Friday’s CD release show at the Music Resource Center is giving songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Harli Saxon a chance to move forward in her career while giving back.
Energized by a name change and some satisfying experiences entertaining larger crowds, Harli & The House of Jupiter will be bringing original “soul punk” stylings from “Deja Vu” to listeners at MRC, where Saxon and her friends spent many happy hours writing and performing their own work and backing up each other’s projects. If you can’t wait for the show to sample the music, downloads of the album’s lead singles, “Easy Anarchy” and “Whatever Tough,” are widely available.
Saxon’s band — which includes guitarist and songwriter Jonathan Daughdrill and drummer Jesse Lloyd, Saxon’s cousin — originally went by Harli & The House of Juniper, because the project initially grew out of a previous drummer’s band named Juniper. The word “Juniper” proved unfamiliar to some people and a mouthful to others, and it frequently got garbled to “Jupiter.”
“Nobody ever got it right,” Saxon said with a laugh. “We sort of got that sparkly feeling inside when we decided on the name change.” Evoking the jovial planet’s reputation for good luck also was a plus for an astrology fan who appreciates serendipity.
What hasn’t changed is the band’s creative blend of soul, blues, punk and metal.
The band recorded its new album at MRC with producer Lucas Brown of Breakers. Daughdrill, Lloyd and Saxon collaborated on “March of the Gods,” “The Reckoning” and other tracks, while others, including “Underground” and “World of Lies,” are ones Saxon has been working on since her middle-school MRC days.
“The songs have been evolving over the years, and it feels like they’re living, breathing beings,” she said.
Saxon comes from an artistic family; her father performs rap and hip-hop, and her mother is a spoken-word artist and photographer.
Saxon was 13 when she won the inaugural Tom Tom Songwriting Contest, but she’d been writing for years by that point. She was 4 when she began learning to play instruments, and family members insist that she could sing before she could string sentences together.
It’s a safe bet Saxon’s earliest efforts won’t end up on an album anytime soon, however.
“I started writing in first grade, and I wrote a terrible song called ‘Pillow Head,’” Saxon recalled with a laugh. “It was not my best work, I’ll admit.”
Saxon grew up watching performers and writers investing time and toil, which helped her hone a strong work ethic. “I saw how seriously they were taking it, and it seemed like an art form was a good path,” she said.
By age 11, she was performing on other people’s musical projects, and they’d return the favor and help with hers. An early open mic she ran with friends became the well-received Verbs & Vibes series, and it served as a laboratory of sorts for her own songwriting.
“I could see what went over well and what didn’t,” Saxon said. “That became my outlet, my practice, for songs I had written. That sort of helped me find my own voice.”
Along the way, Saxon discovered that she loves the craft of collaboration. Poets, rappers, spoken-word artists and musicians of all kinds brought new exciting new ideas to the mix. And at 16, she met Daughdrill, who was in a band that needed a vocalist. Before long, they were practicing music in a garage in Scottsville.
Music began to fill every space on the spectrum from a solitary endeavor of processing life’s ups and downs and teenage hurts through songwriting and home recordings to an art form that blossomed and grew in the presence of creative teammates.
“It turned into this thing where it felt like the universe had gifted me musicians to play with,” Saxon said. “I was so grateful to be able to find other people to play music with. That’s what my songs were waiting for. They were waiting for other people’s input.”
Harli & The House of Jupiter has performed four times at Sprint Pavilion, including opening Fridays After Five twice.
“After we played Fridays After Five, it really sunk in that we’ve come a long way and we’ve grown so much along the way,” Saxon said. “It felt pure. It felt organic. It felt like we were supposed to be in that moment.”
Saxon describes Lloyd as a “powerful” drummer who can transform the sound of a song and Daughdrill as a songwriting kindred spirit. “It was as if we were working on the same songs at different stages of our lives,” she said of Daughdrill.
“We’re all family, and we just hang out together,” Saxon said of Daughdrill and Lloyd. “It feels like a repeat of the open mic family I was able to be raised in and the MRC family I was able to turn to.”
MRC was an important part of Saxon’s life from her sixth-grade summer until graduation.
“It was not just an education on music,” she said. “I felt like I finally had a musical home. Music was an escape from life.”
These days, Harli & The House of Jupiter can dive into serious topics. Songs can address such topics as racism, discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual abuse.
Saxon said she hopes that her band’s songs will resonate with people who are willing to discuss problems in the world and search for solutions. She said she hopes “to just motivate hope, or motivate some sort of action.”
“We can overcome all the struggles that we see and all the trauma that we’ve seen in our own lives,” Saxon said, adding that music can make it easier for people to discuss tough topics.
“People hear a catchy tune and it draws them in, and they stay for the lyrics,” she said. “People will stay for the lyrics once they try them on.
“It’s so important for people to be able to listen to something. I was able to listen to somebody’s words and somebody’s story and say, ‘I can relate to that.’ It resonates on an almost spiritual level.”
Listeners can come away from their favorite songs inspired to take on a task as small as getting along better with people at school or work or as large as working for civil rights. The important thing to remember, she said, is that there’s room for everyone in the discussion — and the implementation.
“Those are personal acts to try to make the world a better place, and we all play a role in it,” Saxon said. “It’s all part of trying to create a better destiny.”