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Harts talks Prince, pressure & hidden talents

Dan Webb
Darren Hart (Harts) is a talented, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who has captured the attention of some very big names in recent years. In this wide-ranging interview, he tells us about some of the highs and lows surrounding his recent success.

Let’s jump straight in. You released your first EP in 2013 through Island Records/Universal. What made you leave?
Honestly things weren’t going too well, because that record, or that EP was completed and mastered and delivered to Island Records in 2011. But they sat on it for two years. So I was really frustrated with that. I didn’t like the way the record label were seemingly not really prioritising the release and things like that. I just didn’t feel as though it was a good fit for me at the time to be with that record label and that record didn’t do too well at the time, so it was an easy thing to get out of that deal. I guess going independent after that really opened my eyes to what a label can do for you and what they can’t.

a lot of things favour the major label artists as opposed to independent releases.

What’s the hardest thing about being an independent musician?
I think the hardest thing is always the exposure and the promotion and the marketing aspect of it. Making the music and writing and recording it all independently is something I’ve always done, I’ve never had to rely on record labels funding the making of the record in terms of like, recording studios or hiring producers and things like that. So I’ve never had to rely on those sort of costs involved. For me it’s just – as an independent artist, having that budget to make videos, make music videos, have some tour support money for you, things like that. And also market your record, you know, take it to radio and take it to all those big kind of opportunities that major labels get over the independents. The record industry is still like that and a lot of things favour the major label artists as opposed to independent releases. So it’s just trying to compete at that scale and compete on the same scale when you’re kind of funding everything yourself. And that’s the hardest thing, I think, about being independent.

You’re proficient on a number of instruments. Do you have a favourite?
Yeah, I think my favourite instrument is the guitar. I think that’s why naturally, naturally I feel is my soul mate in a way (laughs). If there was in an instrument. I think every other instrument you know, I’m good at, but it’s not like, the level that I am at at guitar. I think guitar just came naturally for me and I think I just feel more comfortable playing the guitar. I more enjoy playing guitar actually, than most of the other instruments. So I think it was just a good fit for me that way, but in saying that, I do love playing drums. I’m not the greatest drummer, I wouldn’t even sometimes say I’m good at drums (laughs). I can hold a rhythm and stuff, but drums is something I started with, that was how I first got into music. So drums is close to my heart in that regard. But I feel as though I’m best at guitar.

In addition to performing everything yourself, you also produce and mix yourself. Let’s get technical, what’s your preferred DAW?
I work in Logic. I’ve been working in Logic since I started – I think I got a copy of Logic 7 or 8 when I started. But that’s what I started with. I tried to make the switch into Pro Tools and some other DAWs as well, but I just felt as though Logic was a bit more logical, in a way (laughs). I like the GUI, I like the interface, I like the way it works and that’s kinda what I do. But having said that, I use a lot of external third party plugins. So the Logic plugins that I use are only – I do use a lot of stock Logic plugins like compressors, delays, reverbs and EQs as well. But a lot of the heavy lifting is done by a lot of external third party software.

What’s one audio plugin you can’t live without?
It’s probably the CLA-2A, it’s a compressor made by Waves. It’s a clone of a famous compressor that they made, and I use it on everything! Vocals, guitar, like, literally everything I compressed with that thing. So probably that plugin. Yeah, it’d probably be some sort of compressor plugin because I use compression on a lot of different things and that’s my go-to way of correcting things, sometimes.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new single?
Yeah, so it’s called “Ain’t Nothin’ on Me”, it’s inspired by I think – it’s inspired by a lack of confidence in people that I see a lot these days. And I’m guilty of that myself, you know, it’s hard to see yourself as being you know, the best at something. You’re always critical of yourself and you’re always down on yourself and I think that just comes with being a human. But the song is s’posed to inspire that, you know, that classic message of you know, ‘nobody could do you better than you’. And you know, ‘you are a unique individual’ and you know, ‘that’s something to be proud of’. That’s what lyrically the song’s about. The whole song came together probably around last year or maybe even 2016 now actually, yeah it was probably around the end of 2016 and I’ve been sitting on it for a while. It was just something I put together in the studio. I cut up a lot of guitar licks from other things I was working on and I made it into like, this kind of lo-fi kind of hip hop groove and then from there I just kept working on the production of it, you know, added a lot of elements to make it swing a little more, groove a little more. And it came up like that and I’m proud of it and it’s gonna be on the new album that comes out this year. So it’s the first little official taste of that album.

I’m just so appreciative that I had the opportunity to do something like that with him before he passed.

Alright. Let’s talk Prince. There’s obvious similarities there in your music and I’ve read that he was a fan of yours. That must be a cool feeling.
Yeah, for sure. It was mind blowing at the time. Even more mind blowing now that he’s passed. But yeah, it’s an amazing feeling to have someone of his calibre, his status as a music icon and as a music legend think I’m great too and really compliment me on my work. Particularly at the time, which it’s not as good as the work I’m putting out now and it wasn’t as good as the Smoke Fire album. So he definitely saw something in me, he saw potential. I think Prince sees someone, sees an artist for what they can be, rather than what they are at the time. So I feel as though he saw the massive potential that I had, that I do, and he just wanted to be a part of it, he just wanted to encourage it. He wanted to mentor it and nurture it in a way. And that’s what he helped out with and I’m just so appreciative that I had the opportunity to do something like that with him before he passed.

