It’s a universally understood feeling. It’s Friday. 5 PM crawls toward you at a tantalizingly slow pace. “Bring on the weekend,” you say. “Bring it on.”
These are the words of Elizabeth Harper, lead singer of Class Actress, on their breakout single, “Weekend.” Lauded from all corners of the blogosphere, Class Actress—Harper, along with producers Mark Richardson and Scott Rosenthal—had a big 2011: they released their debut EP Journal of Ardency and their first full-length album, Rapprocher (French for “to come close to”).
Stuffed to the brim with coquettish croons, skyscraper-sized synths, and infectious hooks, this is party pop at it’s finest. The 80s are the unapologetic inspiration for Class Actress: vintage Madonna, Depeche Mode, and the Eurythmics all come to mind. But, with razor sharp production and strong melodies, Class Actress aren’t mere imitators—they make the sound all their own.
And, you can bring on the weekend with them this Saturday when Class Actress make their headlining debut at U Street Music Hall. In advance of their show, BYT had a chance to catch up with Elizabeth, who gave us 45 awesome minutes of her time (in her underwear… for part of it). Keep reading for her thoughts on Gaga, Britney, and Robyn, why DC has so many joggers, and how good it feels to have a sub-bass between your legs.
Don’t miss this show!
WHAT: Class Actress
WHEN: Saturday, January 28 @ 7 PM
WHERE: U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW
BYT: Where in the world do I find you right now?
Elizabeth Harper: Oh my god, I’m actually in my apartment in Brooklyn—I’m so excited.
BYT: You’re about to go on a pretty long tour, right?
EH: Yeah, it gets really crazy starting in March. Next week is DC and Philly, then the West Coast for a little while… then Europe and Australia. It’s going to be a long year of traveling, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m trying to perfect the art of the suitcase, but I don’t think there is one. One of the best things I learned is that dry cleaning is fantastic. You give it to them and it just shows back up in your room. It’s like, that was so expensive and easy. Also, I can just shop. There have been so many times when I’ve gone to Wal-Mart. You gotta get creative…
BYT: So tell us a bit about Class Actress… Who are you? Where are you from?
EH: Class Actress… based in Brooklyn, like most bands, and we make romantic, electronic alt-dance pop. Right? They call it that? [laughter] And, we make dance pop music where you can actually hear the words—I hope. No one listens to the lyrics anymore. I like music where you can hear the words, but that’s just me…
BYT: Where does the name come from?
EH: The name comes from the fact that I love the way the two words fit together—I love the double ‘ss’s on the end of each word, and I was an actress for most of my life. I was going to start a project called Class, but I realized that you can’t Google that. And, one day—I hate to say this but the truth is—it was one of those 5 AM wake ups when you’re really hung over and searching for the water, and I was getting out of my bed thinking to myself, ‘Gosh, who am I, Judy Garland?’ And I realized, ‘that’s what it is, Actress. Class Actress.’ Like, that was so ridiculous—why can’t you just come up with a name?
BYT: I listened to some of the music you put out before Class Actress, and it’s clear that your style has shifted. What changed?
EH: Can you hold on one second? [Pause] Sorry, I really had to get dressed. I was chilling out in my underwear and now I’m in a different room, so…. [laughter] Anyway, TMI. So, I wanted to make dance music all along. I hadn’t really met the right person that was going to help me flesh it out. I had been writing these pop songs and I remember one of the guys in the band I was playing with at the time said, “What’s this Mariah Carey shit” and I was like, “what… it’s… we’re done.” [Laughter]
BYT: The genre you mentioned earlier—the catch all of electronic/dance pop music—recently emerged from the depths of niche blogs to mainstream popularity so much that, sonically, there is now a small chasm between ‘popular’ and ‘indie’ music. At the same time, mainstream glory has eluded many indie artists. What do you think the reason is? Why aren’t Class Actress, Little Boots, and Annie household names when Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga are?
EH: Did you see Madonna’s recent interview when asked how she felt about “Born This Way”? When she called it ‘reductive’? She’s like… ‘look it up’. I thought that was so genius because the truth is—I mean I love Gaga—but she makes bottom of the barrel, bump bump, four on the floor music. It’s pretty like… wahmp wahmp wahmp. I think there is a small, Jersey Shore gap between artists that are trying to keep it sensitive—a little bit alt, I guess you would say—rather than go for the whole Jersey Shore.
It could be the sonic production? It could just be the monster; let’s face it: the major label, the black cloud, is what it is. We don’t have to talk about LDR [Lana Del Rey] but it is what it is. Indie labels promote music in a completely different way. Like, oh, thanks, we’re going to distribute your record, cool, see you at the Mercury Lounge. Whereas, bigger labels with more money, they have like, oh man, this whole, big marketing thing that they work really hard to shove down your throat. And, they’ll work really hard if it works.
Indie labels think they are doing that but they’re doing it at a much smaller scale. When, really, America is a big place. It’s really hard to reach into the depths of Oklahoma. It takes a lot more outreach. Personally, I want Weekend to be on the radio but I’d have to have Jay-Z rap on it and just have Weekend be the hook. Dream! A girl can dream!
[Sings the chorus from Empire State of Mind.] [Laughter]
BYT: How different was the reaction to your music in Europe compared to the reaction here?
