(Photo courtesy of Louis Rodiger)
Santiago Canyon College

Q&A: CalArts student HARIZ on single ‘Morning,’ classical influence in pop music and his debut EP

The whirlwind associated with college life is amplified when a budding music career presents itself. In the balancing act between obtaining a college degree and spending long hours in the studio writing and recording his debut EP, HARIZ prioritizes music.

The classically trained musician and newfound singer-songwriter with a distinctive pop, dance sound is in his final semester at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Observing the culture of other students and aspiring artists in his hometown of Los Angeles, HARIZ integrates commentary on modern cultural phenomenons prevalent in the lives of young Angelenos into his music.

Recently released single “Morning” centralizes on hookup culture. Instead of going home with someone after being caught in the allusion of glamour or conforming to a new societal norm, he chronicles the opposing scenario of waking up with the person who evokes a genuine connection.

This emphasis on the modern human condition provides a sense of vulnerability and intelligence dripping in his music that builds anticipation for the release of his debut EP.

Tell me about the conception of single “Morning.”

Justin Hariz: That day, I went into the studio and I was thinking, “There’s a lot of love songs pertaining to going home with the right person, having a one night stand or all that.” And I thought, “There’s this whole other side that I think was missing, that was waking up and realizing you’re with the right person.” That influenced the line, “When I see you in the morning/You look even better than you do at night.

It’s less about you looking so great, wearing the right things and the right makeup and all that, it’s more about the real side of someone. And seeing them in the morning is when you’re the most vulnerable, and you’re the most like yourself. Being able to share that with someone, I think is just really… it’s indescribable. So, that was where our jumping off point was, and as far as how the track came together, I wanted it to represent the exact emotional aspect of the concept. It’s very uplifting, happy, fun and light because that’s usually how you feel waking up in those situations.

What occurs from the initial thought for a new song to the eventual release?

JH: It’s a gift and a curse, but I pride myself on being a perfectionist. The actual day of writing the song is the easiest part because it tends to flow out pretty easily. When I walk into a session everybody vibes well, so it’s very easy to come up — if I haven’t come up with a concept already — to be like, “What are we feeling today?” And it all comes together.  When it gets to the actual mixing and mastering, I leave that up to the people who are doing that, because I’m like, “Maybe that snare is too loud? Maybe I should draw the vocals back? Or jam forward the harmony?” And I get in my own head, so I rely on the mastery of others for the mixing and mastering. But I love being apart of the production and the writing. Every artist should really be involved in every part of their music making and no when to let go.

What artists, producers and industry veterans work with you in the studio?

JH: There are two brothers that our producers, Tony and Moon [Ghantous]. It’s hard to detail down because I’m not working with the same people over and over again, except Tony and Moon, because each producer and each songwriter gives you a different style and voice, and it’s great to bounce off of that because you end up with a diverse catalog and like, “Oh, okay, I love the way I said something there because of this. Or, I love the way the music is because of that person.” Another person that is in my close circle that I write with pretty often as well and I think she’s awesome, she’s killing it right now, her name is Dani Poppitt. I love her last name, it’s awesome. She’s an awesome and talented writer. She has a great voice too.

How does your background in classical music contribute to your song lyricism and production?

JH: Classical music showed me a lot of cool chord structures and chord progressions and interesting melodies that, like Baroque, can work for pop music now. That gave me a really good foundation in the way that I write because I know classically what captures people’s ears. And so I use those skills to influence my writing.

How did you establish yourself within the industry?

JH: My uncle gave me for a birthday present these two Yamaha little speakers and a little interface, and I sat at my computer and downloaded Fruity Loops [FL Studio], this really easy music software. And I would produce on my own and make my own little songs and demos. Then I went over to a studio in the valley in L.A. and I recorded three of what I thought were my strongest songs. I sent them out to a couple of industry contacts that I found online and family friends who knew some people that knew some people. I ended up getting in contact with my current manager now, Joya [Pillor], and she started setting me up with sessions and being like, “Okay, here are ways we can grow and develop the songwriting.” I just kept getting better and better as with anything that you practice. Then we started releasing.

How do you balance attending college and producing music?

JH: I go to CalArts up in Valencia, California. And as far as balance goes, I made myself the promise that if it ever came down to school or music [that] I would choose music. So I try to prioritize my life like that. It’s a struggle having papers and homework and quizzes and tests and all that, but at the end of the day, I know where my heart lies without a doubt. Like today, I have a session at 12 p.m. and I have class at 4 p.m. and I’m like, “There’s no way I’m going to make class if I have a session.” But I know it’s important to me and I know what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, so it’s an easy choice.

Pending the release of your debut EP, how would you interpret the overall musical direction of your new songs? And when is it expected to be released?

JH: Regarding the EP, it’s a little early to say because I don’t want to ruin anything, but it’s definitely going to be referencing my old songs as far as style [yet] with a new twist… there’s definitely a voice that I’ve found in my first releases that I want to keep but have definitely molded into a more specific and tailored voice for myself.