Darren Hart, or more commonly known in the music world as just Harts, has been creating and pumping out fantastic music down in Australia for nearly a decade a this point. Like most international artists however, his reputation as one of his country’s premiere rising songwriters and performers is somewhat limited by his lack of exposure in markets like the United States.
His career path has changed now that the young guitarist and singer has signed his first recording contract with a U.S. labels Razor & Tie/Washington Square Music to release his latest LP, Smoke Fire Hope Desire to North American audiences. The 14-track LP was released in the U.S. a few weeks ago on July 21, but arrived in his home country nearly a year ago. The new album is a fine showcase of a young artist who is pushing the boundaries of guitar-based music in an era where the instrument is losing its attractiveness to Ableton and other electronic-based instrumentation.
Harts spent most of July in Los Angeles and New York City to promote the album’s arrival to the U.S. While here, he’s also used the time to establish his incredibly talented showmanship, as one of the many Aussie artists who are starting to dominate the airwaves and festival posters here in the northern hemisphere in recent years.
AXS caught up with Darren on his first trip back to New York City since 2015 to talk about what he’s been up to lately, how he plans on re-establishing the guitar as a tool in popular music and lessons he took away from working with Prince.
AXS: The last time you were in New York City was for CMJ back in 2015 correct?
DH: Yeah, I’ve been back here since then but mostly just in and out trips, you know talking with labels, showcases and things like that. Damn, that was a long time ago.
AXS: So what have you been up two the past two years?
DH: I’ve been writing and touring a lot. I had opportunities to play a lot of big festivals in Australia, and my music’s been doing well down there so we’ve done a lot of touring around that. I also had the opportunity to go to Europe and play Pinkpop and events like that, which was a first. Apart from that, I’ve just been trying to hone the craft. I started working on Smoke Fire Hope Desire in late 2015, finished it around early 2016, and it ended up being released in Australia later that year. I ended up signing with Razor & Tie, who really trusted my musical opinion and gave me what I wanted out of a deal. So mostly juggling promotion of the album over here while playing shows back home.
AXS: What’s your mindset like when you come here to promote new music that few people have heard, versus being back in Australia where you have a large fanbase who have been listening to the new LP for a year?
DH: I definitely have to think about how to translate the songs to people who will be hearing them for the first time. That’s different in the U.S. than Australia, because over there people will come to shows having already heard the singles and things like that. Over here you have to pick out the songs that showcase the best of what I do. What are the songs I can perform that do the best at giving people an idea of what Harts music is? It’s very complicated since there are so many styles blended into what I do. I definitely try to think about how I am going to translate the music over here though. I write a lot and am constantly creating new music, so as soon as Smoke Fire Hope Desire was released in Australia, I had already started writing the next album, which I’m working on at the moment. I always forget lyrics, and I’m constantly having to re-familiarize myself with my music because I’m usually already moving onto the next project.
AXS: You still do a lot of your own instrumentation when you’re recording correct? Does that ever make you feel isolated or do you ever wish you had someone else with you throughout that process?
DH: Yeah, all the instrumentation and production on the recordings are done by me. There’s no other person that works on my music so it is very much a solo project. I do feel isolated because of it, but I think part of the reason why I still enjoy going about it all myself is because I have so many ideas and a vision in my head before the music even comes out, before I want to start working with other people. I’ve done sessions with producers and other recording artists in the past where I always end up somewhat taking over the session anyway. That’s not a good way to collaborate with people, and there will always be a time for other opinions to shine, maybe sooner than later, but I’m definitely not opposed to collaborations. It’d be great to work alongside people and producers whom I idolize, but for the time being I still think I have a ton of music in my head that I want to get out by myself. It’s also an ease and efficiency thing, and sometimes working alongside others can slow down that process.
AXS: It’s so great to see someone with the chops that you have rock out on the Squier Stratocaster. No guitarist wants to go on stage with the same model as another player. Yet, you do it so well with a Squier, which is unusual since it has somewhat of an unwarranted reputation as a beginners-level brand.
