Daniel Hart Tells Us Why He’s Ditched His Solo Career and Formed A New Band Called Dark Rooms.
There’s no doubting that Daniel Hart is a talented man.
A virtuosic violinist, the Dallas-based performer has performed alongside such Texas greats at St. Vincent and The Polyphonic Spree, and such non-Texas greats as Other Lives, John Vanderslice and Broken Social Scene. And, as a touring performer, he’s performed on bills alongside such musical giants as Andrew Bird and Radiohead.
His resume, certainly, is an impressive one. And, last year, he firmed up another line on it: With the release of The Orientalist, his excellent, second non-instrumental pop LP, Hart fully established himself as a singer-songwriter well worth keeping tabs on.
So perhaps it’s a little surprising to hear that he’s already changing things up on his own pop music front. After touring his as a solo performer for the past year or so, Hart is now ready to unveil a completely new side of himself — a darker, bigger side — in the form of a completely new band called Dark Rooms.
It’s a new direction for Hart, and an intentional one. And it serves as a bit of a response to his earlier works, too.
When Hart wrapped up the recording of The Orientalist, he was proud of his efforts — and rightfully so. It’s a lush, intricate and, most of all, interesting pop album smartly built around his skill with the violin. He was less proud, however, of the reception it earned — or, perhaps better put, didn’t earn. Hart had sent his album all around the country, to all of the industry friends that he’d amassed from his years of playing and traveling. Labels, radio promoters, fellow musicians — he sent copies to almost everyone he knew. But almost no one responded. He earned some adoring local press for his effort, but not much more than that.
Disheartened but refusing to give up, Hart self-released the album, booked his own tours, and pushed forward toward starting his non-backing musician career happen on his own. He kept writing during this time, too. But the resulting songs were different from his previous efforts.
“I was very depressed, and I was broke, and I was feeling hopeless in various other ways,” Hart says now of his young Dark Rooms catalog’s inspiration. “I tried to turn those negatives into positives by writing those songs to capture how I was feeling — like I could bottle them up and throw them out to sea, and, years from now, some beachcomber would discover all the little notes I had written while I was attempting to exorcise some personal demons.”
It was during this same time that Hart decided that performing solo wasn’t necessarily his forte, either.
“The first time I sold someone a T-shirt with my name on it, I knew that my next album would not come out under my own name,” Hart says during a recent catch-up session. “Then this fantastic band came together at the end of 2011 to help me tour my solo record. And, the more we played together, the more it felt like a group of people working towards something together — and not just some guns I hired to back me up.”
And so he now has Dark Rooms, an outfit featuring fellow musicians Rachel Ballard, Casey Trela and Bobak Lotfipour. The band’s tone is indeed darker than Hart’s previous works, but it still that somehow maintains the resolute hopefulness Hart’s personality and his sly smiles elicit.
More obvious, perhaps, is the shift in style at play with Dark Rooms. Organic instruments have been cast aside in favor of 909s, synths and samples. Hart blames these stylistic changes on his stint on the road with Other Lives and Radiohead, but he also spent some time in the studio with Dallas native Luis Dubuc of the now Los Angeles-based electro-pop outfit, Mystery Skulls.
“Luis is a producer,” Hart says. “He’s a brilliant musician with unique ideas and a fantastic library of instruments that I don’t have. And he’s a technical wizard. We spent about 10 days together creating a lot of the sounds for the new record. I am forever indebted to him for his work, his advice, his instruction and his goodwill.”
There’s no question that Dubuc left an indelible mark on Hart and Dark Rooms — and a lovely one at that. Recently, Hart debuted the project down in Austin (you can watch a video of that performance at the end of this post), and, this evening, he’ll try the new band out here in Dallas.
Hart is excited about this new band’s prospects. And, as he readies his new band’s debut album, he’s a little less concerned about where the project will end up.
Maybe, after his last go, he’s learned a lesson.
Maybe, after a cathartic writing process, he’s just carrying less of a burden.
And just maybe, this time through, with some luck and the right audience, his immense talents will carry the weight for him.
Dark Rooms performs a free set at 5:30 p.m. today at 2403 Flora Street as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Patio Sessions Series.