Roger Harvey: Staying Golden.
It is an uncharacteristically busy Wednesday night at 2nd Street Brew House in South Philadelphia, something Roger Harvey instantly notes. Sipping a tequila on the rocks, Harvey, 29, settles into a metal chair outside the bustling pub.
For someone who has toured the world incessantly, typifying the rock star lifestyle, Harvey is particularly soft-spoken. In appearance, he is almost a cliche – long, dark curls frame his angular cheekbones and his clothes are black-on-black. In character, Harvey is sagaciously mindful. Each tale is presented thoughtfully, each piece of the puzzle as significant as the last. He is constantly seeking out meaning, attaching it to everything he can.
“I think it’s part of the human condition,” he says, “to desire and want validation of meaning in the things that you do so you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time and you’re doing something that’s worthwhile.”
Born and raised about 45 minutes outside of Erie, Pennsylvania in what Harvey describes as “basically a farm town, but now it’s a meth town,” he always felt like he was different. At the age of 10, he befriended someone eight years his senior who introduced Harvey to the local punk community he didn’t know existed. Homeschooled from 14 to 16, Harvey later graduated and left for California, staying two years before heading to Europe and then New York City to pursue solo endeavors.
While in New York, Harvey began to seriously write his own music. Though he didn’t initially have the confidence to share it, he tried out an open mic night at a dive bar in the East Village and ultimately landed a monthly showcase spot there.
Traveling is an influential constant in his life and that is reflected in his lyricism. In this modern era of music-making – an industry fueled by social media and driven to entertain, Harvey acknowledges that everything is a learning experience.
“Personally, that’s one of the things I find joy in with making music,” he says. “Constantly learning and constantly discovering what’s good and what’s valuable and being able to contribute to an old tradition.”
Harvey released his debut record, Twelve Houses, in 2015. J. Vega, who recorded the album at his studio in Pittsburgh, says it was all about experimentation and discovery, and was created with the intention of requiring repeated listening.
“Big recurring themes were transformation and dreams,” Vega explains. “So the production had to be very visual, cinematic, endlessly moving, transforming.”
At 2nd Street, Harvey switches from tequila to Miller Lite, saying “the cheaper, the better. I don’t really care about craft beers.” He then explains his next record, a project for which he’ll be venturing to Music Row in Nashville to collaborate with Justin Francis and Adam Meisterhans (of Rozwell Kid), will be nothing like Twelve Houses. He hopes to create an inherently sparse record, simplified in production but saturated in meaning.
“It’s more so about what it’s like to exist in this time and live inside of a phone, and how that’s basically deconstructed our ability to feel anything,” he says, adding that he may want to call the record Gold, somewhat ironically. “But also in a way to exemplify the lack of value in anything, the deconstruction of value in anything because of our desire to find gold in all the wrong places.”
After years of not really having any roots anywhere, Harvey came to live in Philly when an opportunity came up to move into a room in the Dickinson Narrows neighborhood in South Philly. He praises the support he’s experienced since settling in. The local music community has been both unusual and special, especially compared to New York, where there’s essentially no communal support, he says.
Tom May of The Menzingers is someone Roger cites as being especially welcoming and supportive, and May reciprocates that love.
“He is a well-traveled man with stories as good as they come, and I think his accepting and curious approach is a fresh one,” May says. “He’ll be influencing songwriters and musicians with his music, and I think he may have an equally large influence through his personality. He tends to really bring out the thinking-person inside of those around him. In that regard, the more musicians and people in the scene he meets, the more he’ll be shaping their lives for the better.”
Harvey notes that after spending his summer essentially stationary in Philadelphia while writing new material, he is particularly excited to travel again. He has a few things lined up, including an upcoming European tour with Bouncing Souls and The Menzingers, but ultimately doesn’t quite know what the future holds. Aside from continuing to put thoughtful meaning into his music.
The bartender begins stacking the outdoor tables and Harvey shifts in his seat. He reaches for his beer while watching a motorcycle rev down the street.
“Promoting and supporting positivity is so important,” he says, sipping the last of his drink and placing the empty bottle in front of him. “Because almost everything is negative, and it affects us in such a deep way.”