Darren Hart, or just “Harts” as he’s known in the music world is a phenomenal talent. Virtuoso is a term that applies to only a very few, but this man is that and so much more. Guitar, keys, bass and drums are all part of his musical repertoire and on stage he can move effortlessly between each of them. Then there’s his exceptional vocals, particularly in the falsetto range and it’s the combination of that voice and his guitar hero that has often seen Harts compared to one of his idols, Prince. The comparisons don’t end there either, because Harts also happens to be an exceptional producer. No wonder JJJ’s Richard Kingsmill called him “a one-man music making machine”. Our favourite quote is “Harts should be number one everywhere, including other planets” (Paul Lister, The Guardian). Hi second album Smoke Fire Hope Desire is out on 16 September. Trevor Jackson caught up with him ahead of his BIGSOUND showcase.
The guitar is your preferred instrument, is that where it started for you?
It wasn’t where it started, but it’s definitely numero uno now. I began by playing drums in high school, then switched to guitar a couple of years later. After that it was keys and bass before moving on to production techniques. There wasn’t really any ambition to become a musician, I just did it as a hobby because I loved music and really enjoyed what I was doing.
For someone as gifted as you are with a capacity to play so many instruments that’s a remarkable revelation. Are you self-taught?
Yeah, on everything except drums where I took music lessons at school. After I really got into it I started watching videos of people like Prince and Buddy Guy, slowing the videos down to work out what they were doing. They were my real teachers.
See the video for Harts’ new single Power below
Were you influenced by the music that you parents were listening to?
My parents and my older brother aren’t musicians but they’re all into music. My dad used to play music around the house all the time and it was a very diverse collection of music. It was like classical to rock, pop to jazz, gospel to funk, whatever. Every day it was always something different. So growing up with that stuff my ear was being trained on not only the songs and the artists, but also the interplay between the instruments and how the music was arranged. It was only when I began experimenting with different instruments that I quickly became aware I understood more intuitively than I first realised. It’s hard to explain, but somehow I just understood it completely, it was very natural for me.
Obviously it’s a very intuitive thing for you, but were you surprised at how easy it was to pick up? Was there a point where you suddenly felt, “hey, I’m really good at this?”.
Absolutely. It was a real surprise. When I started writing songs and posting them on the web I began getting feedback from a lot of people saying “hey man, this is good!”. But I was never that confident. You have to understand that I grew up listening to legends like Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Queen, Bob Marley and Prince – that kind of music was the benchmark and it was only when other people kept telling me how good my music was that I began to think that I might have a shot at this.
You’ve mentioned Prince a couple of times now and a few years ago you had the opportunity to jam with him at Paisley Park. How did that incredible opportunity come about?
He discovered my music on You Tube where he saw all of the instruments I was playing. That really surprised him and he was intrigued by what I was doing. So he got in touch with me via email and eventually that led to a phone call. As soon as he spoke I recognised his voice instantly.
You didn’t think it was a prank call?
No, no, no. I thought the first couple of emails were suspicious and I think the guys at Paisley Park got a sense of that. I think that’s why he called me in the end. He said to me: “there’s a lot of opportunities at Paisley Park at the moment, I really like what you’re doing – would you be available to come out?
So naturally you said, I’ll need to check my diary – I could be busy!
Yeah, right (laughs). A few weeks later I flew out to America – Prince organised and paid for everything. We just jammed, rehearsed and recorded some stuff, basically he showed me the process of how he works and I got a lot out of that. The big thing though was that he really mentored me. He gave me the confidence, which was something that I really lacked at that stage. It was that reassurance that what you’re actually doing is appreciated by others, particularly a musician of his stature. At the time I wasn’t doing too well, I’d just got out of a deal with a record company because it wasn’t going so well for me musically – in fact I’d actually given up at that point. Amazingly the day I got out of my record deal was the same day that I got that first email from Prince.
It’s one thing to get invited to play with Prince, but then when he says of you: “he reminds me of what I was like at his age”. That’s incredibly high praise – how do you take a compliment like that and not let it go to your head?
Well, I didn’t actually get that compliment from him directly. I read that in an interview he gave later. When I read that I was jumping for joy! I mean, no one gets praise like that from Prince. It was incredible, it really gave my self-esteem a huge kick, but more than that it really raised my profile in the music industry. A lot of people read that story and it really got me to where I am today, particularly in the overseas markets where no one had heard of me before that.
You must have been pinching yourself to be standing there playing with, and in front of him. Was that intimidating?
Oh yeah, I was super nervous and he could sense that. All of the musicians around him could sense that, but then they probably get that all the time. After about 20 minutes of playing he sat me down and gave me a really good pep talk. He said things like: “I brought you here for a reason, I know you can play, you don’t have to be so nervous around these people. You’re good at what you do, you’ve made some great records and you’re an amazing producer”. He just filled me with so much confidence and from there it was just a lot easier to play with these guys. In the end it was just the most amazing experience.
You must have been devastated by his death, how have you dealt with that?
I first met him in 2014 and I was lucky to have spent time with him before he passed away earlier this year. I’m still in shock and I’m not entirely sure that I’ve really dealt with it yet. I just feel incredibly lucky to have known him and been mentored by him and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity.