Mandy Harvey had done it again. For the umpteenth time in what had already been a crappy year, the singer/songwriter found herself on the floor of her living room, staring down at the purple bruise that seemed to already be forming before her very eyes. She had run into that God forsaken coffee table yet again, inciting her to hurl a personal barrage of insults toward herself.
But then, she stopped.
“It was in that ordinary moment where I had an extraordinary realization,” remembers the 33-year-old visionary in a recent interview with American Songwriter. “I basically told myself right then and there that I need to love myself more than judge myself so much. Things happen, most of which are completely out of my control. So, it was then that I decided I wanted to write a song about loving myself.”
So, she did. And she named the song “Masterpiece.”
“People try to cherry pick from the moments of their life that are pretty, and only have that be what people know,” explains the Ohio native. “But all of these difficult times and the things that one goes through that are hard and frustrating have made me who I am. I would never want to go backwards and just erase all of that. I wanted to have a song that was an encouragement not only to myself, but to other people, so people understand that they are unique and that their entire journey is worth celebrating.”
Granted, Harvey’s journey has been anything but an easy one. Diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that has left her fundamentally deaf, Harvey first made a name for herself as a contestant on America’s Got Talent back in 2017. In order to essentially make music, she must rely on a series of vibrations, visual tuners and touch points that help guide her both melodically and sonically.
And while Harvey has faced her share of challenges along the way, a love of music has always endured. During her younger years, Harvey was the shy, somewhat awkward student who lived for the school musicals. When her hearing took a turn for the worse during her freshman year of college, Harvey found herself not only in somewhat of a depression, but working in an office environment she never pictured herself in. But it was there, in those cubicles, that she was inspired to write her first song, “Going Home” for a co-worker whose granddaughter had passed away at the age of 15.
“I believe there is a misnomer that you are either born a songwriter or not,” Harvey explains. “I didn’t think I had life to write about when I was younger. I just didn’t think I had that skill set. And after losing my hearing, I had a certain lack of faith and confidence. But when I started breaking those walls down, I began songwriting. Losing my hearing was my biggest fear and it happened, so in my eyes the thing that was supposed to destroy the core of who I was didn’t, so what was the worst that could happen by writing a song?”
Absolutely nothing, she soon found out.
Harvey’s newfound confidence soon led her to write “Try,” the empowering song that she would end up performing for the world and the song that would crack the door open to a whole new set of possibilities.
“I had a song that allowed other people to live in it, and I think that’s a beautiful thing as a songwriter,” she says. “It’s why we write in the first place, to connect with people and allow the words we say be there for someone else that they can use as their own.”
Lest we not forget, Harvey cannot hear, in the traditional sense, the songs she writes and beautifully delivers. Her remembrance of her voice is from a decade ago, when she was just a teen.
“Because I can’t hear, I can’t judge myself or criticize myself or pick my voice apart,” she says with a slight laugh. “I’m sad for people who can hear because they don’t get to experience that freedom.”
And it’s this creative freedom that seems to ebb and flow in every powerful song that Harvey releases, but especially within the lyrical mastery of “Masterpiece.”
“We simply started with a beat and it really flowed out really quickly,” says Harvey, who wrote the song towards the end of 2020 alongside Billy Lefler and Simon Wilcox. “It’s about taking all the pieces and parts and scraps and leftovers of you and taking them and collecting them and putting them back together to create the masterpiece of who you are.”
And it’s the song’s fast tempo that is there to remind listeners that not every sad story needs a sad song.
“I wanted it to be a celebration,” says Harvey of the song that now includes a video featuring people such as Marlee Matlin, Erik Weihenmayer and Kyle Maynard, who have all dealt with their own challenges in their lives. “I never wanted it to be this ‘I’m not done yet, I’m a work in progress’ sort of song. I wanted it to have some fun elements to it because life doesn’t always feel fun and sometimes you need to inject the fun in, you know?”
It ain’t always easy though.
“I never feel like I have all of the answers,” she says quietly. “Every day is a brand-new challenge. But if I can send a small wave of positivity into the world, who knows what it will become.”
COURTESY OF JOE AND MANDY HARVEY; ARTWORK BY EMRICH OFFICE