With a voice that floats with soulful warmth and honesty, Rick Hart is a storyteller, whose words and melodies weave through the dynamics and extremes of human emotions and relationships. Rick chats to EatNoise about his "countrified soul" debut album "Let Me In", prolific songwriting, mixed tapes, cinnamon whisky and more ...
So, tell us the story of yourself and your history with music...
Born in India, my family migrated to Australia when I was just four years old. I was very lucky to grow up in a musical household, where my dad played guitar and sang himself, and also introduced me to music that has stuck with me to this day. Thanks to dad, I fell in love with the Rolling Stones, CCR, The Beatles, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and The Allman Brothers. I remember so vividly family parties, where dad would get his guitar out and we'd sing along to so many classic songs. While I may not have realized at the time, this love for music and how it brought people together would be a great driver for me when I started my own journey.
Throughout the late 80's and 90's, I sang with numerous cover bands. However, even then I made sure these bands were playing songs by artists I liked. Towards the late 90's, however, I had started to write my own songs more and more, and the spark that this lit saw me grow tired of singing other people's songs in cover bands.
In the early 2000's I formed an originals band Heathen Sway, playing my songs with a bunch of like minded and influenced musicians. We went on to record one album called 'Lights Out'. While this was never officially released (as we broke up before it could be), the album is available now through my online store. In fact several of the songs I wrote for that album, have found their way into my live sets today.
During the mid to late 2000's, after Heathen Sway broke up, and kids came along, I took a break from recording and performing. However, I kept writing (lots). Eventually once family life had a settled down (after our the birth of our third son) and with the support and persistence of my wife Vanessa, I put more time and focus into my music and went about writing the tracks for what would become my first EP 'Spiral'.
Prior to 'Spiral' being recorded, in 2012 I wrote a song called 'My Hesitation', which went on to win the Best Ballad category at the Australian Songwriters Association (ASA) Awards.
The 'Spiral' EP was recorded and released in 2014. The reaction and accolades that came with its release really lit a spark for me to get back to performing as well and in that same year I finally found myself playing gigs again in and around Melbourne.
In 2015 I released a stand-alone three track mini EP 'City Lights' and also formed my current band Rick Hart and The Sweet Addictions.
In 2016, I began recording my first album, releasing a single in the middle of that year called 'Levon Helm'. This was a song about loving and losing someone to alcohol addiction and it went on to receive some pretty special accolades including being a finalist in the International Songwriting Contest, as well as the Great American Songwriting Contest. It was also voted on certain community radio stations around Australia as the most requested song of 2016. 'Levon Helm' would end up finding its way onto my 'Let Me In' album despite the gap between its release and the album's.
Which brings us to 2017, what a year that was. Not only did I finish and release my first album 'Let Me In', I released several successful singles and videos ahead of the album's release, including 'To The Grave', which became a regular on Foxtel's CMC's Alt Country show. This combined with supporting artists such as Things Of Stone And Wood and country icon Bill Chambers, sold out album tour shows in Melbourne and Sydney, saw 2017 become a real breakout year for me and my music.
2018 has started in fine style, with my first successful tour of Tamworth for the Country Music Festival as well as a run of well received shows in Melbourne and interstate.
You've released your debut new album "Let Me In" - how would you describe the music on this album?
Authentic, throwback country. Melody driven landscapes. A melting pot of country, soul and rock'n'roll, layered with some melancholy, songs about heartache, reflection, loss, addiction, optimism and a travelogue of human emotions.
How do you feel this album has changed from your 2014 EP "Spiral"?
I am very prolific when it comes to writing. I am literally writing every day and it is the creation and evolution of the song that drives me most. Since 'Spiral, I believe my songwriting has matured a great deal. However, the core ingredients of simplicity, strong melodies and avoiding clichés remains. I have delved into writing about more serious and heart-wrenching subject matter. Love songs, but with stories beyond simply heartache and loss.
With 'Let Me In', I have tried to showcase all aspects of my own influence, never attempting to pigeon hole myself. All the music I love, whether it be real, traditional country, rock'n'roll, soul, blues, folk and even pop are all there in different ways. I wanted people to see that while at my core I may be a country artist, there are many more facets to my music and songwriting. I believe 'Let Me In' goes some way to do that.
You won an award for the songwriting on that album. Tell us about that!
I was lucky enough that in 2014, the title track from my first EP 'Spiral' took out the Best Ballad category at the prestigious Australian Songwriters Association (ASA) Awards. In addition to this, it culminated in me winning the main award on the night, The Songwriter of the Year 2014.
This came with prize money that allowed me to go into the studio to start working on my first album, which would become 'Let Me In'.
'Spiral' was also a finalist in the Great American Songwriting Contest, the UK Songwriting Contest and the International Songwriting Competition.
