There comes a point in the life of many a songwriter where the pull to move outside the comfort and familiarity of their “day job” band becomes too strong to ignore. It seems increasingly as the music industry continues to change in the post-Napster era that we find ourselves in that this occurs now more than ever as working class artists, especially in the traditionally DIY corners of the scene, continue to try to eke out a consistent living in spite of ever-dwindling record sales.
The latest to throw his hat into the solo singer-songwriter ring is Jared Hart, frontman for long-running New Jersey street punk band The Scandals. Though the band’s output of recorded music has waned a bit in recent years for one reason or another, the band have kept busy on the road, finding themselves regular touring companions of their fellow New Jersey brethren in The Gaslight Anthem. The last several years have also found Hart taking to the solo act thing, lumping his acoustic guitar and some Scandals merch into a car and playing shows primarily across the Eastern half of the country. “That’s one of the most fun parts about the whole thing,” explains Hart, speaking specifically of a group of New Hampshire natives that made the trip to a recent Hart gig in Boston. “On one of my first acoustic tours, I played in their living room. There were maybe 30 or 40 kids there, and it was crazy. It was one of those experiences where you realize there’s no other way you’d be hanging out with these people unless you were on tour with your guitar in their fucking living room. I would have never been friends with them, let alone would they have heard my music, if I didn’t just grab an acoustic and hop in a car.”
While many of these were of the one-off or “long weekend tour” variety, Hart is presently in the midst of a nationwide tour opening for another Jersey rocker turned solo artist, My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero. The present tour kicked off at the above-mentioned Boston show on November 1st, with Hart taking the stage solo less than 24 hours after playing a rousing full-band Scandals show at FEST 14 in Gainesville. Cutting ones teeth in sweaty, dingy punk rock bars comprises a vastly different audience than playing for the MCR faithful, who continue to come out in droves and who still tend to trend younger and more evenly split along gender lines than one’s normal punk rock show. “It’s a different kind of crowd, and it’s been a different experience from the shows I’m used to playing, but it’s all positive,” says Hart.
While much of Hart’s solo live set is still peppered with time-tested Scandals staples (“Avalanche,” “Four Seventeen,” etc.), he’s touring now primarily in support of his forthcoming debut full length. Entitled “Past Lives & Pass Lines,) the album is culled from a series of tracks written over the last several years that didn’t quite fit as Scandals tracks, but that were worthy of seeing the light of day nonetheless. “Every song on the record can kind of be related to a point in my life where something fucked up happened,” Hart explains. What started as a couple songs recorded for a split 7-inch release turned into ten of the more personal songs from Hart’s songwriting catalog. “I didn’t want to have a downer song on a Scandals record, so I’d save them. And then I started pocketing them and pocketing them and pocketing them and all of a sudden I had all these songs…”
As more solo shows lined themselves up as the months continued, Hart found his stockpile of songs not only growing, but trending in a particular direction allowing closure for some of the above-mentioned “fucked up” events. The songs, says Hart, are “kind of bookmarks. I think that as things happened and progressed and things happened, I realized there’s a common theme with all of them. They were very cathartic to write in the sense of “I’m saying this, I have this point in time, and I can put this here and leave it here.” Though some of the tracks date back to 2010, thematically, they began to “lump together as a whole and become an entity together instead of just one song.”
If you’re worried “Past Lives & Pass Lines” finds Hart wandering down the road-more-traveled that is typical for the punk-frontman-goes-solo set, fret not. While certainly centered around the acoustic, there’s more than enough experimentation to keep things sounding newer and different. “My buddy Frank (Marra, the album’s producer) was super experimental,” explains Hart. “From day one, he said “I want to get weird on this. I want to throw some stuff out there.” So we just did that and we’d layer it and look at each other when it sounded bad and delete it right away!”
