Emerson Hart’s solo music is distinctly different from his work with Tonic. While his work with Tonic remains unique because of the nature of Hart’s songwriting, the solo music is that much more personal because Hart doesn’t have to hold anything back. He’s in complete control of the music and he can essentially make what he wants to make. Hart just returned with another solo record, his third. The album is called 32 Thousand Days and it tells the story of Hart’s 93-year-old stepfather Arthur. Arthur is a New York City native, a merchant marine, a true creative, and one of Hart’s biggest supporters, even before he wrote his first song.
“It’s been a couple of years,” said Hart talking to Alternative Addiction about how long he’d been working on his latest record. “The song, 32,000 days, once I wrote that song it sparked the idea for the rest of the record. Once that song was created, I started thinking about my relationship with my stepfather and his journey through life. The more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to do a record that talks about the journey we went on together. That’s really what it is. It’s his story. It’s my story. It’s just a really personal record.”
Hart’s solo work is shaped intensely by what’s happened in his life. His first album, Cigarettes & Gasoline was inspired by his father, who was murdered when he was a kid. The album steps forward a few years after that tragedy. Hart talked about his stepfather, Arthur coming into his life and how big of an impact he had on him growing up.
“My dad was killed when I was ten,” explained Hart. “My mother started dating Arthur when I was about 13. He was just an easy-going stepfather. He didn’t have a lot of strict rules with me other than to be respectful. He also taught me that if I chose art for a living, that it was a journey. He took us to trips to different parts of the world every summer instead of just messing around. I got jobs working at gas stations, lobster boats, I did everything as a kid, and he was a big influence on that. The biggest part of our journey together was his love and belief of what I was doing in my music and my writing. He’d always been such a huge believer. Being in New York City around him, we always went to art openings and the theatre. I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of that stuff at a real formidable time in my life. I wasn’t the best kid, but he gave me structure and there were a lot of things that kept me on a good path.”
So, what does Arthur think of his Emerson’s salute to him? Emerson talked a bit about that and elaborated on Arthur’s background and how he’s always been a big believer.
“He’s really taken by it. We’re using his painting for the cover of the record. It’s called FRUSTRATION. He’s really enjoyed it. He’s such a character. If you can imagine Larry David at 93 – that’s my stepfather. Without the narcosis to a certain extent. He’s a classic New York Jewish kid. He grew up in the Bronx, joined the merchant marines when he was 16. He got three square meals and saw the world. He’s always been my biggest supporter. When I wrote “If You Could Only See” and I started playing it with Tonic, he said that songs going to be #1. He called it.”
Even though this record is highly personal, Hart used the same process to write the record that he’s been using throughout his career. When you’ve been doing something for a couple of decades, you kind of get the hang of it. Hart explained his process with writing the songs, and then had some advice for all the songwriters out there.
“I literally would get the idea, and just run with it,” began the songsmith. “With me, as a writer, the first line comes out. It’s either the first line of the chorus or the first line of the song. It pops into my head and then I let it take me. I follow the thread. You also have to know how to get out of the song’s way. Just let it do the work. A lot of times people will start a song and the inspiration, and the spark of the song are there, but by the time they’re done with it, they’ll burry the simplicity of what it was supposed to be. I’ve done it before, I haven’t gotten out of my way before. But it’s just about getting out of the way and letting the song do the work.”
Emerson Hart’s latest solo release is an album. It’s meant to be listened to from start to finish. That’s probably the best thing about it. It’s got ups and downs and every song is different than the last. It’s a true record and that’s something that Hart is extremely proud of.
“Not to paint a poetic face to it, but that’s the story of it. Our lives are noisy at times but where big change comes, those moments are super still. This record is an album that you have to listen to as a whole. When I finished the record, I did that quite a few times. I realized that this is the up and down of life. There are moments where you hear just a few instruments, I’m not trying to cram a bunch of things into every space I can. There’s a place for that music, but that’s not this. I love how it takes a breath.”
“There’s a place for releasing singles and EPs too,” continued Hart while talking about the challenge of releasing an LP in today’s music climate. “Making an EP, there’s commerce to it, it makes sense for your band and you want to stagger it out, I get it. When it comes to my solo career, I just feel like I’ve always served myself and the people who like my music better by giving them a whole album. I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do with it. I’m not making a comparison with my record- by no means – but can you imagine if War and Peace had six chapters? It doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t make sense. What If Robert Frost just wrote Birches? It would be like, ‘Okay, great Robert. Next.’ [laughs] Think about the last time you sat down and listened to Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. You have to listen to the whole record.” - aa