Darren Harts is this generation’s next quintessential guitar player. Sweeping the Blues into previously untouched territory that seeps through the crevasses of the mainstream, flows through the tried and tested sounds, and invites Rock n Roll, Funk, Soul and Pop to mingle in a kaleidoscopic lacuna – The Aussie multi-instrumentalist, and one man band has ignited a serious riff hungry beast within us all.
Illustration by Chenoa Gao
HAPPY: Hi! How are you?
HARTS: Hey, good thanks! How are you?
HAPPY: Good thanks! Shall we get straight into things?
HARTS: Yeah sure!
HAPPY: You’ve been announced for Bluesfest 2016, what was it like for you finding out you are going to be playing alongside so many phenomenal musicians?
HARTS: It was amazing, I really hoped I’d have the opportunity to play, I’ve been trying for a couple years, and at the moment things are building for me, so I think it’s the perfect year to play. I really appreciate the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to checking out all those artists.
HAPPY: And so do you feel there is more pressure playing amongst such a huge line up, featuring so many big names?
HARTS: Yeah, there’s always that. You don’t know whether the gig will clash with a big name, or if people will even come out and see you, so there’s the pressure of those things. There’s also the pressure of who’s going on after you, and whether they sound better, and things like that. But I think, to the point, I’ve been playing for long enough now that I’m really comfortable with the live shows. We’re going to be playing a lot of new material though, so we’re going to be changing things up, here and there, I’m just hoping people come out to see me, cause I know we’re going to put on some good shows for them!
HAPPY: I’m sure they will! Who are you most excited to see?
HARTS: Um, I’m really looking forward to seeing D’Angelo, Kendrick Lamar, I want to see Noel Gallagher, because I grew up listening to Oasis, that’s a big one for me. I want to see Hiatus Kaiyote as well, I haven’t seen them in a while. There’s a few others, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I’m hoping I get to stick around for the whole weekend, and I’m trying to get my booking agent to clear that weekend for me, so I can stick around and see some of those artists.
HAPPY: Wonderful! I believe your music embodies the very spirit of what Bluesfest has become, a contemporary amalgamation of genres, with its roots still firmly within the blues. What’re your thoughts on the genre driven changes of the festival, bringing in acts like Kendrick?
HARTS: I think it’s cool. I think you kind of summed it up, a lot of his music is stemmed in the blues, and its core is in the Blues, whether it turns into Rock n Roll at the end of the day, or Hip Hop, or it turns into Soul or Neo Soul, it still has that Blues core, and as long as that’s still there it’s still based within Blues music. I’m cool that its open to that, because if you kept it as a straight up Blues festival there’s not a lot of opportunity, and yes there is a lot of Blues music out there, but in terms of contemporary Blues music, popular Blues music, I’m not sure there’s a lot going on, at least in Australia, you’d have to get a heap of internationals.
But I think it’s cool that they’ve opened it up to different genres that stem off the Blues, and obviously some huge international headliners to get people down here, which is amazing. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m glad it’s all opened up, because to be honest, my music isn’t straight blues either, it’s based in the Blues but it’s all forms and directions off that, so I’m happy that it’s like that, cause then it gives me the opportunity to play as well.
HAPPY: In saying that, what’s it like for you knowing you’ll be playing on the same stage, as so many guitar, and blues greats including BB King, Buddy Guy, and Jeff Beck have previously? Is that something that you think about, or are you more so driven by wanting to make your own mark, and become one of the greats yourself?
HARTS: A bit of both, I think about that a lot. A lot of the festivals I’ve been playing, I think about things like that but ultimately I do really want to leave my mark! It’s hard to explain, I do think about the people who have played there before, and things like that, but I kind of ‘rise to the occasion’ and use that to fuel my ambition and energy into putting out a good performance, and a memorable performance for people that go there, so they can look back and go “Oh, I seen Harts there last year” or something like that. I just want it to be a memory or experience for them, I try to put more energy into that kind of thing.
HAPPY: Lester Bangs once famously said that “The first mistake of art is to assume it’s serious“. I’ve certainly felt this quote is true, being among crowds at festivals watching performers. Do you feel a sense of positivity, and of being a free spirit more so playing festivals then you would at regular venues?
HARTS: Yeah, there’s a little bit of a change but to be honest I feel all of that at a club show or a regular venue anyway. For me, it’s kind of the same thing no matter where, but there are changes in how you approach a festival as opposed to a scene, whether that’s the material that you’re playing or the songs, or the stage setup – all that can add to the experience of the show, for you personally, or the audience. But I do definitely like playing outdoors, there’s something about the spirit of playing outdoors that really gets me going, I like that aspect of it.
HAPPY: For sure. Now this is a bit of a change of pace, but what’re your top five favourite records?
HARTS: Ooh, that’s pretty hard! (laughs) Well, I’ll try for you. Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys, Prince – Sign ‘O’ the Times, Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life, Oasis – What’s the Story Morning Glory? and oh, I don’t even know. That fifth is going to be the mysterious one. I don’t know.
HAPPY: (laughs) I am putting you on the spot a bit here!
HARTS: Do you need five?
HAPPY: No, no. If you can’t think of five, that’s fine. I’m just intrigued!
HARTS: I don’t come prepared so I have to look at my record collection, and then… oh yeah! Sorry! The Gorillaz – Plastic Beach.
HAPPY: Right on. It must’ve been the mention of the record collection that sprung that one to mind.
Now, my dad, who is of an older generation, heard some of your stuff the other week, and immediately made the connection to T-Rex and Marc Bolan. I note that you’re constantly being compared to Hendrix and Prince also. Do you find that these comparisons are a hindrance in the sense that people then expect something of your music, or do you find it’s helpful in reaching a wider audience? As it’s then something for people to relate it to?
