NYU sophomore and Recorded Music major Harrison Li, aka “Harry Teardrop,” has been recording dreamy tunes in his bedroom since he was 16, and he is now taking full advantage of everything that being a student at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music has to offer. We spoke with Harry about what he loves most about being a musician, how college has changed him, and where he sees himself in the future.
Pop in your earbuds and check out Harry Teardrop on Spotify
We asked Harrison Li to tell us about his creative process—and his dreams for the future.
What inspired you to start making music?
Harry: I started playing the drums when I was 5 years old after watching School of Rock. My brother picked up the guitar at the same time, and after a few years we swapped instruments and taught each other everything we knew. It was because I had him to bounce ideas off of that music became such a huge part of my life. My mom had a mixtape in our car with The Strokes, Bloc Party, and Death Cab for Cutie—that definitely made me want to learn how to play those songs.
How has being at Clive Davis helped you develop as an artist?
Harry: My goal here is to learn as much about music production, engineering, and songwriting as possible. Being at Tisch has changed my life and how I approach my work. Before, I was making very “lo-fi” demos on my computer and I didn’t know much about music theory or songwriting. I was following my instinct, which I’m still doing today, but now I’m developing at a much more consistent rate with the help of my classwork and teachers.
Your songs have a slow, jazzy sound, which has been called “dream pop.” How would you describe your musical style?
Harry: I try to capture emotions in my songs rather than fit into a certain genre. But I think the “dreamy” aspect is what unites all my songs. Right now I’m working on my own genre called “dreamo,” a combination of dream pop and emo.
What are some of your influences?
Harry: Some of my biggest musical influences include Billie Holiday, Beach Fossils, The 1975, Prince, Tyler, the Creator, and The Strokes. Right now I’m mostly inspired by all my talented friends at NYU who make music, and recently I’ve been really into K-pop.
What’s your favorite part of being a musician?
Harry: Writing lyrics. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Dr. Seuss books because I loved the way the rhymes would fall perfectly into place. I think the key to writing great lyrics is to try to tell a meaningful, cohesive story while keeping it as simple as possible. I draw a lot of inspiration from Hemingway’s idea of a six-word story. I want my words to be compact and significant.
You’ve mentioned that you record your tracks at home on your computer?
Harry: I started learning how to make music on my computer when I was 16 or 17 and it is definitely my preferred method of recording. I like recording in my room because I feel a lot more comfortable, which is important to me because I want to express myself as authentically as possible. However, I do love spending time in the Clive Davis studios we have access to as students. Working there challenges me and forces me to step out of my comfort zone.
How have you changed since coming to New York City from California?
Harry: I was born in New York City and moved away when I was very young, but I definitely feel a sense of familiarity here, which helps with being homesick. I mainly wanted to move here because I was living in the suburbs and was bored out of my mind, if I’m being honest. I love how fast-paced the city is. It forces me to develop and grow. Being constantly surrounded by people who are chasing their own dreams is both encouraging and humbling, and the city has a charming way of showing you this when you need it most.
What venues have you played in NYC?
Harry: In the past year, I’ve played at Sunnyvale, Trans-Pecos, Knitting Factory, Mercury Lounge, Baby’s All Right, Elsewhere, Berlin, and Brooklyn Steel. One New York City venue I want to play one day is Madison Square Garden!
Do you have a minor?
Harry: I haven’t declared it yet, but I’m hoping to minor in Economics.
Have you collaborated with any of your fellow students at Clive Davis?
Harry: The nature of Clive is to be in constant collaboration with one another. You can try to do everything on your own, but you won’t be able to avoid it forever and it’s much more fun to work with each other since there’s so much talent to be found here. I’ve made some of my best friends—and also my most important colleagues—at NYU. I am grateful every day to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who are just as passionate about art as I am. I can’t stress how much that has changed me.
In your wildest dreams, what do you hope to accomplish after leaving NYU?
Harry: A couple of my life goals are to win a Grammy and an Oscar. I’ve always had ridiculously ambitious aspirations, but I’d much rather work toward a greater purpose with the understanding that I may never achieve it than be complacent. After I graduate from NYU, I want to be able to sustain myself making music for a living. I would love to make records and tour them while collaborating with other artists. In the long term, I want to take a step back from being a performer and switch my focus to songwriting and production. In my late career, I want to score films.