Do you ever get sick of the comparisons?
Yeah I do. It’s one of those things that has stuck with me since it happened and unfortunately a lot of people – but I understand it, like, what I was going to say was unfortunately a lot of people make that comparison and because of that, unfortunately I’m put under the microscope a lot more than other artists and I’m kind of critiqued a lot harder just because of that and I don’t feel as though that’s fair. But having said that, I’m appreciative that that comparison is there because you can’t avoid that, you know, like, Prince‘s music played such an integral part of my like, musical DNA and my development as a musician and even meeting him from then just made that all the more like – just increased that all the more in the way that I can’t really escape that comparison now, particularly when I have that connection with him. So it’s – I do get sick of it, only because I feel as though people place too much importance on it and people see it for something – they take it too seriously, basically. You know, I love music and I love all styles of music but there’s so much stuff I do that doesn’t sound anything like Prince. But there’s a bunch of stuff I do that does. So I think a lot of people lean on that a lot, particularly in the media. I understand it, because obviously in journalism and all that kind of stuff you kind of have to have that connection for people to really understand the article or understand what exactly what the artist is trying to portray and how you’re writing it and stuff. So I completely understand that that connection needs to be there and that comparison needs to be there. At the end of the day, it does help me, but it does make it harder for me to escape that, the longer that people make a big deal about it. Does that make sense?

unfortunately I’m put under the microscope a lot more than other artists…

For sure. Sounds like there’s a lot of pressure attached to it.
Yeah, that’s pretty much hitting the nail on the head. Like, basically all I just said was to say that I feel a lot more pressure as an artist that maybe I shouldn’t have had, particularly for the last, you know, three years. So yeah, it is a lot more pressure.

Do you have any hobbies, hidden talents or major interests outside of music?
Um, hidden talents, like before I was doing music I was designing websites. So like, that was my work, so I did that in uni and stuff. I think a lot of my talents kind of are built around working with computers, like I’m really good with computers. Like I used to make and build computers or build PCs when I was a kid, like back before, well I believe, like earlier than a lot of people do it. I was about 10 or 11 years old and I was building computers. So that was always an interest with me and it’s always a hobby and I’m always into technology and things like that. So I think hidden talents, people would be surprised to see how much of a computer whiz I am (laughs) so yeah. Apart from that, probably not. I can’t think of any other hidden talents right now that I have. But there probably is, but I just can’t like – I can’t remember.

So do you feel like it’s a case of what you see is what you get, with you?
Yeah, to a point. Like, within the music, because I’m always super honest about what I’m doing and things like that, I keep an open mind with things. But like there’s a lot of personal life things that I never talk about, and things like that. So I don’t feel comfortable sharing so much of my personal life. But everything music related I’m completely honest with and I guess, I wear my heart on my sleeve in that regard. You know, my influences are so – you can see that, there’s no hiding you know, I love Jimi Hendrix, there’s no hiding I love Prince and stuff like that. I’m just doing the best I can and just putting my best foot forward with music. I’m pretty sure what you see is what you get with that regard.

I regretfully turned down a lot of opportunities at the time that he wanted to do things.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
It would probably definitely be music because um, all other art forms to me I love, like I love video games for example, I love movies and things like that. I love the whole process behind making those things. But it’d definitely have to be something music related. I think – there’s going to be two answers to this. One is, I can’t avoid saying that I wanted to do more studio material with Prince. Because I regretfully turned down a lot of opportunities at the time that he wanted to do things. At the time I was so focused on making my own music that I didn’t want to live in a shadow of him, so I turned down a lot of those opportunities that I wish I didn’t. Because I just felt like oh yeah, ‘we’ll do it again next year, oh we’ll do something next year’ or something like that, or when the time came and obviously the time never came around. So I would definitely pick Prince cos I feel as though there was unfinished business there that we didn’t get around to doing. That would be one of them. I’d do like, a record with Pharrell. I think like, old school Pharrell, like Neptunes Pharrell and make like a real old school hip hop, but leaning on that funk and disco appeal a lot. Like when The Neptunes produced like, early Justin Timberlake and like, even Timbaland and stuff like that, around that period of time. I’d love to do a record like that, with one of those OG producers like Pharrell or Timbaland. I just think that would be such a cool thing. And it might even come back around, that style of music, you know, in the next few years cos then it’ll be like, what, 20 years old in 2020. So that kind of early 2000s sound I love and I’d like to that as well. So at the moment I have to say Pharrell and Prince. But there’s so many people I want to do work with. Like, I want to work with Stevie Wonder, I want to work with Quincy Jones, Questlove from The Roots – I got to work with him briefly in 2016 but I want to do more stuff with them. There’s a lot on the cards, but if you wanted one answer I’d have to say the Prince thing or Pharrell.