Ben Harper Says Working with Harry Styles Was Like a “Singing Lesson”

When collaborating with Harry Styles, expect to be pushed outside your comfort zone. 

Videos by American Songwriter

Ben Harper, 53, says working with the former One Direction member was like a “singing lesson.” The Grammy Award winner caught up with People to discuss what it was like to work alongside Styles on his critically acclaimed collection, Harry’s House

“What an exciting call to get,” recalled Harper. “Because I was a fan before I got that call. [Harry] called me and said there was a song they were trying to get on the record, and they hadn’t found its voice yet. They said, ‘We’d love to have you come in and give it a go.'” 

Harper plays guitar on Styles’ song “Boyfriends.” When Styles pitched the collaboration, he knew exactly the sound he wanted to create, and Harper was the only instrumentalist that could make it happen. 

“He had asked for a specific guitar, which I loved,” said Harper. “He knew my music well enough to request a specific sound from a specific instrument.” 

To execute the song and bring his vision to life, Harper had to track down the specific instrument. Harper previously gifted the guitar to his daughter, which remains one of her most prized possessions. Retrieving the six-string was far from easy, as he had to ask for it back without leaking the secretive collaboration.    

“She takes it everywhere she goes,” he said. “I was afraid. I was like, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to fly to get it from her? How am I going to pull this off?” 

His eldest daughter, Harris, was happy to lend back the guitar, but skeptical. 

“My daughter reads me so well. When I went to pick it up, she said, ‘Dad, what are you doing? Who are you recording with?'” he shared. “She had an instinct, but I couldn’t tell her at that point, in the event that it didn’t end up on the record!” 

When he finally got his hands on the instrument, he got busy in the studio with Styles. He described the session as a learning experience. 

“I got there, and he said, ‘Let’s eat.’ We ordered food, we sat, we talked, we laughed. The entryway to a good session is through the stomach. If you stop, you break bread, you get to understand where the other person is, where they’re coming from, where they’re going. That kind of set the stage. And then we went in and spent the day recording,” uttered Harper. “When I watched Harry track his vocals, it was a singing lesson in its own way.”

“Boyfriends” serves as the 12th track from Styles’ third studio album. The ballad touches upon men treating their girlfriends with disrespect. Styles pulled from personal experience to pen the reflective Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon-produced melody. 

“It’s both acknowledging my own behavior. It’s looking at behavior that I’ve witnessed,” Styles told Zane Lowe from Apple Music 1 upon release. “I grew up with a sister, so it’s watching her date people and watching friends date people, and people don’t treat each other very nicely sometimes.” 

Harper’s new album, Wide Open Light, is out now. He joins The Chicks on tour in August. 

Photo by Jacopo Raule/FilmMagic

Leave a Reply

Madison Beer Announces Sophomore Album ‘Silence Between Songs’

Ashley McBryde Explores ‘The Devil I Know’ on New Album