Where did you record "Let Me In", and who did you have working and performing on the album?
The album was recorded with my long time friend and amazing producer, Michael Zammit at Airwaves Recording Studio in Altona North, Victoria. Michael had worked on my 2014 debut EP (Spiral) and I had no hesitation working with him to record 'Let Me In'.
The album was mastered by the brilliant David Briggs (formerly of Little River Band fame).
In addition to Michael, there were some super talented people who appear on the album. Brendan Mitchell on pedal steel, Andrew Gorwell on harmonica, Althea del Vecchio and Vanessa Hart on vocals (Vanessa actually sings on the current single 'Little Pieces' which is on the album). Also my amazingly talented niece Elysia Gomez sings a duet with me on the album's last song 'Love Gets The Better Of Me'.
What's behind the name of your album Let Me In?
The title track 'Let Me In' was actually written for a friend who was going through a hard time. It was about letting them know that they a pretty special and that they had people (like me) around them who really cared for them and were there to help them through what they were going. It's a song about opening up to the possibility of healing and learning to love one's self again.
I also felt the title had a double meaning in that it was me saying to the music industry, "here I am, open your hearts and ears and 'Let Me In'".
What has the response been to your debut album?
The response to 'Let Me In' has been fantastic and quite humbling really. I've had so many people through social media, shows or contact me in person to tell me how much they love the album and the songwriting. People have identified with specific songs and even told me that certain songs have made them cry, which as a songwriter is a real compliment as it tells me that my songs are evoking emotion.
The support from community radio, both nationally and internationally has also been amazing. Certain programmers have also gravitated to their favourite songs.
Now you've finished your album - what next?
More shows through the early and mid part of 2018, along with some more singles and videos released from the album. Starting to lay down songs for the next recording. Also starting work in the second half of 2018 on a new project with a working title "Ladybirds", which I am very excited about. An East Coast tour planned for the latter part of 2018.
What are three critical elements that influences your song writing?
Strong melodies, strong imagery and stories and honesty.
What songs are on your best imaginary mix-tape?
Tumbling Dice - Rolling Stones
In My Life - The Beatles
(Just Like) Starting Over - John Lennon
Tin Soldier - Small Faces
I've Been Loving You Too Long - Otis Redding
A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
Rambling Man - The Allman Brothers
Blue Eyes - Gram Parsons
Dedicated Follower of Fashion - The Kinks
Everybody's Talkin' - Harry Nillson
Good Year For The Roses - George Jones
Sunday Morning Coming Down - Kris Kristofferson
Devil Woman - Marty Robbins
Excuse Me (I Think I've Got A Heartache) - Buck Owens
Swinging Doors - Merle Haggard
Sea of Heartbreak - Don Gibson
Jealous Again - Black Crowes
Reason To Believe - Tim Hardin
Time Has Told Me - Nick Drake
Stay With Me - The Faces
Accidents Will Happen - Elvis Costello
Town Called Malice - The Jam
This Charming Man - The Smiths
If you could curate your own music festival, and include yourself on the bill, what local, Australian and international artists would you book? Who would headline?
Springsteen and Rolling Stones to co-headline. International acts to appear would be Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Jason Isbell, Teenage Fanclub, Old 97's, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama Shakes, Ray La Montagne, Amos Lee. Sure I've missed a few.
Aussie acts to appear would be You Am I, Paul Kelly, Neil Finn (yeah I know he's from NZ), Hoodoo Gurus.
You're 18 at a gig. What band t-shirt are you wearing?
Rolling Stones every day of the week.
What was your first concert/gig?
My first concert was as a youngster when I saw KISS at VFL Park in Waverley in 1980.
If your music was to be used as a soundtrack for a film, what genre of film is it, who would you want directing it, and who would star?
A thriller based in the American Midwest, something a little dark, where heartache and sorrow are right at home. Scorsese or Tarantino would be pretty cool to direct and Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Woody Harrelson would be a good place to start with the cast.
If you had to play a completely different genre of music to what you do now, what would it be?
Being a lover of some great soul artists (Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson), I'd love to explore the raw sound of sweet soul music. I'm also very partial to a lot of great melody driven, power pop/guitar rock'n'roll music (Big Star, Teenage Fanclub) so something a little more rock'n'roll would be pretty cool.
Tell us about a gig you've played that you could never forget.
Selling out our recent Melbourne album launch show at the Skylark Room was such a thrill and such a memorable night. Also supporting Things of Stone and Wood at Northcote Social Club and also playing alongside Bill Chambers in 2017 were very memorable.
What food/drink serving suggestions do you have for this album?
Fireball cinnamon whiskey and some spicy authentic Mexican would work well. For me anyway. Something that enlightens the taste buds would work well and heighten the senses to the songs on the album.
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