Ben Harper is no reluctant protester.
On his upcoming album, “Call It What It Is,” out Friday — his first album with the Innocent Criminals since 2007’s “Lifeline” — Harper tackles the issues of race and police brutality head on.
amNewYork had a chance to chat with Harper about the album’s controversial material, reuniting with the Innocent Criminals and the sweaty southern dive he evokes on the title track on “Call It What It Is.”
Talk about that reunion with Innocent Criminals: What brought the layoff on?
What brought on the layoff was the band members taking one another for granted and their need to explore other music.
When you say take for granted, what do you mean exactly?
Innocent Criminals was one of the hardest working bands in the business. We’re talking a month off a year. I should have been a better band leader and known to bring more time off into the equation and I did not. But I won’t let that happen again! There is nothing but open road ahead.
The title track, “Call It What It Is,” is a candid response to Black Lives Matter and police brutality. Are you worried you’ll take heat for the song?
I’m going to take heat for it, for sure. But I’m not worried about that. What I’m worried about is people not taking an honest look about what’s going on and nothing changing. I’m more worried about [that] than people railing against my perspective. If you don’t want to listen to it you can flip a switch and turn it off. But when it comes to social progress you can’t simply flip a switch and turn it on.
Do you feel it’s your responsibility to comment on these kinds of issues?
Well, I was raised in a very socially aware family. ... Throughout my adult life and music, it’s always been a mainstay and cornerstone as to what makes me, me.
“Call It What It Is” is so atmospheric, like you’re sitting in a smoky Southern club singing the blues.
You nailed it. That’s the center of the target right there.
Well then you nailed it!
Then accepted [laughs]. That’s where that song’s supposed to live. That Southern, smoky, can’t deny the blues type sound.