Jessica Harp Biography
Last updated: 04/21/2010
In June 2004, aspiring country singer Jessica Harp packed everything into her car and left her Kansas City, MO, hometown for Tennessee to finalize a recording contract with Nashville indie-label Dualtone Music Group. Fate intervened when her best friend Michelle Branch called somewhere along the way and asked her to form a country/pop duo, which the girls dubbed The Wreckers. A No. 1 country single, a gold album, a Grammy-Award nomination, and high-profile tours with Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban followed, but Harp could never shake the feeling of wanting to show the world what she could do on her own.
Now she finally has that chance with the upcoming release of her major-label solo debut A Woman Needs — a breezy modern-country collection that finds the honey-voiced Harp telling appealingly relatable stories about her life, loves, and heartbreaks on tracks like the playful “Boy Like Me,” the feisty “A Woman Needs,” and the earthy “Homemade Love.” “Country music is about real people and real things, and that always spoke to me not only as a music fan, but as a singer-songwriter,” Harp says. “I like to tell stories with my songs. This is the album I have dreamed of making since I was eight years old and singing along to my mom’s Judds and Reba McEntire records.”
Harp grew up on six acres in a rural pocket of northern Kansas City, and remembers sitting out on the porch with her family playing guitar and singing. “I was a ham when I was a little girl,” she says. “I was always putting on shows for my family.” Raised on a steady diet of country (thanks to her mom’s love for McEntire, the Judds, and Alan Jackson), as well as rock, blues, and folk (Dad’s influence), Harp was given an acoustic guitar and a chord chart at age 12 by her father, who taught her three chords. Hooked, she began to write and eventually perform her songs live on the local circuit in Kansas City. “I’d play at a county contest in front of the Big V Country Mart in my Western shirt and Wrangler jeans,” she recalls with a laugh. In 2002, she released Preface, a compilation of songs she had written as a teenager. “It was my first real recording, so I can’t completely denounce it,” she says.
A development deal with Elektra Records followed, but the label was pushing Harp in a pop direction. “That was when I realized that I didn’t want to be a pop singer, I wanted to be a country singer,” she says. She had just moved to Nashville when Branch asked her to record a group of songs the duo had written during the time Harp had toured with Branch as a back-up singer. The two had formed a close bond on the road and discovered that their voices blended in near-sibling harmony. “I knew there was something special about our voices together and the songs Michelle and I had written,” Harp says. “I thought they deserved a chance to be heard, so I said yes without hesitation.” And so she deferred her dream of being a solo artist to form The Wreckers with Branch. In 2006, the girls released their debut album Stand Still, Look Pretty, which was certified gold and spawned two hit singles, the Grammy Award-nominated “Leave the Pieces,” which topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and “My Oh My.”
“Being in The Wreckers was a fun and exciting time,” Harp says. “It was also a crash course in doing music as a job, as it was my first major-label album, my first time playing on live television, my first Number One single. I look at it as my college experience – Music Biz 101.”
The girls had always agreed that they’d keep The Wreckers going for as long as it felt right. So when both Harp and Branch felt they were going in different creative directions when it came time to record a second album, they decided not to force it. “I think we knew it was better for both of us to move on as solo artists and come back to each other in the future if we felt ready for that,” Harp says.
Meanwhile, Harp had begun writing songs on her own while The Wreckers were touring with Keith Urban in the summer of 2007. She befriended Urban’s bass player, Jerry Flowers, who, in addition to being a musician, is also a singer, producer, and songwriter. Flowers wound up co-writing several tracks on A Woman Needs, including the title track, “Break-Up Song,” and “More To This Than You,” as well as producing the album. “I think a lot of the magic on the record comes from working with Jerry,” Harp says. “We’d already written all these songs together and had a map of the music laid out before we ever set foot in the studio last spring. He’s an incredible talent, plus the harmonies he sings on it are just amazing.”
Urban also appears on the album, providing blistering guitar on “Boy Like Me,” while one of Harp’s heroes, country star Vince Gill sings on “Homemade Love,” a song Harp wrote with another one of her heroes, Darrell Scott (Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Dixie Chicks). “Homemade Love” is an album highlight, with an intimacy and honesty that sets it apart from a thousand other country love songs. “I told Darrell, ‘I want to write a love song, but I don’t want it be a cheesy one that doesn’t mean anything to me,’” Harp says. “Every lyric in that song is real.”
One thing Harp and Flowers knew going in to make A Woman Needs is that they wanted the album to be fun and upbeat. “That was another lesson I learned during my crash course with The Wreckers,” Harp says. “Aside from the singles, Stand Still, Look Pretty is a sad album, and we would play hour-long sets at these big fairs and festivals where people just wanted to dance and have a good time. So I was thinking about touring and playing the songs live when we recorded the album. But I think there’s something for everyone here. I mean, how can you make a country record without songs about heartache? You can’t!”
And how does she feel about finally striking out on her own with A Woman Needs? “In a way, it’s like going back to square one after being in a successful band,” she says, “but at the same time, it makes everything that I’ve done on my own feel that much stronger because I know I have stood on my own two feet and, against all odds, proven myself all over again.”