DH: You know, I never thought about it that way. To me I didn’t carefully choose that guitar, or any. It’s more like a ‘this one will do’ kind of thing, where I grew up playing a student-friendly budget style guitar, or the cheaper ones. I got used to them so much that I can pretty much play any guitar at this point. If you pick up a white Squier, the one like I play all the time and probably only cost me around $150, it’s really hard to play because the frets are too high and things like that. Even Prince tried to play it! One of the reasons I keep using that one is because as soon as people started pointing out the mentality of using any guitar you can find on the street, you get inspired that it’s really about how you play the instrument whether than what model or how expensive it is. It’s more about the artist themselves rather than their tools. That’s just what I used when I started playing and I stuck with it, and it works for me to achieve the best sound I can get. One of the best things about that is that I get a lot of kids who are just getting into guitar, who can walk into any music shop and buy the exact same model that I use without needing $2,000.
AXS: There are just a stupid amount of incredible artists across all genres coming out of Australia right now. From Alison Wonderland and Flume to Tame Impala or King Gizzard to you. It’s truly unparalleled to other mainstream music markets around the world. What are you guys drinking in the water down there?
DH:I think as time goes on, the disconnect in music throughout the world is just getting smaller and smaller. Our generation and artists who are I suppose close to my age, grew up with the Internet, where we have access to so many styles. Previous generations didn’t have that, so Australian music spent years having come out sounding the same, and was mostly just rock music. The country’s musical culture was isolated from the rest of the world. Now the connected world has allowed musicians there to become inspired by music from all over. The only unknown recommendations I'd have of fantastic artists who fans here may not know about yet is my friend and rapper Remi, and me.
AXS: Your music has done such a great job of pulling from different styles aside from just rock- whether it be playing funk to riffing over electronic dance beats. Maybe it’s different in Australia, but in America the guitar is just losing its sexiness and popularity on pop radio. How would you love to see the instrument make a comeback?
DH: I agree, it’s not popular, but at the same time nothing that I do is popular, and it's harder to push those kind of ideas. I don’t know if I see the guitar coming back as a big thing like it was from the 1960s and into the 90s. The guitar dominated pop music so heavily in those eras where it almost feels like we’re taking a welcome break from the instrument at the moment. That’s only in the sense that artists are playing and writing on the guitar in the same way it has always been played. I’m not a revivalist artist, where I’d make music that sounds like it comes from a past era. I definitely pull influences from then, but I try to push music forward. I want to make something unique and at least push the boundaries on the foundation that’s been laid before me. I put guitar on hip-hop or DJ tracks, so I kind of try and bring the instrument into the popular conscious again, but not in a way that seems dated. If you’re just constantly playing rock riffs, and there’s nothing wrong with that, you’re pigeonholing what the guitar is capable of as an instrument. It doesn’t have to be a rock instrument, you can do a lot with it.
AXS: You mentioned Prince earlier, who you had the amazing opportunity to work with early on in your career. What are some memories or great creative lessons you have from your time spent with him? Or even anything you picked up from how he carried himself and lived his life that you may still have with you?
DH:There’s a lot. [Pause] There are almost too many for me to give exact examples, because everything he spoke to me about when I spent time with him, was always leading towards the same topic or conversation. Those conversations were very specific to what I was going through at the time, where I had severe lack of confidence. I didn’t have the encouragement I needed to pursue music like I needed to. He immediately saw that, and every lesson that he gave me, whether it was in the studio jamming together or listening to each other’s new music ideas, eventually led to the common topic of him wanting to give me more self confidence in what I was doing. He wanted to instill that I was on the right path, I just needed to believe it. I was struggling at the time, I had just been dropped from a major label in Australia and almost felt black listed in the industry since I had a failed record. He always thought the challenge was what would make me unique and overcoming them would help me forge my own path. He was very into not following what he or any of my idols did in their careers. Don’t live in their shadows because you can’t fill those holes, you have to create your own thing. Be a musician and unique artist who no one can copy or replicate even if they tried. Leave your own hole. They were the same lessons he had to go through in his own life.