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Make the Most You Thing You Can Think Of with John Harvie

All photos by Acacia Evans behind the scenes at the “Beauty in the Bad Things” video shoot

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of musician and TikTok sensation John Harvie until sometime in March this year but, after listening to his stuff, I find myself adding his songs to playlists. There’s a sort of enthusiasm to Harvie that can’t help but suck you into his particular brand of pop-rock—especially if you spend some time talking to him and discover that he really is that earnest. 

When we catch up over Zoom, Harvie immediately turns on his camera so we can have a face-to-face chat. He’s dialing in from his phone so the angle shifts every so often as he adjusts his sitting position but it somehow gives our conversation even more of a casual vibe—like FaceTiming with a friend. He’s just driven back to Nashville from his hometown of Louisville, a three-hour journey. Right away, I know I’m in for an enjoyable interview experience when I ask him if he has any go-to road trip songs and he laughs. “You’re going to make fun of me,” he says before admitting “I was listening to my own music.”

It’s a good way for him to think about his art, to decide if it’s working or not. “I’m my own research and development,” he jokes. “I’m so picky and judgy. But if I like a song, I like a song.”

For Harvie, music has always been a big part of his life. Growing up with a pastor father, he played for the youth groups in his church, both during the week and on Sundays. In high school, after a football injury put him out of commission, Harvie joined his first real band. “I started playing these little shitty underground shows in Louisville, and just cut my teeth performing live.” From then on, music was basically life. “I’ve never not been in a rock band. I was even in a band in college with all my fraternity brothers, funny enough, but it was just great.”

College is where Harvie got serious about his craft. When I ask him to tell me his origin story, he chuckles. “I’ll try to tell the quick version. Every time I tell it, I feel like I start rambling.” I don’t actually mind the longish version he ends up sharing—Harvie has a personality that’s both laidback and lively (if that’s possible), keeping things informal and friendly yet entertaining. 

“I’m my own research and development…I’m so picky and judgy. But if I like a song, I like a song.”

The scene is Middle Tennessee State University. Harvie was originally studying music business but it wasn’t the right fit. A switch to commercial songwriting in his junior year seemed more promising . . . and then COVID hit and he found himself, like so many other college students, re-thinking his future. 

“I didn’t even get candidacy into the music business program, which is like the golden ticket to actually take the core classes,” he explains. “And so I just took a leap of faith. I felt like the school did a really good job of preparing me with knowledge of the music industry. And I felt like I had to get that real-world experience and just figure it out. I’ve never wanted to do anything other than just be a musician.”

So he dropped out in the fall—“October 28 [2020] was the exact date”—and started working at UPS (it’s a good way to pay the bills). And then he did what so many of us did during the pandemic: He turned to TikTok and started experimenting with covers and clever videos. Unlike the rest of us, though, Harvie’s content took off in ways he couldn’t have imagined. “New Year’s Eve, I had a video go viral and I woke up the next day with like 13,000 followers or something like that, and I was like, holy shit, this is crazy.” Not bad for someone who had been reluctant to start messing with TikTok in the first place.

All photos by Acacia Evans

Once he had the momentum going, Harvie went all in. The next video he posted got over one million views and he realized that his first viral video wasn’t a fluke—he was onto something good. “Labels started hitting me up and I was like, this is nuts. They love my voice, they believe in the sound. And I only had three demos to my name at the time.” A conversation with a lawyer—“she’s the sweetest person in the world,” he gushes—introduced Harvie to a number of co-writers in Nashville, taking him out of his comfort zone of working on songs by himself in his bedroom. More labels came knocking but Harvie wasn’t done building leverage for himself. “I was still doing the TikToks and was like, fuck this. Like, let’s give them a reason to sign us and put some money on it.” Picking a date to drop a single gave him a goal to shoot for so Harvie and his manager, Cabe Kelly Wyatt, started putting together release plans. 

When Harvie gets to this part of his story, he becomes even more animated than before, pausing for a second to take a sip of water before he launches into it. “My headlight and taillight were out on my car at the time because I was so broke and I was like, dude, how funny would it be if we got pulled over and showed a cop our song to react to it?” Harvie was prepared to fake an interaction but “lo and behold, it actually happened.” After being pulled over and handing over his license and registration, Harvie planned to ask the officer to listen to his upcoming single, “Bleach (On the Rocks)”. As luck would have it, the cop was an old high school buddy of Wyatt who was also in the car and he gamely took part in the, now, viral video.

“Let’s give them a reason to sign us and put some money on it.”

“I posted it and it went viral and it was awesome. And pre-saves went through the roof and all these other Instagram accounts started posting the video and when the song dropped it naturally went crazy and blew my expectations. We got like a million streams in 18 days or something like that. It was so nuts and it was all natural because I didn’t get on any playlists or anything like that. It was just people fucking with the song and sending it to their friends. We built off that momentum and dropped my second single, “Alaina”, and then that just ended up doing really well. So it’s been absolutely wild. But yeah, I got to quit my job at UPS, so that was great,” he laughs.

