First Published July 2020
FINDING HER OWN ‘SPACE’ AND TIME
What’s in a name? Plenty. Especially when that name is one like HARLEYMOON KEMP. When I was asked to have a listen to Harleymoon’s single – SPACE – the uniqueness and beauty of her name was what first struck me. ‘Harleymoon’ has a definite dream-like, yet somehow roguish and renegade quality to it, more like the name of a character from a Hollywood masterpiece than that of anyone you might encounter in the real world. Little wonder then, that Harleymoon’s life reads so much like a story from the silver screen.
Harleymoon’s surname certainly adds another level of fairytale-like mystique to things. To those of a certain generation, the Kemp surname means only one thing…Spandau Ballet, one of pop music’s most iconic groups, with brothers Martin and Gary Kemp to the fore. And that very same Martin – more recently a resident of the famed ‘Albert Square’ in London’s East End – just happens to be Harleymoon’s dad. Anyone familiar with Martin’s life story will know he met, fell in love with, married, and has lived happily ever after with Shirlie, of Pepsi & Shirlie fame. Shirlie, of course, is Harleymoon’s mum. Pepsi & Shirlie, by the way-for those who may not know – found fame working with Wham! And that’s how Harleymoon ended up with another of pop’s most influential and loved stars, the late George Michael, as her godfather.
To the current generation, the Kemp surname might first call to mind Harleymoon’s brother, Roman, a presenter on Capital FM in the UK, and one of the latest celebrities to take on the challenge of the Australian outback in I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
But trust me, what Space shows, and shows with some ease, is that Harleymoon is very much on a path to finding her own space and time. And she more than lives up to all those dream-like elements of independence suggested by her name, bringing each to life with the most delightful and liberally applied splashes of enthusiasm, fun, gratitude, ambition, and laughter. Harleymoon is well on her way to writing her very own chapter in the history of the Kemp surname. And everything so far hints at it being spectacular.
Naturally, I said yes to that opportunity of speaking with Harleymoon. And even though it was only a short time after the release of Space when we sat down to chat, the song had already become her very first #1 by the time we did. Now that’s a very special moment no matter when it happens, but to achieve such a milestone with her very first release, well that had to be a real pinch-me moment for Harlemoon. So that was the moment we started with…
“It was quite funny because a friend sent me a screenshot with the iTunes chart, and it had me at number one. And I didn’t notice it because I just assumed it was one of those follow or suggested playlists! But then I saw that it was number one…and I thought, well no it’s not [laughs]. But then, I was like… yeah, yeah, it is. And I was just saying, but it can’t be. Is it?! I got all in a hot sweat and I was panicking all of a sudden, thinking what if it is? Or what if it’s not, and I’ve got it wrong, and this IS just a suggested playlist and this is going to be really embarrassing [laughs]. So I instantly call my brother after seeing it and I’m on Facetime with him. I said, Roman, I need you to check is this right? Or is this just on my phone? And then I could feel his energy start to get all flustered, and he said, ‘I can’t tell! Hold on, I’ll ring you back, I’ll ring you back!’ [laughs]. Then he Facetimed me, and he was like, ‘It’s bloody number one!’ And I was like, what?! [laughs]. Then he’s Facetiming my dad while I’m Facetiming his computer, and I’ve also Facetimed my mum and my dad’s calling Gary [Kemp, Spandau Ballet], and we’ve got this whole ‘in-the-room’ conversation going on from different places over Facetime, all struggling to refresh the page again just to check if it WAS real! [laughs]. It was just really, really unexpected!”
How had Harleymoon been feeling before Space was released? Had she been nervous? What kind of response was she expecting to the song? Or was she maybe just trying not to think about it?
