Interview by Luis Boullosa
ED NOTE: This interview was done in Madrid in 2011. Here Hart talks about his recent work on an album based on Milton's Paradise Lost, his European (mis)adventures, his solo albums and a certain band that he was in called Hüsker Dü.
I'm flying from Heathrow to Vienna. Next day, we are crossing into Croatia at about two thirty in the afternoon and at the border, there were a misunderstanding involving prescription medicine. The same old story you always hear about, and I spent the night of my birthday in a jail in Croatia, and the next day was a Saturday and court started late in a town that was 30 KM away and using only a translator, I was excused by the judge and apologies from the country and then two days later coming to Macedonia, nearly the same thing. Happens everywhere. You have six people who are very reasonable and very understanding and one guy running around yelling "Cocaine, hashish, heroine, cocaine, hashish, heroine..." And... Yesterday we are in Granada, we look at the Alhambra, we look at the Albaicin, and listen to some great flamenco music and have a delicious meal and we are on our way to the bank and I have all the money for the tour, so far, and we are waiting for a cab to take us to the bank and I see this guy coming and I give Dennis attention. I said "does that man look funny" and the man comes right at me, gets this close, pulls out a knife, this long, and then another guy comes at me from the other side and this guy is struggling at me for what it seemed like half a minute... Every time somebody started moving close, he put the knife up to my throat, so nobody got very close. And at a certain point, I just said "fuck this," let them have the money... let them...
Because (of) all this bullshit, I decided "let's do something out of the ordinary." I like to do that. At the theatre I played, there was a huge stage- that was bigger than this whole floor. Anf there's too curtains at the stage and then there's some steps going down, probably six feet, and then the whole wall moves away and there is the outdoors where the van is parked. So at the beginning of the show, there's the guitar feeding back in the front with a spotlight on it, the curtains open up, then the wall peels away, there is a vehicle and I walk out of the vehicle, it takes me about thirty seconds to walk after the microphone, grab the guitar, put it on and start doing one of the songs of my adaptation of paradise lost, that I've been recording. So... I've been calling that my three thousand dollar intro...
The long time between records (10 years between Good News and Hot Wax)
I gave some time to study these old people who were available. Spending some time with people who weren't gonna be around forever, and I kind of decided on a plan. Things where so screwed up at the end of the release of Good News For Modern Man that I was seriously doubting if I even wanted to be part of the music business anymore. It eats you from the bottom and it eats you from the top and you are in the middle, paying the bills... And... They don't think they need you and in one sense, they don't...
The Artist and His Problems
I thought about this at night when I was going at the opinion that everybody has the potential to write a book, everybody has the potential to make a song, to design a building. Anybody has the potential to be an artist. And I think all that is propaganda to minimalize the importance of the artist and the intellectuals in society, ‘cause, you know, if we are doing our job, then it's impossible for some things to happen for very long. I mean this criticism from artist about the socio/media... The artist was savaged and it was disguised as a democratic evolution, with the file sharing... The U.S. congress acted like nothing was being stolen, and they... were ignoring laws that were on the books for hundred and hundred years, all to subsidize a computer industry with the money from artist... Somebody doing that with my work, when I pay for my time as a designer, I pay for my time as a...
On Hüsker Dü
H üsker Dü is very strong with the DIY ethic, but even in the end, we were selling do it yourself.
On The Argument (his adaptation of Paradise Lost about to be published)
Every song has to stand on its own, without even the story of paradise lost. I want it to be of human meaning even though it's of the angels... It's what the music is doing rather than only the production. It would be easier to get crazy with the production: "this is how heaven sounds like." I wanted to be rock & roll, also I wanted it to be 20th century pop- the new century is too new to know what it's about, but using… song styles and vocal styles from the twenties up to now...
Reading... reached the conclusion that this adaptation, like two or three others that I had seen, dealt very specifically with certain parts of it and dealt nothing at all with the rest of it. Everybody likes the scary parts in hell but nobody wants... the humanity of it. Milton is also writing about the reformation, he is writing about the Catholic intolerance to scientific empirical knowledge. He was specifically a friend of Galileus... points in the book where Adam says "They me about the stars, tell me how they move, Raphael," and is answered "mind your own business, ask me something that I can tell you, something that you know, you can deal with instead of..." Of course you have Lucifer, the original anti-hero, but also you have this quest for truth. God, looking in context, is being the oppressor, but you also have very human dramas, like somebody's affection going from one person to another person like basically being replaced and there is a lot of psychology in there...