Shortly after “Alaina” was released, 300 came calling. Harvie had offers from other labels but after talking to 300 Entertainment (which Warner Music only this month combined with Elektra to create 300 Elektra Entertainment / 3EE), they really clicked and he knew he had to sign with them. “They just have such a badass attitude of ‘they just want to win’ and they’re very competitive with their artists.” This is an attitude Harvie himself can relate to and he enthuses, “They let me do what I want, which is awesome. And they don’t get in the way of the music or the creative process. They’re like, we believe in you and your sound and your songwriting. We want you to make the most ‘you’ thing you can think of.”

“I mean their slogan, literally, Fuck the Cake. We Want the Bands. And so it’s like, I feel that way. It’s like, yo, fuck the money. Advances only go so far, you know? It’s about making great music. That’s what’s going to get you paid at the end of the day.” Of all the labels he spoke to, Harvie felt that 300 was the one that would have his back the whole way through. “That’s why I went with them, they’re for me and they want to win. Those are the two most important things you can look for when you’re with a label. Who’s going to be with you when you fail, you know? I felt like they really believe in me and they’re going to put me in the best position to win awards someday. I love music, but I’m also very competitive and I want to be the best.”

All photos by Acacia Evans

Harvie muses for a minute. “You know, I watched the Grammys…it got me amped up. It’s like, I’m going to be there someday. I don’t give a fuck if it takes me ten years, I want to win a Grammy. And that’s one of the biggest things I told [300]: I want to be the first artist that comes out of people’s mouths when they think of rock artists. And they loved it, it amped them up just as much as it did me.” 

Though he considers himself a pop-rock artist, Harvie draws inspiration from a number of bands across different genres. “Two of my favorite bands of all time are Linkin Park and Foo Fighters.” He pauses, visibly upset. “Rest in peace, Taylor Hawkins, that fucking sucked.” Despite being a pastor, Harvie says his dad is a huge rock fan. “He grew up listening to Def Leppard and Metallica and shit like that. But in the car on the way to school, we’d listen to Muse and Fall Out Boy and all sorts of these rock artists and the Christian hard rock artists like Red and Skillet.” He grins. “Being from Louisville, everybody listens to pop, like Top 40 radio. And so I love pop music too.”

With such broad inspirations, Harvie has had time to really develop his sound and figure out the direction for his first album, Told Ya, due out August 26. “It’s a very poppy take on rock music,” he explains. “I like to think of myself as a pop artist that has fucking badass loud guitars in the song. I don’t really know how to put this music into a box. I guess because it’s kind of all over the place and it has so many influences.”

Can you spot the idobi Asst. Program Director and show host on this cover?

Harvie is obviously proud of each song on the upcoming record—“we wrote upwards of 70 songs and we cut it down to 13!”—but like any artist, there are a couple of songs he’s especially excited for people to hear. “There are two that aren’t going to be singles that I’m so stoked about. One of them is called “Paint My Lips”, and that’s like the super poppy song on the record, and it’s so badass. It’s just like a walk on the street and feel-good type of song, but it’s like super driving.”

“And then there’s one of the rockiest songs on the record called “Not Another Song”, a straight-up fast banger. It’s literally about not writing another song about a girl because I feel like all I hear are songs about girls now. That was just my way of being like, yo we’re only writing songs about girls just to get paid and just to be able to live. And that one’s just so fun and fast and big.” Based on the descriptions, these songs perfectly capture Harvie’s youthful exuberance and I can already imagine them as the soundtrack to every TikTok and Instagram Story once summer starts.

Harvie seems to be thinking along the same lines; releasing the album in the summer is the perfect timing in his opinion. “This album is very coming-of-age and the whole record is just my experiences as a college kid and [then] a college dropout. And just like the good and the bad, whether it be with girls or mental health and my personal stories of going out and just being a kid and not knowing what the future holds for you. It just sounds like a summer album and people always remember the album of the summers of their youth, you know?”

Though the album is basically done, Harvie is far from finished when it comes to promo. The weekend before our chat, he was shooting a video for his final pre-release single, “Beauty in the Bad Things” (co-written with his friend and fellow artist, Charlotte Sands). He won’t give me the details since I don’t want to spoil it, but he does share a fun Easter egg: “There’s this line in the second verse that talks about meeting myself when I was 12 and what I would say to myself…so without giving away too much of the storyline, my younger brother, Parker, who’s 11 plays the younger me in the music video. He actually looks like me, go figure. It’ll pull the heartstrings for sure because it’s a really big emotional song.”

