What does it mean to live a life in future tense? To make a decision never to look back? To worry more about the things to come as opposed to what’s happening now? To singer-songwriter Corey Harper, who ends his debut album with “I wrote all these songs in future tense”, it’s a nod to always thinking ahead and hoping for the better.
27-year-old Corey Harper released his debut album, Future Tense, on September 23, 2022, under Range Music/ Virgin. The 11-track album chronicles the end of a relationship and the steps to processing the change; it’s an indie-pop collection that doesn’t limit itself to one sound, rather, it’s an eclectic mix that shows Harper’s range when it comes to making music. In the years before the creation of Future Tense, Harper opened for leading superstars like Justin Bieber, Niall Horan, Julia Michaels, and Noah Kahan; released three EPs; and has amassed more than 400,000 listeners on Spotify.
Harper didn’t realize he could create music until he was seventeen, in fact, he never even saw the profession as something obtainable and thought that “being a musician and doing it for a living is this very, it lives in a far off land that you can’t get to. So it was very obstructed in my mind by many different, I guess stereotypes of what it looks like to really be an artist.” Growing up in a “musical family”, with the voices of James Taylor and Jackson Browne emitting from the walls, Harper was surrounded by inspiration and enveloped in what he could become. “There was something inside of me that sort of pointed to me needing to tell my story with music. Whenever I would listen to a song that I really liked, or heard the music of my parents, that kind of was, like from a young age, screaming at me being like ‘This is what you wanna do’.”
It’s been more than just his childhood that’s influenced his music, though. Harper has spent the last decade traveling around, meeting up with other artists around the world, and using each new location as a point of growth. Having been born in Missouri, a place he only lived until “I was like four, so it doesn’t really count”, moving to Washington, leaving for California, and spending time in London, he describes his need for a nomadic lifestyle so he doesn’t lose interest: “I think it’s just, having this sort of, this same kind of landscape in front of me all the time kinda gets really boring.”
Prior to Future Tense, Harper created Overcast, an EP released on June 25, 2020, which was a two-week project done by the artist and his friend Dave. The EP plays more into Harper’s indie-folk roots, bringing in acoustic guitar notes paired with his husky voice. In Future Tense, Harper shifts from his original genre, defining himself as more than just one sound, and ultimately inventing a heartfelt collection of everything he was going through. Working with his co-producer Alex Salibian (Harry Styles, The Head and the Heart) “tirelessly on sonics”, Future Tense is not only a new chapter in terms of a debut album, but a moment for the musician to show the world his range when it comes to the story he wants to tell. He also adds that “being in a different headspace, being in different rooms with different people” greatly altered his style. “Each song provides like a snippet of like, you know, attempting to tell an audience, through a song, how I really felt, which is impossible in the end because you can never really translate that through anything other than being in the moment and feeling it.”
Debut albums are considered a musician’s most important work, a statement on the kind of person they are and represent their lyrical and sonic sensibilities. While some artists choose to unveil themselves with a full encompassment of their lives up until that point, Corey Harper focused his musical premiere on the ending of a relationship, a time of heightened emotion and a lack of clarity, “For me, the story I wanted to tell was one that I was currently living, and it was just being in a relationship I was kind of stuck in and didn’t really know how to get out of.” Harper was also inspired by artists like James Taylor who produced Harper’s favorite records while they were going through specific hard times: “James Taylor was struggling with heroin, he was getting off of heroin, when he was doing Sweet Baby James. And like, those records, you can hear the darkness and also him struggling, and through that finding himself and being able to get clean, and you can hear it in the music really.”
But, there was more to Future Tense than just Harper’s ending relationship. The eighth track, “One Day”, is a piece about self-analysis and wondering about the person you want to become. It’s a song that showcases Harper’s belief that “the better version of yourself is always gonna be right in front of you.” It focuses on his worries and insecurities, while still comforting the voice in his head that questions whether he’s good enough. These themes of self-doubt, loneliness, and uncertainty ring throughout the album, accompanied by more upbeat tracks like “2 Tickets” and “Villian Of Your Story” which embodies Harper’s strong abilities to deliver a meaningful message without bringing the mood down.
However, despite the praise the album received, Harper isn’t so quick to release a second collection. In an industry where consumerism trumps all, and content is constantly being produced, Harper is in no rush to start the process of another collection of material, “I don’t know if there’ll be a sophomore album soon, let’s start with an acoustic EP and like a deluxe version. So that’s definitely being thought of. But I honestly have no stress when it comes to this sort of thing because I think my fans, and people who know me as a musician, know that I’m not chasing anything other than authenticity in my music.”
Being “authentic and genuine” is Harper’s priority, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling down when he sees the overnight successes of artists due to social media platforms like TikTok, “Like I said, I love people. I love traveling. I love understanding things that are different than the normal things I do. So for me, I’m on there [TikTok] constantly, just like comparing what I’m doing to what other people are doing as far as what their success looks like to them.” TikTok has quite possibly been one of the most prominent social media platforms to develop in the 21st century, allowing artists the chance to blow up with one single video, earning them tens of millions of streams and a cult following. But Harper, while he acknowledges the site’s many business benefits, warns about the issues that can come from quick stardom, “There’s so much along the way of developing a career outside of just blowing up. Playing gigs, playing hundreds of shows, thousands of shows in front of an audience. When your guitar amp turns off and you have to be like ‘Oh my god, I need to like, I gotta figure this out.’ There’s a difference between someone who is a recording artist and a performer. And when you can be all three: a touring artist, a performer, and a personality, that’s where you see people have these mega careers.” Nevertheless, he still sees the major bonuses to the forum, like his primary use of connecting with fans, but remains adamant on the fact that his music will “make its way to people no matter what.”
With a life filled with opportunities, accomplishments, and patience, Harper has developed a name for himself in the industry, never forgetting to be pure and real, and forever tuning his heart to the sound of a song. To a multifaceted question of “What do you love about music?” he has one very simple answer, “That there are no rules.” With complete freedom, and many stories to tell, Corey Harper will continue to write, sing, and produce his incredible creations, always living in the moment but still thinking in future tense.
Purchase ‘Future Tense’ by Corey Harper here.