It can be a bit of a tenuous decision to announce to one’s bandmates that you’re going to put out an album of material that doesn’t include them. A great many people who’ve come before opted for the solo direction when things had blown up, or just dried up, with the bands that they cut their teeth with. Luckily for Hart, and for fans and friends of The Scandals, things are presently all good on both fronts. “They’ve seen me working on this for a year-and-a-half and they’ve been super supportive. So there wasn’t a need for a sitdown where I had to break to them that I was putting (The Scandals) on hold. So I’m lucky in that sense. They’ve all been pretty stoked about it,” says Hart with a sense of relief and happiness in his voice. “So if the Scandals can do six months and I can do six months, it’s perfect. If the Scandals can do ten months and I can do two months with this, that’s great!”
More than a decade into plowing ahead a decision to make a living as a working musician, Hart continues to be about as busy as he’s ever been, a sign that a long-shot gamble might become closer to paying off. The EP that The Scandals recorded with Brian Fallon close to a year ago is finally, hopefully, about to see the light of day early next year, which will hopefully parlay into another Scandals full-length. In the mix, hopefully, will be solo and full-band trips across the pond. “The Scandals and the solo thing definitely have to get out there,” says Hart hopefully. “I have some friends that are going to be releasing the solo record over there, so that’s big on the radar right now, trying to plan the year around that, because those are big chunks of time. Hopefully it’s another busy one; that’s all I’m asking for!”
(We begin the recorded part of our conversation mid-stream, discussing the crowds on this current tour and how they differ from a prototypical punk rock show).
Jared Hart: It’s a different kind of crowd, and it’s been a different experience from the shows I’m used to playing, but it’s all positive. It’s giving me some good experiences, that’s for sure.
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): That’s good. It is definitely a different crowd, I hadn’t really seen one like that Boston crowd in a long time; since I was probably the age of half the people that were there.
It threw me for a loop. Halfway through the set, I was like “holy shit…the songs don’t just stand on their own, you have to be one-on-one with these kids,” you know? So little by little, every show I’ve been interacting with them more and doing more shit like that instead of just like, when you play shows with Fallon and Chuck Ragan, everyone just wants you to shut the fuck up and play. Two different dynamics.
It was interesting to watch. They seemed to be pretty responsive. I couldn’t judge really how many people were familiar with The Scandals’ stuff, I know there was a pocket of older people who were, but they seemed to be pretty responsive still, anyway.
Yeah, and that’s the cool thing. They all sit up front the whole show. There’s nobody leaving to smoke a cigarette or go to the bar while you’re playing, because they don’t care. It’s not what I was prepared for in many different ways, you know? You do it a certain way for so many years and then you get thrown in front of this new crowd and it’s like “okay, gotta rethink this.”
Yeah, because even though you’re still playing your music and your songs, you have to go about it differently. I hadn’t quite thought about it like that.
Exactly. It’s crazy. After that first night in Boston, I had to look at the set list and figure some shit out. But it’s been cool. Definitely been a ride so far.
Congrats on the new album, man. I’ve been listening to it pretty much on repeat for the week since I got it.
Thank you, man! I really appreciate it. I’m glad you dig it.
As your first solo full length, that’s to be a bit of a nerve-wracking time waiting for it to come out.
I’ve been working on it for a year and change; I think last summer I started it. It was supposed to be originally a split 7-inch, and then I was like, “ah, fuck it, I’ll make it an EP.” Then after that I was like “Ah, I’ll make it a full length!” All that time, I was expecting it to be done, but I was still working on Scandals stuff, and all of a sudden it was like, “holy shit, this is really done and ready to go out.” It kinda freaked me out a little bit. Hey, hold on a second, Jay?
(At this point, we get interrupted by a female fan of Iero’s who’s looking to say hi to the former My Chemical Romance guitarist before the gig.)
That’s a whole other thing that has to happen every day.
I was going to say, I only heard part of your side, but that sounded like it was a Frank (Iero) fan or something…
Oh man, it’s never-ending. They just wait and wait. It’s bizarre.
