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.

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