Elizabeth Harper waited a long time for something like Class Actress. Before becoming the frontwoman for the ineffably cool electro-pop trio, she was a singer-songwriter underwhelmed with her creative role. "It's kind of like when you're young and in college and listening to Elliott Smith," she remembers with a laugh. "I was more concerned about melancholy than about movement."
In lieu of her acoustic guitar, Harper was desperate to back a good synthesizer. Her ambitions finally materialized when producer Mark Richardson came along to remix one of her solo songs. And with the addition of Scott Rosenthal, Class Actress began taking shape in early 2009.
Journal of Ardency, the band's debut EP and definitive document (so far), was wholly worth the sacrifices of those other bands. It's electronics-based and easily sounds like something that could been released in the 1980s, but it knows the power of restraint. Journal's slinking title track is its most delectable treat and the greatest indicator of Class Actress' capabilities. The synth ebbs and flows with remarkable poise, establishing a melody without going over the top, all while Harper's voice aches and sways delicately. The EP also smartly juxtaposes the sexiness of "Journal of Ardency" with the autumnal, cooing "Let Me Take You Out," a partial Smiths tribute where the synth somehow feels lighter and more vulnerable. The effectiveness of their minimalism can't be overstated.
It's hard to pin down why Harper maintains the fondness she does for the '80s. At one moment, she sounds unsure of why people so frequently link her group to that period, but she also freely showers the decade with affection. "I think '80s music was amazing. It was the beginning of synth-pop," she says. "From '80 to '90, there was some cool shit going on, until it got all into digital synth and went a bit more Enya." There are a number of reasons possibly explaining this devotion: Harper effusively praises Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses (1987) and Violator (1990) as well as Madonna (especially "Borderline" off her 1983 debut), and the warm sound of old analog keyboards. She adamantly contends that this doesn't stem from nostalgia. "[In the '80s], I was getting driven around by my parents, in the back of the car with the radio on."
With a full-length from Class Actress due soon, there's an excellent chance that Harper will hear more invocations of that decade, but she doesn't mind the associations with '80s music. She's even willing to offer a coy half-joke/half-truth at her act's expense. "One time, someone asked, 'If you were a cover band, what band would you be?' I said, 'Aren't we already a cover band?'"
-- Reyan Ali
Class Actress with Larry Tee and MillionYoung. Friday, March 11. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $10 via wantickets.com. Call 305-379-0508 or visit thevagabondmiami.com.