EH: People over there embrace it more as pop music. These countries are half the size of Delaware… it’s a smaller place to do outreach. You can be in Sweden and everyone is listening to you on the radio. It’s a completely different beast. It was so great playing France—the fans were fantastic. And Mexico City, oh my god, fantastic. It just depends on the city.
Our music is emo. Let’s face it. It’s emo. So, I would say cities like LA, Miami, Mexico City, Paris really grasp the music. It’s like fashion, emo music, you know? [Laughter] Washington, DC, too [Laughter].
I love DC. You have the smartest people in the world living there, and it’s an interesting crowd. It amazes me, the last time I was in DC, I realized, ‘Oh my god, there are like 100 people jogging right now. Wow, these people are really together.’ This is a type A personality, overachieving city. All this jogging…
BYT: What can we expect from the show? Any tricks up your sleeve?
EH: Pyrotechnics? No—I hope not. We’re bringing our drummer Jeff who also plays in Small Black, and he’s a DC native. We’ll be bringing the beat. I’m hoping that this new club, which we’ve never played at, has a good sub-bass, because that is what it’s all about.
BYT: Yes, it’s enormous. It’s funny—the venue is below a 711, and the rumor is that items fall off the shelves when they turn the bass all the way up.
EH: Oh my god. I’m so fucking excited. Oh my god. I love that. I mean, no offense, but we just played Miami and I remember the sub-base was under the stage, between my legs basically, and it. Was. Amazing. When it rocks the room, I love it when you can feel it in your chest. Maybe that’s from my pre-teen techno days. I like it loud. I want people to feel it. I’ll just make sure they turn it up until something falls off the shelf upstairs. [Laughter]
On an unrelated note, I just came off a Facebook hiatus, and someone just posted, “Worst sighting at the airport so far: a dad wearing Uggs.” [Laughter] Oh my god, I think I’m losing it. That’s when you’ve seen it all…
BYT: I’ve seen more than my fair share of men in Uggs, and it’s never a good choice.
EH: I know, but it’s going to happen. Maybe if it were Enrique Iglesias that’s rocking some Uggs, it would be fine. He’s so beautiful. He looks younger now than he did five years ago. I love that song… that song he has. Yeah—Enrique Iglesias—that is the song that was on the Jersey Shore soundtrack.
I guess, going back to your earlier question, I don’t know what the difference [between mainstream and indie music] is… I love Robyn, though. I’m obsessed with her. Love her, love her, love her, love her. “Call Your Girlfriend”? That SNL performance? Imitating the video? It was so epic. I don’t know… was she ever on the radio?
BYT: Not in the US, I don’t think so.
EH: No, not in the US. In Europe, she’s huge, you know? Everyone’s Ibiza-ing to that song. I don’t want to get too socio-economic about it, but our country is not a socialist place. It’s a consumerist hellhole, corporate-driven, people are just trying to sell people stuff. It’s a fear-based, narcissistic country. If they can sell you something to make you feel like you need something else… they will. The radio demographic is based on that. Let’s face it, you and I are in a very niche group. Everybody in the US is a lemming. ‘I can only do it if you tell me to.’ That’s what it’s all based on… the celebrity magazines, the television shows… like, ‘Oh, I saw that, I need that’. People have not been taught to think for themselves; they’ve been deceived with the idea that they are thinking for themselves, but really—I’m going into Sociology 101 so I better stop. [Laugher].
I drive around America, and I analyze this in my brain. I see it everywhere I go. I drive around this big, fat country and I think, ‘God, this is upsetting. Where am I? Is everyone a zombie or what?’ It’s quite sad to see how polluted companies have made peoples’ minds. The sicknesses of what they need to be happy. Commercial radio, unfortunately, works the same way.
BYT: You can still hear The Eurythmics on the radio, at least.
EH: You can. Well that’s the cool part. They still play these rad pop songs from the 80s and 90s. The 80s is a totally different situation. It’s like pre-hip hop in a sense—post-disco you could call it: post-disco, pre-gangsta rap… that little edge, that little moment in time. After that, you have a whole different situation—bringing sexuality to little kids, like Britney, ‘N Sync. And I love Britney and I love Justin Timberlake. Although, I like Britney better now… I like Blackout. I love the vocals, the deadpan-ness of it… bleh. So good. And, the title of it? Blackout? It’s just so good.
She’s hilarious, too. I follow her on Twitter, and she posted this video of her kids grooving out to some disco video, and it’s hilarious. [Laughter] This kid’s got the best moves. Her as an adult is better than her as a robotic teen.
BYT: I miss her good dance moves, though.
EH: Ah, yeah, the good dance moves. I agree. No one is really doing that right now.
BYT: That live performance of Slave 4 U…
EH: SO GOOD. Thanks for reminding me, I need to buy that and DJ it out tonight…
BYT: Whose music do you get most excited about on the dance floor?
EH: Well, last night, my friend was DJ’ing… you know that fast version of “Love You Down”? I did a whole dance routine to that song out last night sort of by myself to entertain my friends. It was the last song, and I freaked out. 90’s classics like that really get me.
BYT: That’s my favorite era of music. C&C Music Factory, Deee-Lite…
EH: Yes! So good! I need to get those, too. This is the kind of stuff we were listening to when we made the record.
BYT: Well, we’re really looking forward to the show. Thanks for making the time to talk.
EH: It was such a pleasure! Have a great week, I mean, weekend…
BYT: Ha! Yes, I was going to make a bad pun about “Weekend” but I opted not to…
EH: [Laughter] I love puns!