Harry Teardrop’s music is soaked with memories of a nostalgic youth—it carries the idiosyncratic quirk of Napoleon Dynamite and the smooth, collected coolness of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It simultaneously expresses the awkward struggles of teenage-hood and the unconcerned freedom of being young. The visual component of “Mercedes Benz,” one of Harry’s standout singles, is littered with a rainbow of colors and filled with scenes of youth; Harry pushes around on a skateboard in a parking lot at sunset and jams on guitar with his friend in a cluttered garage. While he only has a handful of singles available to the public, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter’s small discography embodies the spirit of ethereal high school summertime magic. Yet, underneath his whimsical mannerisms and unencumbered youth is a skillful musician, focused on refining his production and developing his songwriting.
The transition from sun-streaked California to the less-forgiving urban terrain of New York has been somewhat of a shock for Harry, but the move has made room for personal growth. Originally from Irvine, California, Harry, formally known as Harrison Li, made the decision to relocate and now pursues the study of music at New York University’s prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. There, he’s collaborated with fellow artists whose talent push him to adapt and improve. Future plans for the artist include three forthcoming EPs, slated to release by the summer, that differ in a topical progression, reflecting Harry’s individual growth and the experiences that have shaped him thus far.
As much Fall Out Boy as he is Beach Boys, Harry’s background in music varies in genre and experience alike, allowing him to develop a unique musical perspective that is clearly illustrated in his own music. Late on a Friday night, Harry, tucked away from the dishearteningly cold winter temperatures, calls me from his New York dorm, and we talk about everything from the Jonas Brothers’ come back, snow boots, Bladee, his forthcoming EPs, and more.
How’s life right now?
I’ve been good! I’m working on 1000 Backyard Pools, which is gonna be my first EP. I’m in the finalizing stages right now. After that, I have another EP coming, and then a third one after that. So, that’s kind of the plan until summer.
What does your writing process look like for those EPs?
I try to work every day, but it’s hard because I have school, and I try to hang out with my friends. Lately, I haven’t been hanging out with my friends at all! It sucks.
Because of the EPs, or school, or both?
It’s both. I go to school during the day, and then I come home and work. Also, I’m bad with snow; It snowed a couple of days ago, and I was just like, “I’m not going outside.”
You stay inside all day?
I know people who don’t even buy boots. They’re just like, “Nah, I don’t need them.” Do you at least have boots?
I just got boots recently. I have boots now, but I didn’t at all last year. It was the worst. It’s always people from the West coast [laughs].
Can you talk about how you got started making music?
I started playing drums when I was five, after watching School of Rock. I remember I was in the car with my brother, on this one particular day, and my mom was driving us. We were listening to Led Zeppelin. I was air-drumming, and my brother was playing air guitar. We passed by this music store (this was when I lived in Portland) and my mom just pulled in and signed us up for lessons. That was my first experience with music.
Were your parents the ones putting you on to music?
It was my mom. My brother was pretty young at the time. My mom had one of these mixtapes that her friends made, and it had the Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party: these indie, alternative bands in the early 2000s. That’s how I got into that stuff.
I feel like School of Rock has been so influential recently.
True! It’s such a good movie, I’ve come back to it so many times, and it still holds up. I know so many people who do music who say that movie really inspired them.
Photos courtesy of Drake Li.
Who were your other influences growing up?
Growing up, I would say the Strokes were really influential, and Fall Out Boy, just pop-punk. Green Day. I guess radio pop too. I also used to listen to more aggressive music when I was a kid, like punk. Then, I mellowed out in high school. I got really into the 1975 in high school, and surf rock bands. I would say my main core influences that inspired my sound are My Bloody Valentine, Sum 41, the Beach Boys, Prince, and the Strokes. And Tyler, the Creator.
That’s a very diverse list. How were you finding that music as a kid?
Most of my music taste comes from my older brother, Drake. He put me on to a lot of the stuff that I listened to as a kid. The main influence that I listened to that my brother wasn’t into was the 1975. I was super inspired by their production—the drummer, George, is such a good producer—and also the honesty in their music.
I’d say your music is very nostalgic and heartfelt, too.
Love is my go-to subject to talk about. Even though it’s about [romantic] relationships, one of the main themes is missing someone or having to say goodbye, and that comes from when I was a kid. I moved around a lot for my dad’s job, and I only stayed in an area for three or four years before moving. A lot of times I had to adapt to new circumstances and say goodbye. I think that’s where the nostalgia comes from, like missing where you last came from.
Your lyrics are well crafted and feel poetic. How do you develop your lyrics?
I don’t read as much poetry as I would like to. My mom’s a writer, so I think I get that from her; That part of me comes more naturally than a lot of more musical things. I’ve always been a writer first and foremost. I like combining words that sound weird together but have a good message behind them. I also like talking about scary things—my birthday’s on Halloween! So I’ve always been into horror-type things. I think a lot of people fall in love with music when they’re young, and that’s what they’re trying to get back. I listened to a lot of punk music when I was young, and now I’m rediscovering that. I tend to associate memories of my childhood with that music.
Music has that nostalgic power to bring you back in time… I love the music video for “Mercedes Benz”! Can you talk about how you made it?
I made it with my brother. It was pretty much just the two of us, but we had a group of three or four friends help out on the crew. It was a very last minute thing. We shot it in two days and edited it in two days, and we mainly shot it near my house and around Orange County. I got the idea to stand in the pool pretty early on, but everything else was kind of improvised. We were going for a summery, Californian, early 2000s feel. I think the fisheye is very 2000s, and I grew up on skate videos, so I really like that look. A video I was referencing was “In Too Deep” by Sum 41. It’s a great video, and I love that energy.
Do you associate music with visual components?
For sure. That’s like a compass for me. If I can visualize it, I know I’m going in the right direction. Colors are always prevalent when I’m listening to music, too.
What’s the sample at the beginning of “Chinatown”? It sounds like someone speaking a different language.
It’s a sample from this movie called Chungking Express. It’s about pineapple cans expiring. The main character is going through a breakup, and he’s sad about things expiring. I wrote the song to play at our senior prom since my band was playing. I wanted to write a song that people could slow dance to.
Photos courtesy of Drake Li.
What do you miss about California? And what’s the best thing about living in New York?
The weather there makes me feel so much better. When I was in high school, I took the nice weather for granted [laughs]. I definitely miss my parents and my dog! But New York is definitely more my tempo. I was born here, and I feel comfortable here. I love how the people, especially at NYU, are so creative and motivated. That’s inspired me a lot.
Are you collaborating with people on music in New York?
Yeah, I’ve met some of my best friends here, and I work with them [James Ivy, Caleb Flood, Ally Sianga]. I played music in high school, like in the jazz band and orchestra. I even played in the pit band for the musicals, but none of that even comes close to what studying music in college is like, both from classes and from having friends who are better at music than me. When I got to college, I couldn’t really produce, but I learned a lot from my friends and got better quickly. I still have a lot to learn though.
I know life is hectic for you, but what do you do when you get some free time?
I hang out with my girlfriend, and I hang out with my friends when I can. I also really like skateboarding, but it’s been so cold here [laughs]. I’m not even good, I just like doing it. I really just like making music. I can be pretty boring honestly [laughs].
What’s the perfect situation for someone to listen to your music for the first time?
I think it has to be with your headphones in. Something about listening through headphones makes you feel like you’re in that space.
It’s a solitary thing?
Yeah, that’s accurate. When I play shows it’s fun, but my music is definitely solitary.
Listen to Harry’s music here, and stay tuned for “1000 Backyard Pools” releasing March 13th.