HARTS: It’s difficult. I think its better that people have some sort of reference point to it, but it does come across in different ways to different people, because it is so eclectic and it does stand a lot of genres depending on what tracks you really show somebody. A lot of people could say h, he sounds like Prince’ or a lot of people say ‘he sounds like Hendrix’ or T-Rex, some of my newer stuff I’m working on now, a lot of people will say it sounds like The Beatles, so it is quite diverse in genre, and I guess, full of electiveness if that’s a word.
I kind of hope that people see it as unique as I see it, that they see it as something different, but at the same time I understand you have to put reference points on it, and I appreciate those comparisons because that’s what I was going for, that’s some of the top music I took bits and pieces from to recreate my own music. It’s a good comparison to get. Luckily, I don’t see many negative comparisons like ‘oh it’s like Prince but not as good’ I don’t really see all that, to me it’s good that I get all those comparisons.
HAPPY: So, what comparison has been the best for you, of those you’ve received?
HARTS: Oooh, probably Jimi Hendrix or Prince. It’s a no brainer cause they’re the ones who inspired me to even get into music, they’re the ones that I take the most influence from, the most inspiration from, so to get compared to those is an amazing kind of thing, I really appreciate those comparisons!
HAPPY: Nice. How long have you been playing guitar for?
HARTS: Probably about seven years, or maybe eight now. I haven’t really counted, I can’t exactly remember when I started, that’s the problem, because I never really started wanting to be a guitarist or trying to get into guitar, I just started playing for fun, so yeah the date is a little bit mysterious, cause I don’t know, but maybe eight years or so.
HAPPY: Do you know what it was that spurred it on? Was there any particular moment, or any situation that brought you towards the guitar, or was it just something that happened naturally?
HARTS: Yeah, it was a particular moment! I was playing drums at that point, I’d been playing drums for a few years, I thought I wanted to be a drummer, then one day I was watching when the TV was just on one of those music channels, and there was a throwback to an old Blues festival – There was an artist I saw playing the guitar, called Buddy Guy…
HAPPY: OH YEAH!
HARTS: And he was playing a song called Money, a cover of an old Blues song called Money (That’s What I Want) and just the flamboyantness of what he was doing, you know, he went off stage and was playing guitar in the audience, and he was just screaming and singing, the classic kind of Buddy Guy performance…
HAPPY: Yeah, the man gets real sassy!
HARTS: Yeah! There was so much energy in it that I thought ‘damn, I wanna play guitar’, when I saw that moment I thought ‘that guy is amazing, I want to do what he’s doing’. After that I got more into playing the guitar, you know, got more into Buddy Guy, and because I was into Buddy Guy, I found Jimi Hendrix off that, and I got more into that type of music, and once I was there I already knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t doing it to be the best guitarist in the world *laughs* you know what I mean? I was just doing it for fun, I just wanted to play for fun.
I was learning at a hobby kind of pace, playing every day, kind of having fun, then a few years into it I started getting a lot of compliments on my playing, people who had been playing for ten plus years were wowed by what I was doing and I was only playing for a few years – they kind of influenced me to keep going with it, and told me ‘what you’re doing is really cool’. So, once I was already there I started taking it more seriously, I got way more into actually trying to be as good as I could be at guitar.
HAPPY: That’s great! Do you think you’ll do any Buddy Guy covers at Bluesfest?
HARTS: You know what, I probably might! I think it would be the perfect occasion for it.
HAPPY: Exactly! A commemoration – You’re playing at a Blues festival, and he got you into it all. I think you should do it. Maybe your own rendition of Money, that could be cool!
HARTS: That would be amazing, it would be great. But the thing is with Bluesfest is I’ve already kind of planned in my head, that around that time I’m probably going to be releasing my second album, so I’m going to introduce all the new material, and obviously play it live before then, kind of test out what works, what doesn’t work, really build a show around that, and try to bring it out for Bluesfest. I haven’t looked at my set time, but hopefully I have some time to chuck in a cover.
HAPPY: Hopefully – that would be really snazzy! Now, 2015 was a major year for you, and your music. What’s been the standout moment?
HARTS: Someone asked me this earlier, and I think it came to my experience of playing at Splendour in the Grass for the first time. I was about to go on stage, I was the first act of the day in the tent, and no one was there, it was completely empty, I thought I would be playing to nobody because nobody was there! As time kept going, a few people here and there came, and literally like one or two minutes before we were supposed to go on stage about four or five thousand people just came out of nowhere, and just packed up the whole tent. I’d say it was full with about six thousand, maybe.
HAPPY: Wow! Kudos.
HARTS: Yeah! And all just people that were there for me, kind of thing. They were all singing the songs, they were all there for the end of my Breakthrough tour as well, and it was my last show of that tour. It was just an amazing experience to play my first big festival, be the first act on, and to really pack out the tent at that time, all the Splendour organisers were saying they’d never had a crowd that big for the first opening slot, so I got a lot of good feedback. People were so into it, and it was just amazing to play to that crowd, to those people.
HAPPY: I can imagine! And I think you would be quite the perfect festival act as well. I have one last question, what makes you happy?!
HARTS: Well, this is going to be super cliché but playing guitar makes me the happiest, more than anything in the world. The joy I get from playing guitar and making music, you can’t compare it – it’s like warm sunshine on your back… or something (laughs).
HAPPY: I know what you mean, and thank you so much for chatting! Good luck on your tour.
HARTS: No worries, thanks a lot, I appreciate it!