You grew up in Melbourne which cultivates music, arts, culture and sport. Do you think being around this inspired you in any way?
I think it did because I originally got into music through friends in High School and I think it was just kind of the culture in Victoria which is heavily music based. Music was a really strong subject in my high school and there was a lot of push to introduce students to instruments. Also once I could go to live venues I could check out the amazing music scene and started playing with bands.
This is your first time playing at Bluesfest 2016 and you are playing both Thursday and Saturday. Will you be able to check out some of the other amazing artists on stage and if so is there anyone in particular you would like to see?
I will probably be there for the full weekend. There are some great blues musicians, soul artists like D’Angelo and some big headliners that I’m keen to check out as well and some rock artists that I grew up listening to like Noel Gallagher.
You mention Buddy Guy as one of your musical influences. What do you make of the recent comment he made expressing his concern about the future of blues music – he said that if young people don’t hear it like he did and listen to it then they don’t know about it.
I hadn’t heard that quote but that’s pretty much what it is because if it’s not exposed or available for people how do they know to like it or connect to it? That’s always a concern – particularly for someone like me who grew up listening to Buddy Guy and blues – it’s just not as present these days. But I think that there are a lot of artists who are trying to bring it back to consciousness like myself and Gary Clark Jnr as well as others. Also the people who come to my shows really appreciate what I am doing – they love the guitar work and the classic kind of blues thing that I add to my music. But I do agree with him as it is a dying thing right at this moment particularly with dance music being so strong with youth.
How do you relate to the blues?
I started playing drums first of all, then I kind of got into guitar playing through listening to Buddy Guy. It really connected with me the way the guitar sounded through the expressiveness of the instrument and the expressiveness of playing the instrument and as I started playing it more I connected with it as my natural musical voice. It came from the most basic form of blues I was listening to, the 12 bar blues stuff I was learning straight up how to do all of that lead stuff, bending the strings and other stuff that you learn for the first time. It’s a touching experience for you because it’s something you can really express yourself with sound, it’s not your own voice it’s just the guitar as the best expression that I have and that’s how I connected with the blues so much. The blues was all about expression.
What have you had to let go of if anything in your musical journey to find the essence of your unique sound?
Well I had to go through many changes or styles of music to find what was natural. It’s pretty strange because I love all kinds of music and I have eclectic taste. I love dance music, funk, rock, soul, blues music, classical music, sometimes jazz as well. I couldn’t figure out what type of music to create or how I should go about creating it until I just experimented with many genres to try and blend what I liked together and to try and create something unique.. It was a hard struggle for me to try and find my own place within music and my own unique sound and genre. I don’t think there are many people out there doing the same music that I’m doing – particularly with putting quirky funk, dance music and rock music together. It’s taken me a long time. I have been working on this Harts program for six years now and it’s taken this long to find what came natural to me.
Did your visit to Paisley Park on invitation from Prince – who really loves and supports your music – influence this direction?
Yeah definitely! Prince really gave me a lot of guidance when I visited him. I played him my first album last year before it was released and he just kind of picked out what he liked about it, picked out what he necessarily thinks I shouldn’t be doing and should be continuing with. A lot of the guidance was that I should be focussing more around the guitar, developing songs as a guitarist and developing live as a guitarist and branding myself as a guitarist as he saw that as my biggest strength by far. I was kind of playing all instruments trying to be a jack of all trades doing it that way. Prince guided me away from that to focus on being a guitarist. As soon as I started writing the new material based around the guitar that’s when the big opportunities started coming: audiences started paying more attention, more airplay on radio, everything connected. So he was correct about that which was great. I was so lucky to have that support.
You have recently played regional gigs and festivals across Australia. What do you enjoy about playing live shows?
I like that the music comes alive when you play it live. You can see the audience’s reaction to the music. When you make music in your studio and then put it out you never see the audience’s first reaction to it. You never see people enjoy it, what parts of the song they are enjoying. It’s a whole other world as you don’t get to see that interaction with your music. That goes back to the earlier point about me branding myself as a guitarist above anything else. When I started playing live I could see that people were connecting with the guitar songs, every time I picked up the guitar and started to wail it everyone kind of went crazy and I didn’t realise that was a strong point of what I was doing. Also hearing people sing your songs back to you is cool. I played free gigs in pubs for example where people have just walked off the streets because they like what they’re hearing. Australia’s musical culture is great like that – they are not afraid to show they love it and they really support the music they enjoy.
The internet has provided you with opportunities to build your profile through social media, Triple J has also provided you with opportunities and now your live show bookings are on the rise. Do you think it’s important to maintain a good balance between these mediums of exposure?
Yeah definitely, I think the more you can hit all of those things the better for your career. It’s really hard to rely on just one form of promotion for example just doing live shows or relying on radio – or print media. I tried to do that for a long time with aiming for radio. But if you don’t get lucky with radio for whatever reason – if radio people don’t think your sound is right for their station and your single doesn’t get much attention – you really have to go out there and you have to play live. You have to also hit radio, media, internet, social media, bloggers as well. I just worked all of the opportunities that I had available.
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Harts is at Bluesfest Byron Bay which runs 24 – 28 March, 2016.