Harper Simon has one of the most famous last names in the music world: He’s the son of Paul Simon. However, his music more than stands on its own—and you can see for yourself when he stops by Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, Aug. 15, in support of his sophomore album, Division Street.
During a recent phone interview, Simon—who is notoriously press-shy—said he loves the process of making music.
“I have a lot of respect for musicians, engineers and producers, to where I’m a fan,” Simon said. “That’s the main reason I do it. All the rest—such as the promotion, the press and the performing—is all part of the job. I’m not saying I don’t like that part of it, but it’s not what I find most gratifying.”
His self-titled debut album (released in 2010) and Division Street (released last year) show that Simon is not shy when it comes to experimenting and changing things up—just as his father does on his records. However, when I asked Harper Simon if there is some influence from his father when it comes to making records and playing with various sounds, his reply: “Um, no, not directly.”
Before he started making solo recordings, Simon performed in an alt-country band with Robert Quine (of Richard Hell and the Voidoids) and Jenni Muldaur. He also made several appearances with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, and contributed guitar work to Sean Lennon’s album Friendly Fire.
“It’s always been interesting,” Simon said. “(Yoko Ono) always has great players. I got to play with a lot of players through Sean (Lennon) and Yoko. Sean puts together her bands quite often, so I’ve gotten to work with Yuka Honda from Cibo Matto, who was usually in the band, and I’ve been on great bills for shows with people like Iggy Pop, Rza from Wu-Tang Clan, and all kinds of interesting people who have come into my world through just being there with Yoko. I hope I get to do it some more.”
Also on Simon’s resume: playing on Carl Perkins’ 1996 album, Go Cat Go. Perkins died in 1998.
“I didn’t know it would end up being his last record, of course,” Simon said. “Now when I look back on it, maybe they knew it was. It was a great experience on many levels—one, to meet Carl and play with him, and I didn’t expect to play on the record, and he was very generous. Two, we got to do it in Sun Studio, which was a dream come true. I was very young, and I didn’t really play on any records before, and I’d probably be embarrassed if I was to go back to that album and listen to my guitar-playing.
“Plus, he even let me take a solo, which was pretty incredible,” Simon said with a laugh.
Simon released his self-titled album in 2010, which was produced by Bob Johnston, known for his work with Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The album had an alt-country sound and showed off Simon’s songwriting abilities.
“I had a lot of anxiety about it, so it was good to get the first album out of the way,” Simon said. “A lot of mistakes were made, but I was happy with the outcome.”
However, Harper prefers his new album, Division Street, even though it’s gotten less attention, he said. Division Street, which features more of an experimental, rock-driven sound, was produced by Tom Rothrock, known for working with artists such as Beck, The Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith, Moby and many others.
“That’s another person who I was thrilled to work with,” Simon said of Rothrock. “The main reason I’ve made these records—and hopefully I’ll get to make more, if there’s interest—is I’ve gotten to work with really great musicians and producers who I’ve admired and made records who were influential to me, and some of them are my peers who I admire. Working with Tom, I admired his work with Elliott Smith—and Beck as well, but particularly Elliott Smith.”
What’s in Simon’s future?
“As soon as I finish this tour, I’m going to start writing another album,” Simon said. “I’d like to do another record and get more involved in the film and television world, hopefully. It’s time to start the process again and write some more songs.”
Harper Simon will perform with Guy Blakeslee and others at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 15, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.