I say that that’s crazy, but it was like that forever with every band…
Yeah. But I guess when you’re in punk so long, it doesn’t really work like that. It’s like “yo, can I buy you a shot?” or whatever. But yeah, so with the record, the whole time I was working on it, no matter what I was doing. And then the minute it was done, it was like “holy shit, I have to put this out… you know? As soon as I sent it to press, I started having this anxiety because it’s just my name. The minute it goes on the internet, there’s no anonymous factor to it. It’s like “oh, that kid Jared’s record sucks!” It’s not like “that Scandals record sucks, but who knows who’s on it.” That’s been an interesting feeling that I havent’ felt for a long time.
What prompted the decision to make it go from a split 7-inch to a full length of its own? Was it a stroke of inspiration where you just kept writing and writing and writing?
Yeah, a handful of songs on this record I’ve had technically since 2010. Every song on the record can kind of be related to a point in my life where something fucked up happened and I wrote the song and thought “this could never be a Scandals song because it’s soft and slow” or whatever. I didn’t want to have a downer song on a Scandals record, so I’d save them. And then I started pocketing them and pocketing them and pocketing them and all of a sudden I had all these songs and I thought I could do the split. And I loved the way it came out. I had a blast working with my buddy Frank (Marra) on it, and I was like “maybe I’ll come back and do a couple more.” And that’s just kinda how it kept going. We kept coming back and coming back and finished the whole thing. It was pretty crazy.
At what point in the process do you break to the rest of the guys in the band that you’re going to put your own album out without them?
I was working on this when we were recording the last EP with Brian (Fallon), so they knew the whole time that I’ve been doing this thing. Whenever they are busy, like Paulie (Yaremko, Scandals drummer) is a snowboard rep, so whenever he has a busy month I always go out and play acoustic just to keep busy. So it was never a surprise, they were always aware of what I was doing. They’ve seen me working on this for a year-and-a-half and they’ve been super supportive. So there wasn’t a need for a sitdown where I had to break to them that I was putting (The Scandals) on hold. So I’m lucky in that sense. They’ve all been pretty stoked about it.
That’s got to be a huge relief. Because I could see that making for an interesting discussion amongst bandmates, in thinking that somebody is going to outgrow the band. A lot of guys in this scene it seems do the acoustic thing once the main band has wound down a little bit, whether it’s Chuck (Ragan) or now Brian’s solo album or Dave (Hause) when the Loved Ones weren’t really doing anything. There aren’t a whole lot that necessarily do them both simultaneously.
Yeah, that’s true. It’s definitely a valid concern. But I started that band in 2004 and it’s always been my baby, so there’s no chance of closing it unless I really see the door closing ahead of me. But the whole thing about the acoustic is that I wanted to be able to do this twelve months out of the year, no matter what everyone else’s schedule was. So if the Scandals can do six months and I can do six months, it’s perfect. If the Scandals can do ten months and I can do two months with this, that’s great. And they’ve always known that. It’s kinda cool, because the acoustic stuff over the last year or two has definitely opened up a door to different people that wouldn’t have seen or heard the Scandals otherwise and now they’re coming to the shows. So (the guys in the band) all see that come out of it, so that’s cool.
That’s one of the things I wanted to talk about. Obviously this is the first full-length, but you’ve been doing the solo thing for a while now. You have people that have heard of you through your solo shows that have gone back and learned of The Scandals stuff that way?
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the most fun parts about the whole thing. Specifically, there’s a group of them in New Hampshire, a bunch of them were at the show in Boston.
Oh yeah, yeah. I saw them.
Those kids…on one of my first acoustic tours, I played in their living room. There were maybe 30 or 40 kids there, and it was crazy. It was one of those experiences where you realize there’s no other way you’d be hanging out with these people unless you were on tour with your guitar in their fucking living room. I’ve played there four or five times since then, and we’ve become extremely close friends. I talk to them on a regular basis, they’ve driven to Jersey to see The Scandals play, they’ve gone to see us play with Gaslight and everything. And they are a perfect example; I would have never been friends with them, let alone would they have heard my music, if I didn’t just grab an acoustic and hop in a car. And the Crossroads shows with Brian (Fallon) the last couple years, we’ve played shows across the country where kids will come out and say “I saw you at Crossroads!” And there were only 200 people at those shows… So it’s definitely an exposure that everyone’s been happy with and see the value in, which is cool .
