On her second solo release since synth-pop trio Au Revoir Simone went on hiatus, Hart is comfortable in her own skin
Annie Hart describes her time in synth trio Au Revoir Simone as “three brains blending into one brain,” so when that band went on hiatus and Hart set out to make her first solo album, 2017’s Impossible Accomplice, the creative process kick-started an independent journey of self-discovery.
“It was quite a bit of a learning curve in terms of trusting what is good: Is this good? Does anybody want to hear this? You’re filled with doubt because you don’t have that outside affirmation,” Hart said recently by phone from the road; her current tour will stop at Rumba Cafe on Wednesday, Feb. 25.
Over time, while writing and recording songs in her Brooklyn basement, Hart conquered her doubts and made Impossible Accomplice into a solo debut she can fully stand behind. And when she began working on follow-up A Softer Offering, which came out in December, Hart could approach it with a fully confident, self-reliant mindset.
“I fell into trusting myself and trusting that if I create something that I find beautiful, it will resonate with other people,” she said. “You don't have to make music for other people, because we all share this space and zeitgeist. Counterintuitively, I feel like the more you create music for yourself, the more you're creating for other people. If you're not being a people-pleaser, people can more easily relax into what you're trying to do on a deeper level.”Relax with Alive on a deeper level by signing up for our daily newsletter
A Softer Offering is certainly an easy album to sink into, with Hart’s dreamy vocals floating comfortably above sparse arrangements of mostly down-tempo songs, many of which originated from a songwriting exercise in which, every month or two, Hart and her friends wrote and recorded eight songs in eight hours and then played them for each other.
“I probably had written 50 or 60 songs. … A lot of them were garbage,” she said. “But in that course of time since I was doing Impossible Accomplice, I was writing all these softer songs, and I was like, ‘Oh, I really like these.’ So I decided to compile all those ideas into one album. I wanted a vibe, you know? I really like putting on a record and just having an atmosphere. … There's no angry songs on the record. The overarching theme is empathy and care for yourself and others, and forgiveness for yourself for making very stupid mistakes.”
The time limits of the songwriting exercise also pushed Hart to use instruments she might not have otherwise. Though Hart’s solo material is a natural extension of the synthesizer-based music of Au Revoir Simone, A Softer Offering incorporates more guitar. “Wandering Free,” in fact, consists only of Hart’s vocals and a strummed classical guitar, which also anchors “Phoenicia No Coffee.” “The guitar was definitely a result of trying to work quickly,” she said, “and then being surprised with those little gems that you find when you are extremely productive.”
As a mother of two, Hart is no stranger to time constraints. Being a parent has forced her to be more intentional with her time and less precious about her creative process.
“Even if you do have free time, or [the kids] are at school or at daycare or somebody's watching them, there's laundry to be folded, there's so much to do... The caulk around the bathroom needs to be redone,” she said, laughing. “But when I had the luxury of time, I was more obsessed with mortality. And also the open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure aspect of life was really overwhelming for me. In Au Revoir Simone, we worked so hard around the clock, but I do feel like once I had the kids and the time constraints, there's that magical combination of not having as much time to do what you love and understanding the purpose of what you're doing a lot more, and the cyclical nature of life on earth. It did help me focus and relax more into the meaning of what I was doing.”
Since the release of Impossible Accomplice, Hart has also delved into soundtrack work, making music for films “Banana Split” and the just-released “Olympic Dreams.” At first, though, the responsibility of such an endeavor weighed heavily on her, recalling the uncomfortable sense of power she felt when naming her own children.
For “Banana Split,” Hart worked on the score in her basement while the director was in Los Angeles. “He was amazing and trusting — the kind of person who’s a dream to work with,” she said. “But I definitely felt such a sense of power, like, is this the right emotion? I'm not the director here. This is not my project. Why do I get to tell everybody what to think? Because I think the score is the most emotionally profound aspect of a film. … I'm so emotionally responsive to music, as I think most people are. It's in our DNA.”
For Hart’s next record, she’s sifting through her recent recordings to compile a contrasting album of fun, fast songs, while also planning to make an ambient album based on sounds from nature during a forthcoming residency in upstate New York. “I want to try to replicate the [nature] sounds with synthesizers, or my interpretation of them,” she said. “I really need to finish that other record before I do an ambient album. But I just can't stop with music.”