Words by Anthony Thomas
Australia’s DIY scene is shit hot right now. Twenty-one-year-old, Darren Hart, is proof of that. Conceived in his bedroom, Harts is as much a reaction to his disdain for what he sees as the talentless sea of indie-rockers currently saturating the market, as a personal celebration of his own musical heroes. Like anything good in life, people invariably start talking, and not long after trading his bedroom for the neon lights of Melbourne’s live circuit, he had all the right people talking. Now backed by industry heavyweights The A&R Department and Universal, Harts has just released his debut EP, Offtime, with the help of none other than Lars Stalfors. For an artist so young, it’s an impressive set of credentials. I got Darren on the phone amid his debut national tour to see what all the hype was about and found out he’s more than confident he has the skills to go into the history books as one of the best.
MM: Hey man, how are you doing?
GH: Good man, yourself?
Not too bad. Got much planned for today?
Today? Not much man. Got a couple more interviews to do and then heading off.
Cool. What is your earliest of music?
I got into it pretty late but when I was about four or five years old my dad used to play CDs early on weekends . One that really stood out to me was Queen’s Greatest Hits CD, I used to really love it. Being a kid, dancing around and pretending to play guitar. I don’t know if at that point my parents thought, “This kid is going to do music,” but that was my earliest memory of ever actually hearing music that I liked and thinking, “This is the best.”
You said you got into music really late. When did you first pick up a musical instrument?
I think when I was about fifteen.
What was it?
I started playing drums in music class at school. It was an accident, really. I picked that elective because I thought it might be a little more cool than doing textiles or cooking, and then I picked drums because I thought it would be the easier than guitar. Turns out I really liked it and kept at it for a couple of years. Then I got into guitars and vocals and keyboards and everything else kind of stemmed from there.
Was that the moment you thought, “Shit yeah, I’m going to be in a band”?
Definitely. I started playing drums in a high school band just after that and we’d jam and of course, at that age we were all shit but when things would gel and sound the tiniest bit tight I was like, “Shit yeah!”
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
Probably web design. That’s what I was doing in year 12 and in uni before I deferred. I was really interested in all that stuff.
It must be pretty surreal being picked up by the likes of Universal, etc. so early in your career.
The whole response has been pretty weird. I knew I was kind of making music that sounded big or sounded like people would like it. Like, I had an idea that it was good stuff I was making but I didn’t know the extent of that and I didn’t realise that people would love it or people like Universal would want to help me out.
Being a solo artist, do you find it quite reclusive when you’re writing the music?
Yeah, definitely. I love it because I’m that kind of guy, really introverted. I feel it’s the best way for me to work because I don’t handle a lot of other ideas very well. That’s why I don’t think I can work in a band because I always try and lead it, take over, and do my own thing. So working by myself is the best thing for me.
What steps do you take when you’re turning an idea into a song?
The ideas can stem from the smallest little thing; it could stem from the thoughts I wake up with in the morning, which happens all the time, actually. Then I kind of build a song around that or fit that into things I’ve already written; maybe it’s a riff, groove, or a bass line. It starts off with the simplest thing and that kind of dictates where it goes and then it writes itself in a way. Not in a day or anything; it takes time to figure what to bring out in this tiny idea. It’s always about the music first though, and the lyrics always come second. The content I write about is actually where I find I struggle. The lyrics will follow what I think the song feels. Some songs are about topics that you deal with everyday, like love or fear of being alone. Sometime it could be straight up about sex, you know? It’s hard to tell, the music leads a lot of the time. I might get a one liner that I think could fit somewhere. And then that line becomes a second line, and that second line becomes a third line. It’s all about the basic idea at the start which grows and develops in a song.
Because you are a multi-instrumentalist, have you found you focus your songs around one instrument?
I feel I am best on one particular instrument but I don’t feel the EP is centered around one instrument, no. I go out of my way to incorporate good playing in all the instruments across the board. A drummer could pick it up and want to do a drum cover, likewise for a guitarist or keyboardist. I try to cover all the bases of musicians and why musicians might like the material. It’s for music lovers.
I like that. Who is the first person you show a new track to?
My brother, because he was in my house while I was doing it all. The first people I ever kind of ‘showed’ though were friends and they didn’t know what to think of it. When I first started playing music and getting into bands with friends and that, I was really centered around heavy rock music. So when they saw this kind of electronic, dance funk kind of stuff they were a little bit confused. It took them a while and then they realised this was really good.
Was there any reason for going down the funky side of things even though you were so into heavy rock?
This was a few years ago and I kind of saw it coming. I saw these bands were doing this, and it wasn’t because I wanted to follow these bands but I actually liked that music too, and I thought this could be a way to finally do that music. As soon as that started coming round, like MGMT and Empire of the Sun and all those pop, 80s influenced records, I was like, “Yeah, finally! I want to do this too.” That started me on the trip down that kind of music.
You write all your music in your bedroom, hey?
Would you consider taking it into a proper studio in the future?
I have recently, actually, and to be honest, it’s more restrictive being in a bigger environment which is weird because you wouldn’t think so. It’s restrictive in that it takes longer between instruments. It’s not literally like an arm’s reach away to press record and do it all. It takes longer and it’s also a bigger process because you’ve got more things involved in creating in a studio. At this stage, I find the studio a little bit too big for what I want to do and the speed I want to work at. I wouldn’t want to walk around between instruments and press record and then run to another and press record and run back to press stop. I wouldn’t like that.
Your parents must be happy that you’ve stopped making music in the house.
[laughs] Absolutely. That was the first thing I had to when I started getting known, find another place to work because I wanted to make more music and I couldn’t do it when my parents were home. I’d have to wait for my parents to leave to really turn it up and do some stuff. It was just becoming a mess, that’s why I moved all my stuff into a temporary studio that my mate owns. It still has the bedroom vibe, just not in my house.
The EP tour is about to kick off. What’s it like taking your music national for the first time?
It’s really exciting because it’s a new experience and I’m playing all my shows as a solo show. I recreate the songs live through tracks and loops and morph into a backing track, which I then play guitar, bass, vocals, and keyboard over the top. It’s completely new to me. It’s going to be good.
So Harts live is a lot different to Harts recorded?
It’s going to sound the same but the way it comes about is going to be different. It is a lot more focused around the guitar live because I think that really is the instrument I feel as though, not to put it too arrogantly, I think I’m better than most guitarists out there and I want to show off that I can actually play the guitar really well.
What makes you think you’re better than everyone else?
I watch all these guitarists, particularly indie ones, and they don’t really have a whole lot of skill in their playing. They just kind of get by with the same old riffs and same old chords. I don’t know if anyone else can tell, but when you’re a musician that stands out straight away. I feel as though that scene, alternative indie or whatever you want to call it, is only loosely based on talent, talent doesn’t play a huge role in that kind of music. I want to take it the other way; I want to add musical talent back into that pop sense. That’s why there are guitar solos, that’s why there is so much musicality in my songs because I think I want to be impressive. I don’t want people to just know me for my songs; I want people to know me for my musicianship and how I play instruments. I think I’m talented enough to rival any of the world’s great, I really believe that, and I don’t think anyone else is going to do it so I want to.