The first time he ever tried writing a song, Shane Harper came up with a soulfully sunny pop number that ended up landing him a record deal. Penned when he was just 15, “Dance With Me” gave an early glimpse of Harper’s natural sense of songcraft and knack for creating powerfully resonant pop music—not to mention the graceful musicality he’d developed since teaching himself to play guitar at age seven. After spending the past few years refining his songwriting and opening for artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Demi Lovato—as well as cultivating an acting career that’s included roles in MTV’s Awkward and the upcoming musical remake of Dirty Dancing—the 23-year-old L.A.-based singer/songwriter is now set to deliver his debut EP for Capitol Records.
Harper’s forthcoming EP arrives on the heels of “Hold You Up,” a 2014 single that’s racked up over four million streams and perfectly showcases the gently infectious, acoustic-guitar-centric sound that infuses much of his previous work. The follow-up to his 2012 self-titled full-length debut, Harper’s latest effort finds him expanding that sound to build an ’80s-inspired, more rhythm-driven spin on anthemic pop. But no matter which genre he takes on, Harper instills each song with a heart-on-sleeve honesty that gives the EP an undeniable emotional power.
On lead single “Like I Did,” Harper’s soaring vocals and elegant piano work meet with smooth snap-drop beats, slipping into the tender emotionality of classic R&B to capture what he describes as “the heartbreak of knowing that the person you once loved is with someone else now.” On the dance-ready and beat-heavy “Anything But Love,” Harper explores another kind of longing and conjures up a mood that’s wistful but bright. “‘Anything But Love’ is about one of those situations where you’re infatuated with someone who’s not at all focused on what it means to be loved and cared for—so of course all you want is to give her that,” he explains. And with “Satellite,” Harper serves up an epic piano ballad that’s both anthemic and delicately intimate in its meditation on losing and regaining faith. “Life can be hard a lot of the time, and I wanted to give people something hopeful to sing when they’re feeling frustrated and tired,” says Harper. “‘Satellite’ is meant to be empowering and uplifting, but in a very real and honest way.”
Throughout the EP, Harper reveals an uncommon ability to convey the most subtle and nuanced of feelings. With its easy warmth and genuine spirit, that sensibility shows a sophistication that comes from years of writing intensely personal material. “The EP is me writing my own story, just like I was writing my own story when I was a kid,” he says. “It can be nerve-racking to put yourself completely in a song, but I think that personal element is so important for finding a real connection with people.”
Born in La Jolla, California, Harper was music-obsessed from his earliest years and began performing by playing music in church. At seven-years-old he got his first guitar and learned to play mostly by ear, then honed his skills with the support of his family. “My parents made sure I had a strong work ethic,” he recalls. “They’d tell me, ‘If you want a nicer guitar, you have to learn this many songs,’ so that was a good motivation to learn more and more.” Even as a kid Harper felt drawn to the literate, reflective pop-rock of artists like Snow Patrol and Coldplay, which proved helpful when it came time to write his own songs. “‘Dance With Me’ happened pretty spontaneously,” he says. “I just wanted to write a song about a girl I liked and make it sound like something I’d hear on the radio. For some reason I immediately locked in to the process and understood how to structure everything, so after that I kept on writing.”
Holed up in his parents’ closet with a GarageBand-enabled laptop, Harper recorded his first batch of songs when he was 15 and then posted them on MySpace. Within months he was contacted by Adam Anders (CEO and founder of Deep Well Records, now a Capitol Music Group label imprint), who quickly signed Harper to a development deal. “Before Adam got in touch with me, the idea of having a career in music wasn’t even on my radar,” he says. “Playing guitar and writing songs were just these things that felt natural to me, but then the whole world kind of opened up.” Releasing his debut album when he was 19, Harper soon started playing live and touring, which included opening for such acts as Cody Simpson and Greyson Chance.
In the midst of launching his music career, Harper also found his way to success as a dancer and actor. Scouted at a dance competition at age 13, he signed with an agent that year and began dancing professionally in film and on TV. That led to his acting work, an endeavor that’s included roles on shows like Good Luck Charlie and MTV’s Happyland. “I’m really passionate about acting and music and the way the two of them can join together,” he says. “One of my dreams is to act in a movie and also be involved in creating the soundtrack—I’m just fascinated by the marriage of those two art forms.”
Having recently signed a recording and publishing agreement with Deep Well/Capitol Music Group, Harper’s begun writing for other artists as well. But even with his jam-packed schedule as a quadruple-threat artist/performer, he feels more inspired than ever in his own songwriting. “I’m always thinking of song ideas, and singing melodies or hooks into my phone when I’m pumping gas or whatever,” he says. “Which probably looks crazy to other people—but I think it’s important to stay diligent and recognize that creativity takes a lot of work. When you have that dedication and structure, it allows you so much more freedom in terms of where you can take things.”
With his second album due out later this year, Harper also relies on songwriting for its emotional reward. “So much of why I write songs is that it just feels right and helps me work out whatever I’m going through,” he notes. And with his songs offering such a rich texture of feeling, Harper aspires to help others bring a new sense of positivity to their own experience. “Even if it’s a sad song, helping someone to process their pain can be a beautiful thing in and of itself,” he says. “I want to let people know that it’s okay to go through those tougher moments—and then maybe help them come out of it with a more hopeful feeling than they had before.”