You realize there's a reason why nobody went further than Milton, because its nearly impossible and also that with an adaptation, it's going to be bigger than War and Peace... I realized three months ago that I like to put things out on vinyl and I can't charge 80 dollars for a record. And also, there are less movements that there is very little just instrumental, it's like... it's all me...
On "Barbara" (the song in Hot Wax)
"Barbara" is one of the few songs that I've ever written with an specific project in mind. Some friends of mine run an arts magazine and they have this project where they requested the readers to send like a couple of paragraphs describing when they were a child, who they imaginary child friend was. And this one woman had an imaginary child named Barbara and Barbara didn't exist. Barbara was the one that she blamed things on. "Who did this?" "Barbara did it, I DIDN'T DO It, Barbara did it," the chorus goes "I'm the only one who can see Barbara," but I like how that also works in the sense that maybe Barbara is her lover and Barbara is the only one that can see me, that Narcissus it pretty much is calling another person on their self-deception, is a person who loves another but as a way of loving himself. Like "take care of your wife, she'll take care of you." "If I don't behave I'm gonna be in the doghouse."
I think its natural... There is two side of the brain, there is reason and logic and there is unreason and illogic. You know, the feelings and the inspiration, the... none of what we do makes any real logical sense unless you are doing something really illogical which is exploiting your listeners ...
I try to keep things a lot in perspective. The architect le Corbusier, one of his models was something generously I receive. I think that can be almost be a little too "I'm such a good guy," ha ha ha. Yesterday, I stopped being so generous-feeling (laughs) after the robbery. I think we always have a choice what the focus is gonna be put at. Are we gonna think for the moment or are we gonna think for a week from today? It's very much my pattern to remove myself (and withdraw myself from human associations) to balance mankind. I feel overexposed or honorable, I would say in my life... I know many people, but I probably have six people I ever consider friends. Maybe six that I get a call from every couple of days…
I think the more people can be exposed to styles that have come before, it might be good for them, ‘cause I think people increasingly think this moment now is the most important moment that has ever existed. It's the most important- right now is right now, but... if you are gonna repeat stupid mistakes that the world has made or that individuals had made... It's why we repeat those mistakes that we fail.
But somebody back then might have solved a current problem... oh, in a city in between here and Granada. We stopped at the citadel, and it's at this mountain and you can see all of this ugly new city and the point from which you are looking is more beautiful than what you are looking at and... it's interesting how the world reflects itself, how things are duplicated in a sense. The beautiful place that looks out on the ugliness. Full of irony.
Something that I noticed working on the album as well is that there is a lot of dealing with the concept of and the properties of light. Its all light with "Hot Wax." The song "Charles Holis Jones" is designed like an acrylic painting that you can see through and that interest in the context.
If they don't get it yet, at least they can get something. Today, you brought a contextual possibility to the discussion. When I start writing a song, I don't really know what I'm trying to say but I think I know when I've said it... Now. Specifically, with this ‘Paradise Lost' project, I been doing a lot of this simple channeling of Milton, writing, working on lyrics deliberately when I was very tired or just getting up, inviting them into my dreams.
I think it could be like... I don't know what name to give to the phenomenon... Sometimes you will loose your keys or something in your house, and you would look for it for a while and you just stop and you are just kinda staring, you know, six inches in front of your face and you realize that you are looking right at it except that you are not focused on it. Opening up the gates to let your intuition be at service to you, that's important to me. Finding so much emphasis maybe is put into searching for truth and knowing truth where I came to search for the truth in what I know…
Going straight to the truth is impossible. It makes for a very short book.
I don't know where it is. Supposedly, I've never seen a photograph, but supposedly Picasso made a statue, a sculpture that was in memory of Apollinaire and its like not the shape of him but the absence, the negative shape of him, almost like a reverse silhouette, and you get the exact idea of what is intended but the space has been defined by the absence of the presence.
Also see our Q&A interview with Mr. Hart
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