The purple shadow is a heavy one. It’s defined many artists their whole careers – from long-time Prince collaborators Sheila E and Sheena Easton to Janelle Monae. So it’s no wonder that almost two years since the music icon invited him to jam at Paisley Park, 25-year-old Darren Hart – known as Harts – is keen to shake the Prince protégé label. Since dropping his second album, Smoke fire hope desire, in September, the Melburnian has been asked again and again about the Purple One – including by us. That was then, however. More recently, he’s been chosen as Triple J’s Feature Album, won fans in the likes of Empire of the Sun’s Nick Littlemore and performed a series of sold-out shows around the country. In a rare moment of downtime, we caught up with GQ’S Breakthrough Solo Artist of the Year to find out what it’s like being a one-man show – and to see if he’s sick of talking about Prince yet.
GQ: You’ve been making your own music for more than six years now, yet many people still give Prince a lot of the credit for it. Should we set the record straight? Harts: Yeah, it’s sad when I read how people think he helped me write and record everything. He encouraged me, taught me a lot about jamming with other musicians, playing other genres, writing, producing and the business. Prince had advice to give on every aspect of my life, but he didn’t have any hands-on input into anything. This music is what I’ve been creating myself, and doing myself.
GQ: Are you tired of talking about him yet? Harts: [laughs] It’s an old story I’m trying to close the gap on now. It’s amazing to have the respect, love and support I got from Prince – he shone a light on me and kicked off my whole career, and I’m forever in debt for that. At the same time, people need to understand that I was me, before I met Prince.
GQ: Smoke Fire Hope Desire has been really well received. How does it feel to have that external validation? Harts: It’s amazing. For a long time I felt as though I wasn’t taken seriously because people didn’t really understand what I was, or my musical style. But it was more validating that this album can compete with all the records out there that have four writers, 10 producers, and loads of studio time.
GQ: Live shows are famed for your guitar shredding and energetic performances. Does that come from playing alone most of the time? Harts: I think so. It’s completely natural though. I’ve never practised in front of a mirror or anything! The energy from the crowd lets you step up your game. That also gives you energy back when you’re making music, because you know what people like about you and what elements they’re drawn to.
GQ: You play everything from guitar and bass to drums and keyboards. How does being a multiinstrumentalist affect your writing process? Harts: It starts from whatever instrument I’m playing. For example, if I start a song with a guitar riff, I know it’s going to be a little bit on the heavier side, like a lot of the rock stuff that I do. If I start with a drum and bass groove, I know it’s going to fall into a specific style of writing. I always complete the music, then the melody, and then the lyrics to the melody. That’s really the only process rule I have.
GQ: Besides the new album, you’ve also just come off your biggest tour yet. How’s it all going for you? Harts: It’s been going well. The album came out and people have been enjoying it. It’s great to see people like what I do and get that encouragement to pursue what I wanted to do in music. I’ll probably tour again next year, I want to record another album and I want to hit up America. But now that I’ve finished the tour, I’m looking forward to staying home for a bit.