Music fans might be more familiar with Darren Hart, via his professional name as Harts. As an acclaimed musician, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music producer with three studio albums, two EPs and a live album to his name, Harts has thrilled fans with his blend of funk, blues, psychedelic rock, jazz and indie electronic elements and in the process grown in stature, especially as a live entertainer. Of interest to me is the comparisons he draws with legends like Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Jimi Hendrix with his inventiveness as a guitar player. Interestingly, so renowned is his reputation as a guitar virtuoso that iconic guitar brand Fender in recent months asked the young Indian-born Australian to help them promote their new Ultra Series Stratocaster. More recently though, the news that Harts was about a week out from today in taking his Harts Plays Hendrix tribute show on tour, prompted me to reach out to the rising star. Here is some of what we talked about.
Darren, I understand the guitar wasn’t your first instrument you learned to play. In fact, it was the drums, right? Can you tell us a little bit about that evolution from drums to guitars?
That’s right. Drums was my first real introduction into music. After playing drums for a couple of years, I started developing more interest into the melodic side of music, which lead me to start teaching myself guitar. We had an old nylon string acoustic guitar in our shed, so I pulled it out and started experimenting with playing it, just for fun. I soon found going from drums to guitar was great for the rhythmic side of guitar playing.
What was the inspiration behind why you wanted to be a songwriter/guitarist?
Once I started teaching myself instruments and learning more about music, I think the natural progression from there was to try to make my own music. I delved into it as a hobby first and started just making music plugin my guitar into my laptop. It was exciting and fun to me, I think that pure love of the craft is what inspired me to pursue it.
What are your earliest memories of the musical heroes that shaped who you are today?
I remember listening to Queen’s greatest hits CD that my dad had in his collection when I was about 5 years old. I loved that. I think that’s my earliest memory. I discovered Prince and Jimi Hendrix when I was older, around the time I started getting into guitar. A lot of those pioneers are still what inspires me to create the music I create to date.
If you had to pick one album to describe what music is all about to you, what would it be? Why do you love it so much?
For me, it’s Gorillaz – Plastic Beach. I just love how diverse and inclusive of wide genres that that album is, and the production still sounds amazing today. I love that Gorillaz cover pretty much all the musical styles that I love.
I understand you caught the attention of the late musical icon Prince years ago. What was it like jamming with him? What did you learn about music from him?
It was an amazing experience. A surreal experience even looking back on it today. I learnt a lot about music from him, a lot about playing with others, performing as well as composition and production. He was an amazing guy with so much to offer creatively, and I’m very fortunate I got that opportunity.
What are some of the most influential bands or musicians you have seen in concert?
The first concert I saw was Oasis at Festival Hall, Melbourne in 2005. I was just a kid, but I remember being blown away by the roaring guitars and that wall of sound they had going on. That probably had a big impact on me wanting to get into music.
Last year you announced a new project called Harts Plays Hendrix, an Australian theatre show paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix music legacy – set to commence in March. What inspired you to undertake such an ambitious project?
It was something my fans had been asking me to do for a while. When I started playing shows, I didn’t have enough songs for an encore, so I used to throw in a cover of Purple Haze or Voodoo Chile a lot. From then people used to come up to me and say how much they loved it, and I should do a full show of Hendrix stuff. I kept a Hendrix cover in my set for a while and fans loved it – and I loved playing it. Fast forward to 2019/20, and it’s the 50 year anniversary of Hendrix’s legacy. I finally had a good gap in my schedule to go ahead with a show like this, so the timing worked great. It’s great to get an opportunity to celebrate the legend himself and hopefully expose his music to a new audience. I’m really excited about it.
Did you dive deep into the archives to watch Jimi Hendrix concert footage? What was the one thing that amazed you about his stage presence?
I’m always amazed by his fearlessness and attitude when playing his instrument. He wasn’t afraid to take the guitar and music to places it hadn’t gone before. A true pioneer of his craft.
In your research in uncovering Jimi Hendrix’s world, what is one of the most surprising things you came across?
I was surprised to learn that he had played bass on All Along The Watchtower. If you really focus in on the bass, it’s such an amazing funk vibe, ahead of it’s time. I wish it was brought out a little more in the master recording. I also heard that he played Purple Haze on a Telecaster? Not sure if true or not but that sure is surprising.
Which of his songs is your favourite to play and why?
Spanish Castle Magic. It wasn’t one of my favourite Hendrix songs, but it’s my favourite to play! I love the riffs, the chords, the energy in the song and it’s also fun to expand of the arrangements a bit and do new things with the tune.
Finally, I can’t let you go without asking the inevitable guitar question. What is your favourite go-to guitar? What do you love about it?
My go-to guitar is definitely my painted Squier Stratocaster. It’s kind of become famous in it’s own right, as I’ve used that guitar on pretty much every live show and performance I’ve done. It’s become married to “Harts” in a way, ha. I love that guitar and still use it often. Hoping to bring it out a few times on the Hendrix tour!