When you recording the album and processing exactly how you were going to put it out, did you lean on guys like Brian as the obvious example or other guys in the scene who are doing the solo thing now too for advice on either how to put it together or put it out? Or did you have a pretty clear vision on how you wanted it to go?
That’s the thing about this record is that it was kind of fly-by-the-seat. I did kinda the opposite with this that I have with a lot of things Scandals-wise. I didn’t sit on it. I knew I had this tour coming up and the Crossroads shows at the end of the month and I knew I would lose a big opportunity to have this thing on the table if I didn’t put it out now. But I definitely hit people up to talk about songs themselves. It was literally me and Frank who produced and engineered it. So instead of having four people’s input on “is this part too long, or is this part bad,” you get wrapped up in your own mind too much. So I definitely had a couple friends who really helped me either think about the songs in a different way or just agree with me to put my mind at ease. That was a big part of it; I definitely needed a kick in the ass sometimes!
One of the things I really dig about the album is that obviously you’ve made some headway going out and playing with just your acoustic guitar, but it’s not just acoustic guitar on the album. There’s electric, there’s lap steel, there’s glockenspiel, which I didn’t see coming (*both laugh*). Was the album written that way from go, or did that come from being in the studio and just experimenting or trying something else here and there?
Definitely a little of both. I wanted the whole thing to be based around an acoustic guitar, because that’s what I’m primarily doing with this. I had a lot of demos, like “The Runaround” definitely had the lap steel part ready to go. My buddy Frank was super experimental. From day one, he said “I want to get weird on this. I want to throw some stuff out there.” And I’m a big fan of when you’re in the studio, when you can always delete it. So we just did that and we’d layer it and look at each other when it sounded bad and delete it right away! (*both laugh*) But I definitely wanted to layer it a little bit because I always like to keep the option open of doing this with a couple people or doing it solo depending on the circumstance. I didn’t want to limit myself in terms of composition.
Did you have any experience with playing lap steel, which is one of my favorites to play around with, or with the glockenspiel or whatever…because where the hell did the glockenspiel come from?
I don’t know, I just always heard it as this little chime part. I really had to pay attention, I think I have a video of me fumbling around with it a couple times. But I’ve had this little lap steel for a couple years and I never really played with it, so I kinda used it as an inspirational thing, to get the thing out of the case and throw it on the record. It was pretty fun, I ran it through this really cool old school Marshall amp in the studio and just cranked it. That was a fun experience.
That’s on “The Runaround” right?
That song, from the first time I heard it, has been stuck in my head, to the point where it was annoying my kid the other day. She asked me why I kept singing that chorus and I said “because that melody is so catchy, it just got stuck in my brain.” And then it got stuck in hers too…
That’s awesome. I appreciate that. That’s actually one of the oldest ones on the record too. It was one of the first ones I wrote, I think from the summer of 2010.
Have those songs changed or taken on a different live over the years and now that you’ve recorded them for this project? Do they mean something else to you now that they’re officially out there?
I can kind of put moments of my life into each one of these songs. They’re kind of bookmarks. I think that as things happened and progressed and things happened, I realized there’s a common theme with all of them. They were very cathartic to write in the sense of “I’m saying this, I have this point in time, and I can put this here and leave it here.” So it’s not that they’ve changed, but they’ve all kind of changed and lumped together as a whole and become an entity together instead of just one song.
Where in that process was “The Guillotine” written? Because that song sounds like it was written to be played at The Midway, for example. It sounds like a hundred people singing along, it’s got that gang chorus thing right from the beginning; did that song come out of playing live or did that feel come from the studio?
That was a little bit of both. That, again, was one of the oldest ones, and since I first wrote it, it was really intense. It had a jarring feel to it, and people always gravitated toward that song, so I think we paid a lot of attention to it in the studio to make sure that it carried the weight that the lyrics did sonically. That’s one of my favorites to play, and it seems to get people a little bit. It’s kind of cool.
