Judd Harris is a New Orleans native, American Idol Season 4 finalist, and singer/songwriter. He’s been featured in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, People Magazine, CNN, and The Times-Picayune and his voice has been heard in numerous television shows and commercials.
He’s opened for Wyclef Jean and Jesse McCartney, and his “Baby Grand” duet with Billy Joel went viral on TikTok, with half a million views. In 2016, he left New York City for the white sand beaches of Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. Now he’s partnered with producer David Schoenwetter (Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright, Death Cab for Cutie), Grammy award-winning mastering engineer Randy Merrill (Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Adele) and session musician Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, Harry Styles, Regina Spektor) to record the music he’s been writing on his Caribbean adventure.
Did you find the isolation of the pandemic conducive to your writing or did it hinder the experiences about which you can write?
I think the pandemic forced all of us to slow down and take stock. Being unable to play shows felt awful at first, but eventually I made the conscious decision to turn it into an opportunity to improve my chops on guitar by taking two online lessons per week, which felt great. And even more impactful was the songwriting project I took on.
I decided to write 30 songs in 30 days, which was an incredibly challenging and educational process. First, I found out that when I put a little time pressure on the creative process, I can make amazing things happen. I’m don’t have to wait around for inspiration to strike—I can just grab it. I also found freedom in removing my internal critic from the songwriting process. When you decide to write a complete song in one day, there’s just no time to stop and perfect each lyric. Just get it down and move on.
And in the end, I actually generated a lot more quality material than I expected! A bunch of those songs (which I eventually did go back to tweak and improve) formed the basis for The Beach EP, which I’m releasing now, as well as Hey Now, the next EP I’m releasing in 2024. So, for me at least, the pandemic was a productive time.
Where have you performed? What is your favourite and least favourite venues?
Obviously, the biggest stage I’ve been on was my time on American Idol. Like many artists, I have dream venues I’d like to play—The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Madison Square Garden come to mind—but I’ve found that the venue is often a less important factor in what contributes to a great show. I remember performing at a dive bar in downtown Manhattan. The show was under-attended because of a snowstorm, but there was this cozy cabin-in-the-woods vibe and the venue was super appreciative that the band had even showed up. With the pressure off, the musicians were super loose, and we played an extra-long set because no one wanted to leave and the connection with the audience was amazing.
Now, living in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, where most people ride around on quads and motorcycles and a lot of venues are open-air, my shows are all affected by the weather. But no matter the size of the venue, there’s nothing like playing music for relaxed, happy, people while the sun sets over the ocean.
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Have you always been interested in music? Was there a particular song/performance that made you say “Woah! I want to do that!”?
When I was a kid, my parents took me to see The Temptations. When they asked for volunteers from the audience to sing “My Girl,” I was too scared to raise my hand. But as I watched each person who went up there try to match The Temptations note for note, I knew I had made a big mistake. I wanted so badly to be up on that stage singing along. When I think about the moment that I first realized I wanted to perform, that was probably it.
Years later I performed at a benefit show for Barrett Strong, one of the songwriters for the Temptations. It was an emotional night watching my musical life come full circle—back to where it all began.
Which famous musicians do you admire?
One of the first three albums I ever bought was Purple Rain, and I’ve been a Prince fan ever since. I often close my shows with “Purple Rain,” and I love the music, of course, but I also admire Prince for other reasons. Yes, he was a virtuosic guitarist, keyboardist, bassist…the list goes on. He was a masterful singer, performer, hitmaker, and business person. But above all that, Prince really set an example of what an artist can accomplish when they work tirelessly. His decades-long career and the vault of music he left behind are a tribute to his otherworldly work ethic.
What are your musical plans for the next 12 months or so?
I’m about to release the second single, “Let You Know,” from The Beach EP, inspired by my time living in the Caribbean. In September I’ll begin focusing on live-streaming to reach fans beyond the white sand beaches of the Dominican Republic. And in 2024 I’ll be releasing my next EP, Hey Now, which is a love letter to my hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.
What makes you nostalgic?
