Life & Culture

Honey Harper, the Glam Cowboy Spearheading ‘Cosmic Country’ Music

Cosmic country pioneer Honey Harper relives a hair-raising tour through the badlands of Ukraine

Born in the depths of Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, glam cowboy Honey Harper was raised on a diet of 80s hair metal by his Elvis-impersonator dad and disco-addicted mum. Is it any wonder he spearheads a genre called cosmic country?

More than just a music category, cosmic country is a philosophy with its own aesthetic. It combines the storytelling of country legends like George Jones with the atmospheric influence of Brian Eno. Harper’s appetite for sci-fi and fantasy novels fuelling its more avant-garde, synth-heavy sound.

Add a lyrical approach that tears up the patriarchal traditions and you have a more worldly proposition capable of shifting country from its geographical identity. By challenging the heteronormative status quo, he breaks down its male energy, turning the toxic tropes back on a genre that has pursued a less than progressive agenda.

Harper takes Another Man on a calamitous ride through the badlands of eastern Europe, remembering a tour he’d be hard pushed to forget. “This,” he says, “is the story my band always takes the mick out of me for telling.”

“I went to Ukraine with my old group, Promise Keeper, and we drove seven hours out of Kiev to the middle of nowhere to play a furniture-store-slash-art-gallery. No one spoke any English and Adam, the guy I’m with, starts hitting on our translator in front of her boyfriend, who is getting super pissed.

“We end up at this bar called Tarantino’s which has bootleg pictures of Quentin Tarantino movies all over the walls. It’s a karaoke bar, but also a 50s dance club, full of these 19-year-old kids who look like the hippest people you’ve ever seen – that whole Ukrainian teen thing was really big back then – dancing to accordion music. So, Adam and I get up to sing Careless Whisper and people were not into it at all, because we were obviously quite drunk and flamboyant. Then, when I try to dance on a table, this huge bouncer kicks us out.

“We went back to the venue to get paid the next day and were waiting outside smoking when the translator’s boyfriend, who hates us, shows up in a car with the same bouncer. We’re like, oh my God, we going to get our asses kicked so bad. But then the boyfriend comes over, this time with a new translator because obviously he didn’t want his girlfriend coming, and it turns out the bouncer wants to apologise. He didn’t realise who we were! I guess in small-town Ukraine we were pretty big for a day.

“Next, we were supposed to go to Romania, but cancelled because we needed to catch five different buses and couldn’t read the Cyrillic alphabet. So instead we take the train to Lviv, and get first-class tickets because they’re so cheap, but at the station they were like, oh by the way, don’t go into third class because it’s full of soldiers coming back from the front and they’ll think you’re gay and want to kill you. Please, don’t go talk to them.

“So, there’s a woman shovelling coal into the engine of this Siberian icebreaker, the biggest train I’ve ever seen, and it’s summer, blasting fire and heat, and we can’t even open the carriage door because we’re gonna get killed. But finally, we get to Lviv, only to realise we can’t get a train on to Budapest where we need to be the next day. So, we use a local ride-share service we heard about and meet two guys at a mall outside the city with a van who can drive us to Budapest – a seven-hour trip – for 15 euros each.

“We get to the border and have to bribe our way to the front of the queue. Our passports are taken off us and handed down the line – somehow, we manage to get them back – and we can set off. But just as we’re about to cross the guards stop us and throw open the doors of the van, standing there pointing these massive guns as people stare in at us out of the night. And this guard says, ‘I have just one question before you go. Who is the president of the United States?’ So, of course I have to reply with Donald Trump, and everyone just starts screaming their heads off with laughter. Next thing I know we’re back in the EU and suddenly everything is normal again.”

GROOMING Mark Hampton at Julian Watson Agency using L’Oréal Professionnel & MAC Cosmetic HAIR COLOURIST Harriet Muldoon at Larry King Salon SET DESIGN Paulina Piipponen PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSISTANT Stewart Capper STYLING ASSISTANT Fergus O’Reilly HAIR AND MAKE UP ASSISTANT Mizuki Kida

A version of this article appeared in the A/W19 issue of Another Man.