I don’t remember if I actually heard that one at the Midway when you were here, but that one definitely stuck in my head the other night. It seemed like it caught a lot of those people in the crowd too.
I don’t know if it’s the key that I put it in, or the fact that it’s in 6/8… Funny story about that song. My buddy Tommy Gunn, we play together all the time. And when he started playing solo with an acoustic guitar, he was never a guitar player, and he was always stuck in this thing where whatever song we wrote was in 6/8. And I would always get on him, like “come on, man…use 4/4, do something different.” And he would always get on me like “why don’t you write a song in 6/8?” And that was one of the first songs I sent to him, and he was like “are you fucking kidding me? The first song you sent to me from the record is in 6/8?” I always get a kick out of that.
Is there an official street date for the album yet? I know you have them with you on the road, but has Say-10 officially put them up on their site for sale yet?
It’s going to be online, on iTunes and Say-10 and all of those places on November 29th, I think…if that’s the Friday (editor’s note: that Friday is November 27th). I’m technically going to call the Crossroads shows (December 3-5, Crossroads, Garwood, New Jersey) the “release shows,” because those will be the closest to that day. They’ll be shipping by the end of November, and then I’ll have vinyl coming probably in the new year, which is cool.
Whatever came of the stuff that you recorded with Brian? That was like a year ago that you recorded, yeah?
We had a couple people helping us out and working on some labels and stuff, and they kinda fell through and it didn’t work out. I’m super proud of the record, and I didn’t want to rush something where it could have been exposed to more people. I just kind of sat on it for a minute. If anything, it’s going to come out early in the new year, because that thing needs to see the light of day already.
I kinda forgot how long it had been. It was December that you guys wrapped up, right? The slow moving wheels of the music industry now…
It’s crazy. And the killer is that at this point, there’s no right way to do anything. Everyone can say “do it this way, it’s a formula,” so you decide to do it that way and it falls flat. Then you try to do it another way and that one doesn’t work. It’s these kinds of things that keep me up at night. But that will be coming out very, very soon, so it’ll be cool to have two releases to tour on with both projects.
Do you continue to write for both of them now? Are you still writing new solo stuff and new Scandals stuff?
As it comes. I definitely have enough Scandals material between all of us to get us working on the full-length. We’ve already started talking about that and planning some things. Which is cool. Once that EP comes out, hopefully we can roll right in to a full length quicker than we have in the past. I’m just kinda writing whatever comes to me. I have enough little rifts in time to flesh some stuff out now.
That’s awesome. You’ve been awfully busy these last couple of months anyway, and that’s got to be a good feeling ten or eleven years into plugging away that you’re able to stay as busy as you are.
Yeah, that was always the goal. I wanted to be on the road constantly. I definitely got the wish this year. It was a good year for touring, so I cannot complain.
Do you have stuff lined up for early next year already, after the hometown Crossroads shows.
We’ve got a couple of one-off things in December. Between the band and solo, we’ll be bouncing around to a couple of places. Right now we’re trying to figure out when both projects are going to get back to Europe. Scandals and solo definitely have to get out there. I have some friends that are going to be releasing the solo record over there, so that’s big on the radar right now, trying to plan the year around that, because those are big chunks of time. Hopefully it’s another busy one; that’s all I’m asking for!
I saw the other day that (mutual friend) Lenny (Lashley) sent a message saying that you and he should get back and tour Europe together.
That would be an honor. I would kill to do that. He’s the best, man. I could watch him play every day. He’s actually been a big influence on the songwriting end of my solo stuff. When the 7-inch came out, let alone when Illuminator came out, it was perfect to me.
It’s funny you mention that, because I had (Past Lives and Pass Lines) on in the kitchen when I was making dinner the other night, and I said to my wife that this album doesn’t sound like Lenny’s album, but that I think that if I can think of an album that I most compare it to, it’s probably Lenny’s in terms of the theme and the difference between it and his band-related songwriting and things like that.
I think honestly the biggest parallels are just how real they are. I like to say that about mine. His is no bullshit, you can feel everything he’s feeling on that record, and that’s kinda what I tried to convey on mine.