PRINCE’S AUSTRALIAN PROTÉGÉ TALKS ABOUT HOW JAM SESSIONS WITH THE PURPLE ONE HELPED SHAPE HIS NEW ALBUM.
“Hart reminds me of how I was at his age.” They’re the words of the late, great Prince, which tend to show up any time you care to google musician Darren Hart (aka Harts). Kind of like how you can’t read about Mariah Carey without a mention of her five-octave range. Given Hart was just a kid strumming away in his Melbourne bedroom at the time, such high praise might come as a surprise – but then you hear him play. Almost always dressed in a leather jacket and ’50s-style white tee (or psychedelic shirt), Hart’s slick sound is rooted in funk, R’N’B and rock. His shows are filled with Hendrix levels of shreddery and behind-the-head tricks that make it crazy to think he only picked up guitar seven years ago. After teaching himself bass, keys, vocals and recording, Hart found himself with a manager, an EP and an offer from The Mars Volta’s Lars Stalfors to mix his tracks. Industry praise followed, and that phone call from Paisley Park. “It was surreal,” he says. “I’d just had some bad dealings with a label, so I was a bit sad. Then, within two hours, I got an email from Prince’s manager.” Hart assumed it was a prank, until his phone rang and a voice announced he was speaking to the Purple One. “We’ve been listening to you a lot,” said the singer. “I’d like for you to come out here, record and play with us.” Hart kept his cool and, within a few weeks, was en route to Minnesota. “He gave me advice about the business,” says Hart. “He was frustrated with the state of the industry, he just wanted to inspire people like me to make a change and challenge what popular music is today.” The fruits of the jam, coupled with influences from ’70s soul, hip-hop, Buddy Guy, Jack White, and big-band funk, can all be heard on Hart’s new album, Smoke Fire Hope Desire. It boasts bigger and more varied arrangements than ever before, thanks to some lessons in risk-taking. “Prince really challenged me,” he says. “We played [genres] I wasn’t comfortable with, but he wanted me to see there’s more to music, that you have to discover as much as you can – that’s the thing that leads to longevity in the music industry. That’s what inspires you to continue creating.” Smoke Fire Hope Desire is out September 16; hartsmusic.com