“No. You know what, no. Because it’s been such a long time coming. I’ve always written songs for other people, and I’ve been writing songs for so long. I probably should have released songs ten years ago, but then I was always too shy and too scared to do it. I was always kind of embarrassed about my own…I don’t know…, my emotions that were attached to the songs that only I had written. I think there’s some sort of safety when you’re in a group of songwriters, or you’re with an artist and you’re helping them to write their story. There’s a safety net within that. When you’re completely on your own, I was really nervous to go down that route. So yeah, like I said, it’s kind of been a long time coming. But I’ve been writing so many songs, and I got to a point where I was like, you know what, I love these songs! They were always me singing the demo, they were always songs I played in my car, and I just thought, oh my God, I have to get them off mine and my parents car playlists! [laughs]. Get them on iTunes and out into the world! But I loved the songs. So whatever happened to them, I didn’t mind. Whether it got a great reception, or no-one played it…apart from me, and my mum and dad [laughs]…it really didn’t matter. Because I knew I had to release them.”
Space is such a truly beautiful song, and I love Harleymoon’s own description of it as being, “a song that felt like candlelight”, which is in itself so poetic. But I was curious, because Harleymoon had posted Space on her social media as ‘unfinished music’ back on May 7th, and yet just a few weeks later on July 1st it was released as her first single. So what, I asked, had happened in the time in-between that made Harleymoon decide Space was finally going to meet the world?
“I wrote ‘Space’ in Sweden a year before and we never recorded a demo, we just wrote it in the room and put it to one side. But I was always singing it in my head…[hums the tune]…and thinking oh I love that song! So I always wanted to learn it and play it. Obviously over lockdown music was a beautiful tool to keep distracted and not completely lose your mind! So yeah, I started posting songs on Instagram and all of a sudden loads of people were saying, ‘oh my God, I love this song, are you going to release these?’ And I hadn’t really thought about it…but then I was like, well I guess I could! [laughs]. It was the timing at that point, I thought I should definitely release these songs! I knew I wanted to release songs, I’d always kind of had it in my head that at some point I would, because I have got a catalogue of songs that I love that are written by me and probably wouldn’t sing right being sung by someone else because they were kind of personal. So yeah, ‘Space’ was one of those songs where after seeing the response on Instagram I was like, oh…yeah, let’s do this one first. I wanted a nice, soft and romantic one. It’s so easy to write about pain, and break-ups! But it was lockdown, I thought that I can’t release something depressing [laughs]. I’ve got to stay happy and stay positive! [laughs]. For me, lockdown was…the same as everyone…it was, you know, you can have days where you’re feeling really low and the only thing you want to do is just stay calm, put a nice playlist on, light the candles, and clean your apartment! That was all everyone was doing. So I thought I need to be a part of that conversation. Clam, chilled, relaxing…actually, the more I think about it, it is more and more relevant, talking about being in one space all the time! [laughs]. Maybe that’s why it felt right [laughs].”
While Space is Harleymoon’s first official release, she’s already quite a successful songwriter, writing songs for many other artists as she mentioned. There’s one song in particular, however, that definitely catches the eye. The fact that it’s had over ONE BILLION shares on Tik-Tok probably has something to do with that. Before going into Harleymoon’s songwriting in more detail, this was something I had to know more about!
“I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes person, I like the creative angle of everything. I actually also have a company where we make content for brands. Within that, I get to write songs as well. Because obviously you can write the score to the film of the content that you’re making. One brand said…and it was a really tricky brief…they said we want to go viral on Tik-Tok! I mean, join the club with a billion other people who want to go viral on Tik-Tok! [laughs]. So, I don’t know, it was like a rap. I kept calling myself Nicki Moon-aj [a play on Nicki Minaj] when I was the rapper in it [laughs]. No-one knows it’s me, it’s not got my name on it, it was just something branded that we put out. And it got a billion hits! Just fun and weird!”
Harleymoon is clearly a hugely creative person, being an accomplished photographer as well. And, of course, coming from a really creative family. But as far as songwriting goes, when did that part of her life first begin to take shape, and first start to become an important part of her life?
