Q&A with Ben Harper

The blues artist on his love of skateboarding and favorite books

“The one moment that really stands out in my career is winning a Grammy with Charlie Musselwhite,” says musician Ben Harper. The duo, who won for Best Blues Album with Get Up!in 2013, recently teamed up for a second collaboration: Their new record No Mercy In This Landdebuts March 30. We caught up with Harper about the evolution of their friendship, how he stays fit on tour, and more.

What was the inspiration for your new album?

“A love of songwriting, a love of the blues, and an absolute reverence for Charlie Musselwhite, the greatest harmonica virtuoso.”

What makes it unique compared to previous records?

“It shows a great deal of progress in production, songwriting, and the growth of our friendship. Camaraderie is such a big component, after so many years of knowing one another there’s a shorthand on and off the stage, a sort of telepathy that goes on creatively. We have this generational distance [Musselwhite is 74 and Harper is 48] but it’s not a gap. There’s beauty in the separation that is an important part of the sound and tone that links what’s new and old and makes it the third entity—what I hope is a fresh sound in the blues.”

What is your fitness routine like? 

“Skateboarding is something I’m just as passionate about as music. I usually skate five days a week for no less than three hours a day. It’s been my heart and soul from the time I was a kid and where I find focus and the discipline to push myself. Before I skate, I do a very thorough stretch routine.”

Does it change on tour?

“I still like to find the time to skate whether it’s on my two to three days off a week or even after a concert. When I’m on the east coast and it’s cold and raining that definitely throws a wrench into things but I’ll look for a parking garage. There’s an underground circuit on blogs to find the best ones. And if that fails, I’ll do a few miles on the treadmill.”

How do you stay mentally fit?

“I always have my nose in a book. Right now I’m about to finish Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Once you commit to it, it really rewards your commitment, but I’ve probably read five books in the meantime. I just finished Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography.”