Everything! I’m a very nostalgic person. I think I was nostalgic for my childhood before it was even over. In fact, my song “Endless Days,” out in November, is all about longing for those carefree younger years. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I fell in love with that movie as a kid and made every relative I could find take me to see it again and again. I saw it 12 or so times in the theater and the soundtrack still gives me goosebumps. It’s such a time capsule of 80s suburban life.
If you could learn any language fluently, what would it be?
Living in the Dominican Republic has given me the opportunity to become fairly fluent in Spanish, and I’ve even been able to add Spanish language songs to my repertoire. They’re obviously much harder to learn than new material in English, but my local audience really enjoys them, which is cool. I think if I was going to add another language, it would be French, partly because it’s the second most-used language in Las Terrenas, where we have a huge French expat community. I used to be in a band with a Belgian guitarist and a French bass player, and we had to speak Spanish to communicate with each other. It would have been nice to be able to understand them when they were talking in French!
What is your favourite board game?
Ever since I discovered Settlers of Catan, I’ve been obsessed. I love the original version, but I also play the more advanced version, Cities and Knights, online. Yes, I’m a nerd. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
What would you bring along to an idyllic picnic?
I LOVE to eat, so it’s tough to narrow it down, but my friend Holly makes an amazing pasta salad with tons of dill that would be an awesome side dish. I also love Voodoo flavored Zapp’s potato chips from New Orleans, which are a great accompaniment to any sandwich. But for the main event, I don’t think you can beat a big bag of Popeye’s fried chicken and biscuits at a picnic.
My wife and I once brought just such a bag to an outdoor concert. The guard at the gate said he would have to confiscate our food and I’m pretty sure my wife was going to either cry or fight this guy. She lovingly refers to their biscuits as “salt dusted butter sponges,” and I have been known to retrieve an “emergency biscuit” from time to time at her behest. Thankfully he was just kidding, and we were able to enjoy a delicious picnic while listening to Lyle Lovett in Battery Park, NYC.
What’s your favourite children’s story?
My father made up a character named Murgatroyd P. Finway, III who featured prominently in bedtime stories for my brother, Scott, and me growing up. Murgatroyd got into all kinds of crazy adventures until we were too old for that kind of thing. It was nice to see him reemerge from retirement when my little half-brother, Michael, came along. Maybe I’ll write a song about Murgatroyd someday.
Judd releases “Let You Know,” the highly-anticipated second single from The Beach EP, his forthcoming collection of “the best summer jams you’ll listen to this year.” (Emcee Network)
“If you’re a fan of Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, Sufjan Stevens, Michael Franti, or
John Mayer, you’re gonna want to dive [in] headfirst.”—Disrupt Weekly
Following the “explosive growth” (Chartmetric) of his debut single “Take Me Down,” which
shot to #1 on Music Mafia Radio’s US chart, debuted at #22 on Indie Radio Alliance’s global
chart, and amassed over 16,000 streams in its first month on Spotify—and spurred on by the
half a million view viral TikTok video of him performing “Baby Grand” live with Billy Joel—Judd
has built a loyal fanbase eager for more of his distinctive, soulful voice and “catchy hooks,
introspective lyrics, and rich storytelling” (Popular Hustle)
With “Let You Know,” Judd continues to showcase his range as an artist and his commitment to
creating authentic and relatable music for a wide audience. The raw emotion and soul-stirring
melodies make this song an instant, play-it-on-repeat anthem for anyone who’s ever found
themselves in the overwhelming throes of a romantic crush and struggled to find the courage
to confess their true feelings.
“Let You Know” is out today July 14th on all platforms.
Praise for Judd Harris and “Let You Know”:
“With its infectious melody and emotionally charged lyrics, ‘Let You Know’ is sure to become a
fan favorite.”—Hustle Informer
“A silky, up-tempo number that seamlessly melds catchiness with a sincere message.”—Growth
“In his own brilliantly hummable way, Harris offers a folksy, optimistic point of view that is
desperately needed right now.”—The Big Take-Over
Billy Joel Video: https://www.tiktok.com/@juddharrismusic/video/7182607412816268586
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