“These songs more or less evolved through trial and error,” says Hart. “I’ve been making music as Harts for about seven years now, but before that I was writing all the music in my high-school bands – so, all up, I’ve been a songwriter and an arranger for something like 10 years. I’ve kind of figured out where I stand – in terms of the genre of what I do, in terms of writing hooks and catchy melodies, in terms of blending funk and rock and in terms of embracing ideas as they come to me. I wasn’t born into a family of musicians – my parents just loved music, and always played music around the house. I feel like it’s been ingrained in me since birth.”
Although primarily known as a guitarist, borrowing from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Nile Rodgers in his style, Hart is also a multi-instrumentalist – he is a keen keyboardist, bassist and drummer, and undertakes all of these roles within the recorded aspect of his music. This has played a big part in the development of Smoke Fire Hope Desire as an album, with Hart attesting to a reassessment of his position within Harts as a project as the key to its fruition.
“The key thing that I’ve discovered on this record is that I’m a composer,” he explains. “Before I’m a guitarist, before I’m a singer, before I’m a musician before anything else… I’m a composer. That’s my calling. I think that’s something I’ve recently discovered and something that I’ve been working toward. As someone who makes music all by himself, the composition influences everything – it influences the way that you write songs, how you sing them, how they’re arranged. I feel like the reason that’s all stepped up in a big way on this record is on account of asserting my role as a composer.”
When Harts is described as Hart’s solo project, it is meant in the most literal way possible. When it comes to the songs’ creation and subsequent production, it all falls at the feet of the man himself. Hart plays every instrument, sings every vocal part, records everything himself on his computer in his bedroom and then engineers, mixes, produces and masters the whole shebang together. In spite of all the developments and changes around the sound of Harts on Smoke Fire Hope Desire, Hart explains that the way the music was actually recorded was one of the few things that didn’t change – at least, from a fundamental perspective.
“It’s funny – the way I recorded my last album and the way I recorded this album are nearly identical,” he says. “I use Logic – I started out on GarageBand when I first got my Mac, but once I bought and learned Logic, I never looked back. I was using the same plug-ins, the same virtual instruments, all of the same tools. The difference was that I knew how to implement them a lot more smoothly and efficiently. I’ve had issues in the past where I’ve wrecked compositions of mine by over-compressing them, or sucked the life out of them just because I didn’t know how to use my tools properly. I feel like I really improved on getting the drum sounds right on this record, and I feel like I was able to get the bass tones really consistent so that the record had a solid foundation to build upon. I didn’t change what I was working with – I changed how I worked with it.”
To coincide with the release of Smoke Fire Hope Desire, Hart is booked in for a national tour – and, indeed, the winds of change are rustling around his live show, as well.
“For the last two years or so, I’ve just been playing with a drummer when I play live as Harts,” he says. “I’ve now expanded out to include a bassist as well, and he’s also going to be playing extra instruments as well. Between the two of us, we’re going to cover as much ground as possible. I feel like it really frees me up – although guitar is my main instrument, there are songs where I might not necessarily want to play it for the entire song. I’ve got the freedom now to move over to bass, or play keyboards as well. There are some songs where I haven’t been playing an instrument at all – I’ve been freed up to just sing, and it’s cool to have the opportunity to do that properly and focus more on my vocals. It’s all about looking at options that will make the live show more exciting.”
Smoke Fire Hope Desire is out now via Dew Process/UMA. Harts will be touring in support of the album later this month. For more information visit hartsmusic.com.