Boston-based singer-guitarist Erin Harpe enjoys a delightfully schizophrenic double life, serving as both the stalwart frontwoman of trad-blues outfit Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers, and as the platinum-tressed “empress” of genre-mashing electro-funk dance-rock outfit Lovewhip, the latter being scheduled to take the stage at Preservation Pub on Jan. 24.
Harpe recently granted Scruffington Post an interview, via email, holding forth on her own musical history, on the dualities she enthusiastically embraces in fronting two radically different rock bands, and on what we can expect from Lovewhip’s performance when the band takes the Pub stage come Tuesday night.
SP: Your biography says you were grounded in blue and folk music when you moved to the Boston area around 2000. Given that background, how did you end up fronting a reggae/dance-hall/funk outfit like Lovewhip so soon after your arrival there?
EH: I always played acoustic delta blues, solo shows, during the time when Lovewhip was being formed and throughout my career. I was brought up in this acoustic delta blues scene in the Washington, D.C. area. But when I got to Boston there was a really interesting scene that mixed DIY punk with world music. I had just gotten back from a study abroad in Kenya, and I was very interested in starting a band that used some of the influences I’d found there. We were listening to a lot of African music, and also reggae and ska, but coming at it from a punk rock perspective. We actually ended up winning our Boston Music Award in world music — which wasn’t exactly what we were going for. We wanted to be more like the English Beat.
SP: What are the challenges inherent in fronting two very different bands, with very different stage shows/presentations?
EH: It’s actually fun having two different bands, in different musical styles. In Lovewhip I get to make up my own guitar style and I feel like our music is really fun and accessible but also at times pretty groundbreaking. My guitar style is my own and I don’t try to copy other players. It can be pretty out there and psychedelic, and adding harmonica to our sound is unexpected, but it works great. Our show is over-the-top and fun, I wear this blonde wig (which was Tina Weymouth’s idea — bass player for the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club) and we dress like hippy cats from outer space. Sexy ones… Having a different persona and look helped me differentiate the bands. In Lovewhip, I’m Empress Erin, ruler of the electrinc guitar. In Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers, I get to show off my blues and roots side and it has its own appeal. I find that (guys especially) really dig my fishnet stockings, and I’m still doing plenty of soloing on guitar. The main problem that comes up with having two bands is finding time to make albums for each band while being very busy playing gigs. I’m never bored though.
SP: Word on the street has it that you considered retiring Lovewhip a couple of years ago, in order to concentrate on the other band. What changed your mind?
EH: It was a combination of things. First, our fans were really begging us to keep playing shows. And secondly, we just started to have a lot of interest with festials around New England, so we decided to keep it going, and it’s really progressed since then to a new — and perhaps musically our most exciting — period yet.
SP: Elaborate on that. How has Lovewhip evolved since its inception in 2000?
EH: When we started out we were very influenced by world music, and I wanted to have a band that made people move, with original music. Over time we had different line-ups, and different people have come through and left their mark on us, as far as introducing us to new musical influences. The early line-up was much more traditional with guitar, bass, drums with a percussionist and a horn player or horn section. We expanded even more for a while and had a marimba player, keyboardist, and even dancers. We also had an electro period.
Eventually, we came to the conclusion that less is more, and we settled into a four-piece band, where the emphasis is on my vocal, lead guitar, harmonica, and sampler, which adds that electronic aspect. Various members also play percussion and electronic drums.
SP: Lovewhip has a notoriously colorful stage show. What can we expect from your upcoming performance at Preservation Pub?
EH: Expect a non-stop dance party, with plenty of visual stimulation as well. We are a band that dresses up in a fun way and we move around quite a bit on stage. “Lovewhip makes you happy!” is what we like to say. Our original songs are fun and upbeat, and some of them usually have the audience singing along, even if they didn’t know the song. We also throw in some unexpected covers with our own spin, from reggae and ska to ’80s hip hop.
Lovewhip will play Preservation Pub Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 10 p.m.