Harvie, the oldest of five kids, isn’t the only one in the family with a musical bone. He’s proud of his younger brother’s appearance in the video, saying, “He’s a great singer and it would not shock me if he becomes an artist one day. And then my other younger brother is about to go to college and he’s a drummer but he’s going to study music business at the same school that I did.” It’s possible that his brothers have been inspired by his own success, which Harvie embraces, happy to share his passion with them.

Sharing the stage, however briefly, with his siblings isn’t the only part of Harvie’s adolescence influencing his career. He dreams of playing certain venues tied to his youth. “I really want to headline and sell out the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, where I went to high school, and I want to headline and sell out Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. It’s just like the two hometown venues that I grew up going to shows . . . if I could sell out two shows in those two cities and just put on a badass performance, you know, that’s the ‘you’ve really made it’ thing, in my opinion.”

All photos by Acacia Evans

At least this year he’ll actually get a chance to play a handful of major venues when he heads out on a fall tour with Shinedown and Jelly Roll. “I’m so ecstatic because Shinedown was one of my biggest inspirations as a kid. I always used to listen to them and I got the great opportunity of meeting them while I was talking to another label. And we just built this really great relationship and they just really loved the music and you know, kept watching me and my very early career happening. And they just gave me the opportunity to go play arenas and pavilions and amphitheaters and stuff like that. And I just couldn’t not take it.”

Touring with some of his childhood heroes is a goal that Harvie can now check off his bucket list but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming even bigger. “Producers and mixers and whatever songwriters are all incredible. But, you know, there’s nothing in this world that I would love more than for Dave Grohl to drum on one of my songs. If Dave Grohl jumped on one of my songs, I would shit myself. Like, that’s one of the craziest things that I could ever think of in my life. And if I got to collaborate with Dave, my life would be made.” He’s practically jumping off his couch at the thought. “I can’t even think of words right now and I haven’t even spoken to him ever! If that actually happened, I would be so ecstatic.”

“If Dave Grohl jumped on one of my songs, I would shit myself.”

While Harvie isn’t working with the likes of Dave Grohl on this album, he’s more than proud of the team he put together. “I feel like one of the things that have set this project apart is that there’s really no major songwriters on this first record. It’s all DIY. Like I would say about 90% of the songwriters on this first album don’t even have a pub deal. It’s just people that I believed in, that I thought had great songwriting ability, and that deserved to be put on the map and deserve to be seen by these other people and musicians and songwriters.”

“And so that’s been my favorite part, it’s just me and this group of fucking unknown misfits in Nashville that are coming for blood. And we want to show people that Nashville is more than just country music, you know? There’s so much rock and pop and hip-hop and all other sorts of genres here. And yeah, I’ve been very proud to write with those songwriters to give the world an album I feel like nobody’s ever heard before.” It’s hard not to be swept up in Harvie’s passion and love for his music. He keeps the conversation going and doesn’t hold back, unrestrainedly sharing his thoughts, dreams, and plans—and he has a lot of them.

Harvie is the first to admit that he’s a workaholic, dedicated to his craft—just look at the numbers on his TikTok account. “I have to be creating,” he says, whether it’s lyrics or melodies or TikToks. Otherwise, he relaxes by playing video games, especially if they’re sports games. “I’m a huge sports guy, especially NFL football. That is like the one thing I religiously watch.” He offers an interesting comparison, one I’ve never considered before: “Being a musician is like being a professional athlete…I feel like we share very similar mindsets to how we need to take our work seriously and how we need to prep. And getting my body very physically prepared to play live shows and to build my stamina and the ‘how bad do you want to?’ attitude.”

One of the documentaries Harvie’s been watching—and one he’s connected with—is Tom Brady’s Man in the Arena. “He wants to be able to prove people wrong, to prove to himself that he can be the best. And, you know, I feel very similar in that way. I want to share that mentality of ‘I can do this’ and ‘I have to prove it to myself first before I prove it to everybody else.’ And I just think it’s really cool and inspiring.” 

“Build your team and find people that believe in you…”

That being said, Harvie knows that the secret to greatness isn’t actually doing it all by yourself. Sometimes, you gotta bring in a team (there’s another sports metaphor in here somewhere). “A lot of people try to do things on their own and they try to take so much on by themselves. And I can’t emphasize how important a team is and the people around you who believe in you, just having people that you trust.” He gets serious for a minute. “If I’m being frank, there are a lot of what I would call snakes or people that would like to take advantage of you. I feel like we’ve done a very good job from the beginning of building a really intentional team that believes in us and that knows that this is a process and they’re not in it for the money, they’re in it to make great music.”

Harvie ends our call with these thoughtful words of wisdom for artists at any point in their career, “Build your team and find people that believe in you and trust other people to do their job so you can do the best job of doing your job, which is writing songs and great music and making awesome content.”

All I’m saying is if you’re going to take content-creating advice from anyone, make sure it’s the guy who built a name for himself and his music while amassing over 136k followers on TikTok. He may be young but he clearly knows a thing or two. Plus his music is catchy as hell.


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