Merging indie-rock with alternative rock, Hugh Hart has a heavy-hitting, heart-pumping sound. We speak with the US-based singer-songwriter about his debut EP Dog Park, future plans, giving advice to new artists and much more!
Do you feel your previous band experience impacts your current sound?
Totally. My bands back in Chicago, before I moved west, featured great musicians with lots of personality, so when creating the tracks for Dog Park I often pictured myself at the center of a sort of phantom band figuring out parts as I imagined they’d be played by players from my past groups, especially guitarists (J.D. Dragus in Wedge, Bruce Barrett in The ODD, Curtis Kincaid from Planet Hugh, Shawn Williams, Ray McKenzie, Rob Williams) and drummers (Ed Breckenfeld and Brad Canaday from The ODD, Jeff Thomas from Wedge, Stephen Bass in Planet Hugh, Mark Duran from my first band Huge Hart). I might ask myself “How would Ed play this?” Then I’d program the drums to match that vibe. So yeah, “hearing” in my head musicians from my previous bands turned out to be super influential in shaping the sound for Dog Park.
What inspired the EP Dog Park?
A bunch of songs bubbled up over the past year, but I felt like these four tunes fit together pretty well as a cohesive piece of work. Each track deals in a different way with stuff like death, decay and resilience. I hope that doesn’t sound too depressing! But in that sense, Dog Park really found its footing in the Covid-19 era.
If you could change anything about the EP what would it be?
Which is your favourite track on the EP?
I don’t mean to dodge the question but honestly, each song is kind of a favourite. I had about 15 other tunes to choose from and these four somehow seemed to step forward and say “pick me”. They just felt, in the moment, like the tracks I needed to put out there.
What was the writing and recording like for this EP?
It was pretty intense. I’d usually “find” the song by tinkering around with chords on this old spinet piano I’ve carted around with me for the past 20 years. A few lyrics would start drifting out of my mouth to match the melody. Then it became about trying and throwing out. Trying and throwing out various words and images and rhymes until I finally arrived at the story I was trying to tell.
In the case of ‘Dog Park’, the song came about partly from me living in Los Angeles right off Laurel Canyon Boulevard where psychotic drivers are constantly speeding downhill and often getting into crashes at the spot I’ve come to call “Dead Man’s Curve”. The idea of careening around with your friends in a car driven by a lunatic driver sparked the first verse, which led to the rest of the song.
‘How to Be a Millionaire’ built on this freight train shuffle and I became obsessed with playing this rhythm guitar riff over it when the words “hole in the bucket” hit me. I started thinking about my high school classmate Pete. He was witty and musical and self-taught in all kinds of things, but he was also an alcoholic. Pete died of exposure on the streets of L.A. ‘How to Be a Millionaire’ channels some of his spirit and circles around this idea of being burdened by some kind of absence: a “hole in the bucket only I can see.” At the same time, the guy in this song yearns for success and wealth. Even though he lives under a bridge, the singer wants to know how to be a millionaire.
‘If It Works For You’, like a lot of my songs, owes a debt to Old Masters like Neil Young and the Kinks’ Ray Davies and Elvis Costello and Steve Earle. They’re so good creating melodic little vignettes, then putting them across with sort of idiosyncratic voices. I also like new artists including Lewis Capaldi, whose ‘Someone You Loved’ inspired my stripped-down piano-and-vocal arrangement. In ‘If It Works for You’, the guy’s singing to his girlfriend/wife/significant other trying to patch things up while they’re in the middle of a cross-country road trip in a broken down car to who knows where.
’27 Shades of Blue’ turned out to be the most challenging track because I was trying to find a metaphor to articulate the anger, shame and sorrow I felt, like so many other Americans, when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor got murdered. Racism, the United States’ original sin, has destroyed the lives of so many Black men, women and kids. After all these centuries, senseless racist violence continues to cause heartbreak and ruination across the land. I started with the line “Look around at the rubble on the ground” and ’27 Shades of Blue’ developed from there.
In terms of recording, I had one microphone, a mic stand and a laptop. First, I’d create the instrumental tracks in Logic software on my MacBook. Then, I’d go into the laundry room of the little bungalow my wife and I rented in Laurel Canyon. I did my singing in this room that was about four feet by seven feet. If I swung my arm too far, I’d hit the dryer.
Once I finished recording Dog Park, I needed fresh, objective ears to put everything in perspective. I sent the audio files via DropBox to a brilliant engineer-producer in the Chicago area named Craig Williams. Craig mixed and mastered Dog Park at Dr. Caw Recording.
What advice do you have for emerging bands?
Practice until you’re tight and play in front of people whenever you get the chance because they’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t.
Describe your music in one sentence.
Indie-pop meets twisted Americana.
Where do you hope to be in three years?
Sitting at the piano writing songs and putting them out into the world. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake.
Do you have a message for our readers?
Listen with open ears.