Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Kat Slootsky
Unlike typical synth-driven music that makes you dance or makes you chill or makes you wonder about modular wiring, Annie Hart’s synth-driven music makes grown men cry. One or two per show. I ask her if they’re tears of sorrow, joy, catharsis? She says, “I never ask them because they’re crying. I just give them a hug.”
I’m talking to her on the phone after her optometrist appointment. She’s getting contact lenses because “I rock out so hard on stage that my glasses are always flying off my face.” This combination of impassioned performing combined with her ideal venue being “a small room inside of a museum,” definitely makes for a unique show. Combine this with her consistent live collaboration with artist Jenna Gribbon who projects mixes dyes via an overhead projector, and it sounds like a full-on aesthetic journey.
The upcoming tour the glasses are for is not her first time on the road. Annie Hart was one of the three women who made up Au Revoir Simone, a standout band among the synth pop innovators of the last decade. It should be noted that putting the band in the past tense isn’t technically correct, though,”we’re on a break,” albeit an extended one. There were no au revoirs said in anger, in other words; what it turns out happened was that band member Heather D’Angelo moved to San Francisco to start a perfume company that extracts its oils and essential materials from the rainforests of Brazil and other endangered habitats. The idea is to demonstrate that the rainforest can be harvested and sustained at the same time. A noble venture indeed, but as Hart points out, “I hope it’s wildly successful even though it is inconvenient for my band.” But it’s not so inconvenient that D’Angelo hasn’t found time to perform with Hart on her previous (and first) solo tour and also sings on the new album. Other singers joining Hart on the album include Drew Citron from Beverly and Jane Herships from Spider.
Nevertheless, this project is ultimately Harts’ alone. She says that going solo “felt like jumping off a cliff because I was used to band mates giving opinions in no uncertain terms.” She adds that the main challenge of not having these other voices is being the one left with the responsibility for determining when a song is finished.
It felt like jumping off a cliff because I was used to band mates giving opinions in no uncertain terms.
Part of the reason the song were hard to finish and consequently the album took two and a half years to complete is Hart’s particular brand of perfectionism and the philosophy that a song is “an entity that comes to you and you have to shape it.” As an artist, she feels she has a responsibility to this entity to make sure the song is fully realized. When do these entities come to her, young songwriters should surely wonder? “When your mind is a little more open; it’s linked with motion: riding a bike, walking things that create rhythm.” When she was younger, songs would come to her at a job that involved stamping out return addresses over and over on envelopes, and when she was even younger it was the repetitive sound of the turn signal in her parents’ car.
The album itself was recorded in Harts’ house in Queens. “I recorded everything myself in my basement with a couple of mics and a lot of synths.” It sounds like a true labor of love that was done concurrently with another labor of love, raising Harts two children. “I have two little kids, so I’d wait for them to be napping to work on it.”
And now these songs are passed on to you with much less effort on your part but all the enjoyment. They’re the real deal, though, so be warned, an emotional response could be forthcoming.