get one chance. If you put yourself out there too early or with a piece of work that's not substantive, you'll get dismissed and you won't get another chance. Especially if you're somebody who comes from a family where there's some fame in rock-and-roll. They want to dismiss you."

His self-titled album, released in October, has earned a good reception. Rolling Stone called it "an easygoing, wistful set of alt-country pop, full of sweet country-twang guitars and Simon's bright, clear tenor." While Simon isn't trying to re-create his dad's music, his work certainly harkens back to music from 40 years ago.

He did have some help from Paul Simon, who co-wrote three songs.

"I didn't intend for it to happen," Harper Simon says. "I was somewhat worried about whether it would overshadow the album, but I liked the songs. It was fun to work with my dad." He also worked with legendary producer Bob Johnston, who oversaw albums for Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and yes, even Simon & Garfunkel.

Simon, whose mother is Paul Simon's first wife, Peggy Harper, also collaborated with Sean Lennon, son of John.

He's equally excited about the band he's got on the road with him. Their résumés include work with Cat Power, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Rilo Kiley and Interpol. Money Mark, a frequent Beastie Boys contributor, joins Simon on keyboards.

"It's really a great band," he says. "The songs sound a lot different. I think I'm finally getting toward the sound that I've always wanted."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company