Since the dawn of time, the art of song has been a crucial way that we have passed traditions, invoked protests, commemorated the good, memorialized the bad, but most importantly—was the most powerful form of story telling. Songwriters have been, and continue to be, regarded as philosophers throughout the ages as their words are still blasted, worshipped, and played on loop until we memorize every syllable.
Although we live in an era filled with excess; one thing we have lost is our mystical sense of story telling. We can point fingers all day blaming the record labels, scene kids, the government, or our outrageous love of over-the-top luxury—the bottom line is we, as a society, miss a good story. The good news is this; some of these astute sages have survived the test of time, and still scribble words of beauty, triumph, and pain in their notebooks.
Harrison Kipner is one of these storytellers. Self-described as “sunny and sour,” Kipner is everything we miss about the free spirit of 1960s Woodstock. His words are honest, brutal, uplifting, and alluring—think of a modern-day Bob Dylan with a larger vocal range. If you are looking to get back to the roots that music was founded on, take a listen to Kipner’s tunes. Every song is a deeply rooted story that draws you in for more.
I must take this time to note that throughout my time spent as a writer, I have never been asked to interview anyone during an exploration session at the aquarium followed by a filling meal at Hooter’s. In all honesty, Kipner had me at “sea lions and penguins.”
He’s a 3rd generation songwriter.
Harrison Kipner: I am actually a third generation songwriter. My grandfather was a songwriter, and my dad is as well—both were very successful. My grandfather was in the war then headed to Australia—he wasn’t even musical at all, but he bought a studio. Long story short, he ended up producing The Bee Gees second album, and was the driving force behind their fame. My dad grew up with them, and ended up writing a bunch of crazy songs. “Let’s Get Physical” by Olivia Newton John is an example. He was always working at home, so I grew up with him always being around. Honestly, I never liked music at all; I would just go in the studio to hang out with my dad. I think it was because my grandfather was so hard on me, and told me I had to be a songwriter. I only started getting involved in music after my grandfather passed away because of this really.
The 5th (or 6th) song he wrote was recorded by Cee Lo Green but never released.
HK: When I got home from college I wrote a few songs with a couple producers, because I didn’t know how to do that, and I lucked out. The fifth or sixth song I recorded, Cee Lo Green heard, recorded, but never released it. Because of that song, I got a song cut with Nelly (the rapper). The song is called “Hey Porsche.” That song really kicked off my musical career. The funny thing is it was originally an indie-pop song, but they completely changed the concept and melody to mold it into what it has become. It’s rad.
Who’s an artist who inspired and shaped your career?
HK: That’s a tough one, but I am going to have to go with my dad. He’s an artist and a songwriter—he’s a master of the creative mindset. He is also a master of positivity. As a songwriter, you get so much rejection. As an artist, you create barriers around yourself by saying, “If they don’t like it, that’s ok—they just don’t get me.” However, as a songwriter, if you aren’t getting cuts, you aren’t getting paid or putting food on the table. He always knows how to work through those feelings. His songs are also very well rounded—they do what they are supposed to do. Also, Phantom Planet, they have been a huge influence for me. Their singer, Alex Greenwald, is such a star and so cool to me. His voice is so good that I just freakin’ hate him (laughs).
Your music sounds like…
HK: I would call it sunny and sour because I am a very happy and lucky guy, but I feel what everybody else feels at the same time. What I have noticed in my own songs is a lot of my melodies are really happy, but my lyrics are really honest—even negative or sour at times. If it’s too happy, it’s boring. My song “1234 Your Love,” sounds like a really positive song, but it’s about killing somebody for a girl (laughs). It’s dark with a smile.
The inspiration behind your lyrics?
HK: I get it from my friends, and stories I make up—I actually make up a lot of stories. Some of my songs are true, and some of them aren’t. No one can ever tell which is which. I like to imagine situations, like a girl getting kidnapped then I have to get in my car to save the day. It’s like I imagine this scene that never happened, but because I can see it so vividly—I can write about it. I’m like a short story teller in all reality.
On ‘The Fear’
HK: There was a lot of musical freedom [in the ’60s], especially with the audience. Today, there is a fear that the audience won’t get the music. You’re told to not put “weird chords” in the song because everyone has to understand and relate to it. In the ‘60s, they did whatever the hell they wanted. They had songs that were two minutes, and they just didn’t care! We are so stuck in structure today—it’s so hard to break out of that. There was more respect for the listener back then.
On letting out your inner monster.
HK: I always felt like I was slapped around in grade school. I never felt cool, and I was afraid to stand out. I was so scared. I can’t stand bullies—that’s just my thing. It’s always been my mission to make it big, so I could look back and say, “screw you” to all of them. “Monster” is an ode to the fact that I was quiet, but when I am pushed hard enough—I will go insane. We all will. Everyone has that in them. We can only be pushed so far. However, the truth is that the coolest people are usually the people that are always bullied because they are doing something different than the norm. It’s a rally call to those who are quiet and need to let out that inner monster.
The most authentic song he’s written.
HK: It’s called “Tiny Room.” I actually haven’t released it yet, but it is the most authentic song I have ever written. That is a big deal to me because the biggest issue and insecurity I have always faced was that I never felt that I had a musical identity. I knew I was good at writing music, but maybe I don’t have a unique voice. However, this song answered that irrational fear for me. It’s an awesome feeling.
HK: The Troubadour. I just want to rock out there—I mean completely shut it down. Crowd surfing included.
Since you’re allergic to wheat and dairy—what junk food do you binge on during your late-night jam sessions?
HK: I love Asian food and Thai food. I always get Mao’s Kitchen in Venice. They are the best.
On being fearless.
HK: I am going to try and do open mics every week. I like finding out what the people like—that’s the way to do it really. Other than that, I feel like there are all of these songs I haven’t met yet—I want to collect them. I want to collaborate with other people down the road, but right now I want to do my thing. Ultimately, I want to be able to look back one day and feel that I was fearless in making music.
Advice for newbs.
HK: Be as independent as you possibly can. It’s so easy to say, “I’m a singer,” or “I’m a guitar player,” but that doesn’t work anymore. It’s like, “So what? A lot of people can do that; what makes you special?” Learn how to write, produce, and get your own songs out. Record in your bedroom if you have to! Learn as many tools as you can, and stand out.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DOMINIQUE ZAMORA