Out of the blue last September, north Londoner Harlea stunned us with her debut single, the world-conquering, riff-thumping ‘Miss Me’. It sat pretty in several viral playlists, briefly was the top song in Slovenia, racked up over a mighty 100k streams in a week – then she disappeared again. As starts go, it was bold, mysterious and empowering – but that’s just how she likes it.
Now, in 2017, Harlea blends blues, R&B and rock on new banger ‘You Don’t Get It’. If Amy Winehouse had picked up the electric guitar every once in awhile – it’d probably sound a little bit like this. With a year of activity and music planned, the 0e0e Records act is kicking it off with her first live show in the capital next week.
In her first ever interview, we spoke with Harlea about moving to London on her own as a 16-year-old, how she’s been working on her material ever since, why she doesn’t feel the need to “overexpose” herself on social media just yet, and why rock needs more acts like her right now.
Explain to people who have no idea who you are right now, what you’re all about.
“I’m a female who’s creating music in a pretty male heavy genre and I felt like there was a gap in the market for someone with my sound. There’s really few women out there doing it and I felt really passionate about a female pop vocal on real rock’n’roll live instruments. I don’t care if people are thinking that women shouldn’t be doing it. I think we should be doing everything.”
You’ve kept things quite secretive so far – no interviews or social media – was there a reason behind that?
“The world is characterised by over-exposure and driven by social media, and I want to set that as an example to women that you don’t have to play by those rules. You really can push the boundaries and I feel like you can still be desirable and empowering as a woman by not falling into that trap. I want it to be a journey. I want people to find Harlea and find the music and then with that, bit by bit, you’ll learn who I am.”
You moved to London on your own at 16. Must have been daunting, right?
“Yes and no. I didn’t grow up in a big city but I felt very at home when I was in one. So from that aspect the city didn’t overwhelm me, but being that age it was definitely hard because there’s not many 16-year-olds going around London on their own. I was modelling at the time to put food on the table and pay the bills but it wasn’t making me happy, it wasn’t fulfilling me.”
At that point you were working on music – how come it’s taken a while to come out?
“I was quite frustrated at the beginning because I couldn’t get my sound out the way that I wanted it. I was collaborating with people, I was trying to build my skills and learn, so I had to work with people and try and explain to them my vision and I think a lot of people that I wrote with it was more their idea of me rather than my idea of me.”
A first UK live show is on its way next week – how have previous shows gone?
“When I was writing the music, I played a few live shows in LA under a different name. I played at the Viper Room which was an amazing experience but it was under a completely different name, purely to test the waters as we were writing and it actually really helped with the writing. Sometimes you’ve really got to go back and re-work some of the songs because you learn a lot about the music when you play live.”
What’s the endgame for you? Are stadiums and chart domination what you’re after?
“Well you know I’m happy to ride the wave and see where it takes me, but stadiums is I think pretty much every musician’s goal isn’t it? That would be incredible, you know – I wouldn’t turn that down, but, you know, we’ll see where this journey takes me.”
Harlea will play The Lexington in London next Friday (Jan 13)