Our recent interview with singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Harts could be summarised as a tale of two Fender Strats. One of them is a guitar he uses in his Harts Plays Hendrix show. It’s an upside down left-handed Strat, strung for a right-hander, a mirror image of the guitar that Jimi Hendrix played. The other is the new American Ultra Strat, which Fender has bestowed upon him due to his role as an ambassador for the model. The American Ultra Strat is one of the most comfortable guitars Harts has ever played. Conversely, the Hendrix show Strat is quite challenging to play. Harts reveals why in our chat about the upcoming Harts Plays Hendrix tour in 2020, his role as ambassador for the American Ultra Strat and the many other projects he’s been working on. By Greg Phillips

Harts at Howler 2018 by Jason Rosewarne

In 2020 Darren Hart, aka Harts will embark on a national tour presenting his new show Harts Plays Hendrix. The show consists of a carefully curated set list from Jimi’s entire catalogue, performed live by Harts in a powerful three-piece band experience, with guest appearances by some of Australia’s most beloved musicians. A Hendrix tribute show is certainly nothing new, many have attempted the difficult task but for Harts the idea came about due to the persistent requests from his fans.
“The idea came from the fans,” he tells me. “At the end of a Harts show I would always throw in a cover and a lot of the time it was a Hendrix song. People were like, oh it would be awesome to see you play a whole gig of that, so it was always in the back of my mind. I thought that’s a pretty cool idea, I want to do that at some point. Then I had little moments of opportunities like at Blues On Broadbeach. A couple of years ago they did a Hendrix tribute and I came out to do one song for that. So there were a few little opportunities like that I had been part of and thought it was good timing to do it for 2020. I was talking with my friend at the Hendrix estate and basically I said to them, is that something you think I should do or how do you think it’s a good idea and they were very supportive about it. It was a long process. We were talking about it for 2 or 3 years in the background. We did one Melbourne show to gauge the response to see if there was a market or demand because we didn’t know if there was. Tickets are going well so far, so it’s proven there is a market for it.”

Harts was introduced to the music of Jimi Hendrix through first hearing Buddy Guy. Buddy was his first taste of the blues and led the young guitarist down the rabbit hole of exploring other great blues performers including Hendrix. It wasn’t so much Jimi’s tone or even songs that appealed most to Harts, it was the sense of freedom with which he played that really inspired him. “It felt like there wasn’t the same restrictions or rules with him as I’d seen with other people and I didn’t understand why,” Harts says. “I didn’t really get it because you felt like everybody was improvising and playing what was in their heart and their soul but there was something about Hendrix that felt more fearless in his playing … It’s really hard to articulate but I think it was just a fearlessness and freedom that he had when he played that was really inspiring to everybody. It was like this guy was on another level, not just because of his skill but he was not afraid to go places that no one had been before and take the guitar into a whole other realm.”

For the upcoming Harts Plays Hendrix tour, Darren is more focused on displaying the Hendrix spirit as opposed to precisely matching Jimi’s guitar tones. While there are some must-haves for his pedalboard, it’s not the deal breaker for him. “I am not trying not to make it an impersonation in any way and that was something I was very conscious about from the start,” he explains. “Definitely I want to send some cues like the upside down Strat and with the guitar tone, there are some things that you just have to have like that Octavia type of fuzz, the high octave fuzz on a lot of things. I am definitely going to recreate some of those sounds within the songs but I still want to open it up to a modern sound. Back then they weren’t using big PAs and big drum sounds, so we wanted to make it like a modern rock show with the kick drum hitting you in the chest and tie that gap between a normal Harts show and the Hendrix thing. So using the Hendrix sounds but putting them through a modern filter I guess.”

Playing the upside down Strat has been quite a learning curve for Harts. It’s strung for a right hand player so that’s not an issue, it’s more about the body being upside down and the guitar’s protruding horn (which would normally be on top) making it difficult to access frets. “What I didn’t realise was that because of the Strat’s cut out style, you can’t access above the 14th or 15th fret and I never realised that, something I just overlooked. That took a bit of getting used to, just to access those high frets. You have to bend your hand in a really awkward way and it hurts a little bit. I got used to it but also the tone and volume knobs are constantly getting knocked by your strumming hand because they are on top. I always found I was rolling back my tone and volume. Half way through a song my knobs were almost off, so it was a challenge to play without hitting those knobs. I think I have to figure a way to glue them in place temporarily. It’s really hard when you are trying to go in and turn everything up to ten and get that feedback but then you realise your volume is on 3! It happened to me at Caloundra. I have to figure a way around that. I don’t know how he did it, bent his wrist a little bit more or something. I actually have to go back and watch some stuff and figure out why he wasn’t hitting his knobs all the time … maybe he was!”

