Filed under: feature, special | Tags: angie hart, frente, interview, val phoenix
re:generation #4: angie hart
Re:Generation is a monthly column about yesterday’s heroines today, revisiting some of the women who have helped map out musical history but have since, for one reason or another, fallen out of the spotlight. Over the coming months, Wears The Trousers will be speaking to these influential figures, as they make their way back into the public sphere. For our fourth piece, Val Phoenix speaks to Australian singer-songwriter Angie Hart, formerly of Frente.
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Listening to Angie Hart‘s new album, Eat My Shadow, one feels the need for a bit of back story. All those references to shadows, rehearsals, etc. – clearly, this is a woman who has lived a bit since I met her as a wide-eyed, giggly twentysomething in a record company office in Chelsea back in 1996. At that time, as Frente promoted their second album Shape, her aspirations were simple: to learn to play guitar, set up her own studio and see a bit of the world. So, how did that turn out? A few emails via Universal Music in Australia later, I get some answers: “It seems that I am always learning the guitar!,” she quips. “It’s better than it was, but I still have a long way to go. As far as the home studio question goes, I have definitely become more adept at recording my songs at home, but it’s a pretty basic set-up I have here.”
Home is Melbourne where Hart grew up and formed Frente! (they later ditched the exclamatory punctuation) with Simon Austin in 1989, aged 17. Thrust into the spotlight when the band hit big worldwide with a sparse cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle‘ featuring acoustic guitar and her delicate vocal, Hart found herself subject to a backlash for the perceived girliness of the band’s sound. As she explained in our previous meeting, “The whole twee thing is a constant battle, ’cause I’m the person that’s responsible for us sounding girly and that’s just the way my voice sounds.” The experimental direction of the second album, recorded in Spain with Booga Bear, also copped some flack, though the single ‘What’s Come Over Me’ still stands out to this day.
After that, Frente! dropped off most of our radars, but Hart never quit music. Moving to Los Angeles, she formed a band called Splendid with her then husband Jesse Tobias, a decision which spurred on further adventures, including an unexpected collaboration with TV producer Joss Whedon. Hart performed a song that the two wrote on an episode of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, and later appeared in a few episodes of ‘Firefly’, experiences which she describes as highlights of the Splendid years. I learnt a lot about being assertive with my craft in the industry,” she says of her time in California. “Not to say that I wasn’t completely disillusioned with it at times, but that only served to solidify my resolve to make music for the right reasons.”
After her marriage broke up, in 2004 Hart moved back to Melbourne and has since been concentrating on carving out a career on her own. Having lived the high life in LA for some years, I wondered how she had found returning to her hometown. “I feel that I really belong here. I returned knowing that it would be the best place to complete my debut solo effort, Grounded Bird, as there is such a strong community for musicians in Melbourne. I guess my music is pretty honest and down to earth, which is how I feel about the town that I love so much.”
Eat My Shadow arrives two years on from that debut, and the new songs reveal a preoccupation with darkness and light – two sides of humanity struggling to be united – all couched in deceptively pretty country-pop arrangements. That’s not surprising really, this has always been the way with Hart’s songwriting, as anyone who listened closely to Frente’s lyrics would have heard some pretty sharp sentiments poking through the pop sheen.
Given that Hart told me back in 1996 that she wasn’t a fan of writing by herself (“It’s not something I really enjoy,” she shrugged), it’s interesting to note that the new record features several co-writes. I wondered how she feels now about working as a solo artist. “I’m still a big fan of collaborating. I learn so much from being able to make music with other musicians, but the more I get stuck into it, the more I find myself working independently. I think it’s good to be open to both,” she enthuses. “My songs can be extremely personal, at times. I find collaborating can bring the subject matter into a more universal realm by opening up the scenario with another perspective.”
Hart has always been an autobiographical songwriter, so it seems logical to speculate that the fact she has just recently re-married has informed the songs on the album. “My personal life is always reflected in my songs. Friends and lovers beware! Nothing is sacred,” she admits, adding “although I do try to keep a respectful distance by using metaphors and changing the scenery, when I can.” Luckily for her nearest and dearest, she’s also not averse to the odd cover, as Eat My Shadow‘s bonus disc reveals. Who would have thought Neil Young and Morrissey–Marr would be among her favourite songwriters? No doubt Moz’s diehard followers will howl in protest at her piano-led minimalist rendering of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, but Hart is surely used to purist objections by now. Never mind. It’s lovely.
Those hoping for some new Frente material may be in luck. After some reunion gigs with Simon in Australia and USA, Angie seems to think that the band could still regroup. “It runs at a more than casual pace,” she explains. “As long as we enjoy what we’re doing, we’ll keep going. We plan to write some more material when we get some time to do that. At the moment we are both too busy doing our own projects to make it happen.”
Her immediate schedule includes touring behind Eat My Shadow, which she’s already been playing out in Asia and in the US. Sadly, there are no current plans to come to the UK, but it’s all in keeping with those modest ambitions of last time we met: “More travel, more writing and more work on my guitar playing. That is a fine existence for me.”
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