None of Tim Hart’s friends think the final song on his new record is that great. A gentle acoustic finger-picked tune called ‘Cool Water’, it rests on lone piano chords, muted strings and a distant horn. The lyrics are plain but elusive, hinting at an intimacy undone. “It’s just about time to move on with it,” Hart sings. “It does not to pretend.”
“To everyone I’ve showed the record to – my management, peers, family and closest friends – ‘Cool Water’ been no one’s favorite,” says Hart. “Not even in the top five. But I love it. For its simplicity and how it says exactly what I want to say. I feel like I finally was able to capture something of innocence and naivety and not worry about what other people think.”
Hart has a thing for honesty and convictions. He’s just not used to talking about it. As the drummer of insanely popular folk-rock band Boy & Bear, the majority of Hart’s musical life is spent behind the drum kit – touring the world, singing back-up vocals, and contributing songwriting to the award-winning Sydney group’s beloved songs and spirit. This high-profile existence pushed Hart to make his 2012 debut album, Milling the Wind, a bare bones folk record. “Something that wasn’t so meticulous and thought out,” he says now. But for his second album, The Narrow Corner, concept was shunted aside for life experience. Written largely on the road and recorded between touring with Boy & Bear, The Narrow Corner hinges on themes of loss, disconnection, and how travel alters perspective, for better and worse. It also introduces Hart as a skilled and plain-spoken curator of his own interior universe.
“I’m really interested in the way we write about love and good or bad times,” says Hart. “A lot of people write about love and loss with anger and passion. But there’s something nice about when passion has gone away and the anger is not so acute, but the reality is still there. As if you’re scarred from an event and have to carry it with you but life goes on. So I find the complacent and the mundane really interesting, because it holds that and that’s what life is like most of the time.”
These elemental concerns are pillars of The Narrow Corner, a dynamic record that recalls the skeletal folk of Elliott Smith and Simon & Garfunkel, as well as the lush, widescreen pop of Crowded House and Augie March. Opener ‘Two Days Straight’ unwinds over grand strings, shuffling drums and Hart’s pure tenor; catchy first single ‘I’d Do Well’ riffs on a sliver of regret, laced with spectral guitar and organ; ‘A Long Way’ pairs banjo with descending synth arpeggios; while songs like ‘Maybe Just The Once’, ‘All in All’ and the harmony-drenched ‘Water Fire’ pair scenes of dusty Australiana with Hart’s tales of interpersonal rise and fall.
Playing the majority of instruments himself, The Narrow Corner reunites Hart with Milling the Wind-producer Mark Myers (Emma Louise, The Middle East, Timberwolfe), as well as Sydney producer Wayne Connolly (You Am I, Knievel, Cloud Control), responsible for Boy & Bear’s Harlequin Dream. Both encouraged Hart to hone his craft. “There’s so much power in melody, structure, textures and chords,” says Hart. “I worked harder in that sense on this record. I think I needed to, to support these lyrics about loss and naivety; times when I thought I had it and the rug was pulled out from under me.”
But it’s no sob story – songs like the raucous, wiry ‘Stones Throw’ and the sun-dappled grooves of ‘Maybe Just the Once’ and ‘Just A Matter of Time’ betray a pure joy. The takeaway of the album, says Hart, is learning to be okay with it all. “I’ve seen incredible loss and pain in the last few years and I’ve experienced some myself,” he says. “I always wondered how I’d react to those situations and I think I’m lucky because it’s through music. That’s what I hear on this record. I’ve learnt how personal expectations never, or very rarely, match up to reality. But there’s always something beautiful about trying.”
“I find it hard to let go,” he sings at the end of ‘Cool Water’, the one he kept for himself. “Keep it light in the way you step. At least I think so.”