As alluded to in this interview’s intro, the polar opposite to that guitar from a playing comfort perspective is the new Fender American Ultra Strat, which Harts has become an ambassador for. In fact, with it’s rolled edges and D shape neck, straight out of the box the Ultra Strat felt instantly comfortable in Harts’ hands.
“Usually when I pick up a new guitar for the first time, it does take a while to get used to because I come from using cheaper guitars like the Squier … so whenever I upgrade to a really good guitar, it does feel different. When I picked up the Ultra, the differences weren’t there straight away. There’s a video that I hope Fender is going to bring out which are my reactions from the first time I played it. It was genuine, it just felt really good straight away and I didn’t understand why because they didn’t tell me anything about the neck shape or anything. I wasn’t used to the trem system but everything else felt so familiar, especially the neck profile and they had it strung with 9 gauge strings, so it felt just right for me. Everything felt great straight out of the box.”

Harts loved the sculpted neck heel too, which is major feature of the Ultra series guitars …
“That’s something that I never had on a guitar before,” he says. “I was used to the big, old-school heel joint. I didn’t know it was such an improvement. Access to the higher frets becomes so seamless but it is something that I hadn’t thought of. The contour on the neck changes too … the radius as you go up, so it’s little things like that which I have never felt on a guitar before. That’s why I didn’t feel that rigidness going up the neck anymore. The main thing that I really love about it though is the S1 switch. I have a Squier Strat, not one I play on stage but I had it modified to have that mod in it, so I could hit a switch and add the neck to the bridge, add the neck to all three in the configuration. I was already doing that and didn’t think Fender would actually add that to a line of guitars. I really like that because there is a specific configuration for funk music that sounds amazing and it is basically all three together, it’s in between the bridge and middle position and then you press the S1 switch to activate the neck and it feels great for funk.”

While Harts has been relatively quiet on social media lately, he’s been extremely busy in the studio with a wide range of projects, many of which he’s not in a position to announce just yet. What we do know however is that he is responsible for the music theme to the upcoming 2020 Cricket World Cup.
“They reached out to a bunch of artists to work on the song and they picked me to do it. It will be used in all of their advertising campaigns throughout 2020. That was a big project to be part of and something I really enjoyed because I am into cricket as well. I’ve also been working really hard producing some records at the moment, a lot of local up and coming musicians. I always wanted to give back and help other artists achieve what they are trying to do. I have been delving into that world. I am producing a rock album for a friend, an EP and some other things for other artists which I can’t really say anything about until it lands a placement. A lot of hip hop stuff, working with a lot of rappers. So I’ve been really busy in the studio. I have been quiet on social media because like the Fender Ultra thing, a lot of things are yet to be announced. I think once 2020 rolls around and things are announced, it will all start to make more sense. I have also been doing a little bit of modelling for David Jones, a bit of their campaign and trying to get into acting, doing a lot of different activities which are not all music related. It’s actually really good because there was a time when I was getting a little confused about where I was heading. I didn’t want to do rock or guitar-based music forever and I didn’t know how to do that without being Harts, so there was a lot time just trying to figure out a direction because I had achieved what I wanted to very early. It was great, a blessing but it left me a bit stumped for a while. A lot of this year was planning the next five years and how am I going to get there and just being open to opportunities that come along and saying yes to things and being more involved in the music community as a whole. So a lot of that thinking and decisions are leading to the things that are being announced now and into next year. Had I not been open to new ideas these things wouldn’t have happened and who knows what I’d be doing? I’d probably be doing another Harts album but reluctantly so, just because I didn’t have anything else on the table. I am just happy to go wherever the road’s leading. At the moment there are a lot of things going on and in the next months things will reveal themselves and this conversation won’t sound as vague as it does now!”

For more info on the American Ultra Series, visit Fender HERE



Ticket info https://hartsmusic.com/

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  • Dom DiSisto
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