“I think…I mean I’ve been writing songs since I can remember. I grew up in a house with a stand-up piano in the corner, and guitars on the side. We didn’t know quite how to play, but we gave it a go and made stuff up! [laughs]. I don’t ever remember not trying to play Alanis Morrisette on the guitar, even though it was really bad when I was only ten years old! I started writing when properly, maybe when I was fifteen or sixteen. And that was the age when I really wanted to do music. But I was really shy about being judged. And I ended up taking a different route. But music was always kind of there. I ended up doing photography and that took off, so I kept music for myself and just wrote it at the weekend. By the time I was twenty-five, I started writing songs again and didn’t realise that what I was writing was country music. I just loved country music. I don’t know what happened, all of a sudden I just had hundreds of songs pouring out of me every time I touched the guitar. I just couldn’t stop writing a different song. So I recorded just really basic bedroom demos and I took them to a music publisher that I knew. And in a meeting with them the next day, they were like, ‘Oh, there’s a writing camp in Nashville, we’ll send you there.’ And I was like…what?! I’d only watched ‘Nashville’ the TV show! [laughs]. I’d written these bedroom demos and all of a sudden I was on a flight to Nashville with my guitar! Nervous out of my mind [laughs]. I was thinking oh my God, these guys are going to be big songwriters and I’m just this bedroom demo girl! But then again, I still knew I could write, because I’d just always done it. So I did that writing camp in Nashville, met loads of amazing writers, and then after that laid the foundations to turn it into a career and start writing for other artists.”
Personally speaking, I can say with my hand on my heart that I fell in love with Space within the first couple of lines, because Harleymoon rhymed ‘planned it’ and ‘planet’, and I think rhyme is such an important part of songwriting and great lyrics. So I wondered what Harleymoon’s songwriting process is like, does the lyric lead or is the music her muse?
“It’s definitely lyrics. I am in the story way quicker than I can hear the music. I always describe it like I’m watching the movie first. And then I work out what it sounds like. I was actually on a flight on the way to Sweden, and I was just thinking about a moment, and I was in this space on the aeroplane…and then I realized that, ooh, that’s a romantic moment to be in! So I was thinking how can you play with that, and expand on it. And I kind of didn’t know what the song was. But I had this idea of the memory of being in bed with someone, and just being in this enclosed little bubble of space. And also of just being on another planet with them. I knew it [the song] was there, I just wasn’t quite sure what it would sound like yet. So yeah, my process is a lot like that. The next song, ‘She Looks Like Me’, is so literal to a real moment that happened, where you run into an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend is there. And before anyone has said anything, you know that’s the new girlfriend and you’ve been replaced because she looks exactly like you! [laughs]. The same hair, the same look! Could have been a friend, could have been anyone! But I just knew! And I just instantly had to go home and write down the whole thing as it happened! And then I took it to a session and someone started playing, and I’m like, ok, yeah, this is the feeling. This is where it comes from!”
Harleymoon’s mum and dad, Martin and Shirlie, brought out a beautiful album towards the end of last year. And In The Swing Of It featured a couple of Harleymoon’s songs. I haven’t been able to think of any other songwriter who has written for a project that their mum and dad were actually singing on. So as well as possibly putting Harleymoon in the record books [pun intended!], that must have been a very special project to have been involved with?
“It was really magic! It was so easy to write about them. Or for them. Because I knew their story. And I know what romance looks like to them. They wanted a love album, so they were singing swing ballads, and ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, and old, kind of vintage, romantic songs. And they are so romantic and cute. They’ve been together forever. They don’t go out, they don’t want to see friends, they just hang out together, that’s it. It’s just them two against the world. I could have written ten songs for them. When they said they were releasing the album, I said to the record album can I have a go [at writing for them], because it was meant to be covers. They weren’t planning on putting new material on it. But I said please just let me have a go. So I went into the studio with a couple of friends for a week and came back with two songs. I was glad the record label said yes first, before I said it to my parents, because I didn’t want them to be blinded by, you know, ‘Oh my child’s got a song!’ [laughs]. The record label loved it, the parents loved it. I went to the studio to hear them record it, and literally just wanted to cry. The whole emotional romance that I’d written about them, and then all of a sudden they’re stood in a booth singing it to each other. I just thought, A, this is so frigging strange, for my parents to be singing together anyway [laughs], and then B, they’re singing this love song that I’ve written about them! [Sighs]. It was just so surreal. It was amazing.”