It is often said that some people are born out of their time, that their taste and sensibility personify those of a bygone era. Jack Robert Hardman was born out of his time. The 22 year old singer songwriter from Ascot may make use of modern production techniques and methods when crafting and perfecting his sound, but his influences and the heart of his music comes from years past. Not just his music, but his personality.
In this age of celebrity where fame is seen as a genuine career choice by many, regardless of talent; where even those who have achieved nothing walk with the cocksure swagger of the hottest guy in school, as taught by their idols; it is refreshing to speak with someone who is clearly talented and destined for success, yet who retains a sense of perspective.
We speak on the day his eponymous debut album is released and whilst he is clearly excited there is no indication of being carried away. Conversationally he is relaxed, considered and insightful. His responses are to the questions asked, not the ones he wants to answer and only once do we stray sufficiently that he feels compelled to bring us back on message. This though is the exception and elsewhere we follow the conversation as it meanders along.
As well as being well grounded, it is clear that Jack is something of a perfectionist, refusing to gig until he, as a solo artist who self-produces and has no backing band, is able to reproduce the layers and intricacies of his recorded work on stage. Pushing a button and singing and playing over the top is not an option. He wants to be able to manipulate his sound on stage, change things, and enjoy the spontaneity and energy of a live performance. A backing track he says, has no versatility or variety, it’s stale. He has performed live before, usually acoustically, but now the album is out he feels that won’t be enough anymore, people will expect to hear the minutiae of the record.
There is a lot of minutiae to share though, second single “Lights of London” has over 60 tracks in it that he would have to recreate and it’s not like each song even sounds like another either. “It’s quite eclectic”, he explains. “It’s a very varied album”. This is the thing about Jack; he takes his inspiration and influence from all around and is not wedded to either a single style or sound. Nor is he consciously trying to use as much variety as he can, he simply indulges in musical experimentation and draws from his own broad tastes. ”Even when I was younger, early teens, I’ve been into all sorts of stuff so it just came from that. [The] variety came from me being interested in lots of different styles, not so much from me wanting to make it a mixed bag of an album”.
That’s not to say it’s all over the place, far from it. Jack Robert Hardman works as a holistic piece of work extremely well and a thread runs discreetly through all ten tracks. Despite confessing to being relatively melancholy as a person, Jack has woven hope and optimism into his music, capturing moods within melody and leaving lyrics to the listener’s own interpretation. ” I’ve tried to keep [the lyrics] almost quite vague”, he admits. Rather than prescribing meaning he prefers to embrace the subjectivity of his audience, allowing them to find their own significance and connotations in his song, to fill in the gaps.
You’d think this would be quite a trick to play on your subconscious, convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter what meaning someone finds in the lyrical outpourings of your heart. Your emotion laid bare for others to experience and judge. Not so, for, as he explains, Jack is not enrolled at the school of ‘write what you know’. ”I never really write in an autobiographical style, none of the songs are too closely related to me as a person in a sense. I remember reading about Ray Davis from The Kinks and the idea that he writes songs as if he is looking out of a window rather than looking into a mirror and I really liked that analogy and I kind of related to that. So I tried to paint these stories or write these stories in my head and then approach the writing that way”.
“I’m the kind of person who has an idea of where I want the song to end up.”
It’s also something of a defence mechanism, for both Jack and the listener. He feels he is defending his audience from his normality, sparing them what he sees as being the likely uninteresting autobiographical musings he would likely produce should he look within rather than without. He is defending himself, protecting himself from potential public scrutiny and trying to maintain that normality. “I had a band before when I was younger, but being a solo artist is strange because rather than having the band’s name attached to the music, it’s my name. However the name that goes with my music is also the name that’s on my driving license and my passport. It’s quite hard to detach yourself from the music. it’s odd”.
As well as approaching his song writing almost as an author crafting stories, his approach to production is similar yet entirely different but again, his perfectionism is apparent. ”I’m not really one to sit down and write a plain song on a guitar or a piano and then think; oh I could take this song in any direction. I’m the kind of person who has an idea of where I want the song to end up and then if that doesn’t happen, that’s when it can be quite frustrating”. Like an author who has the ending of a story but no idea of how he is going to get there, or scientist attempting to reverse-engineer the song from the finished version in his mind. That happens quite a lot, that can be really frustrating but on the other side of things it can also really help you write the song if you already have the idea of how you want it to be”.
Talk of his production and writing only serves as another reminder of Jack’s down to earth and humble nature. Despite self producing his eclectic album with songs containing 60-plus audio tracks, he is not convinced by his own abilities. We pierce a hole in this armour of self-deprecation though when we ask if there is any particular part of the album, no matter how small and in spite of his perceived inadequacies, that he really felt he nailed it. The answer is a whole song.
”Do you know the song “Plymouth”? There’s a three part vocal harmony going throughout that song so I had to really think about it and almost arrange it like an old track. Thinking about how I would stack up the vocals and the way I should move certain melodies. Writing for three part vocals is quite difficult in terms of making all those harmonies work and also because, actually, it’s a relatively big sound balancing the baselines; the drum parts, the keyboard parts and the string parts around what the complicated vocal is doing. I think I managed to do it so I’m pleased with how that one sounds. I think it sounds quite sophisticated but also like my music”.
It does, despite their variety there is a Jack signature on each of his songs that identifies them as being his. Be it his soft falsetto, or the undeniable catchiness of his hooks – “Conveyor Belt Of Love” is one of those songs where, once you have heard it, you only need hear or see mention of its name for it to take up residence as your primary earworm for the day – there is something quintessentially Jack about his songs.
His influences and inspiration though are never far away, even if many of them live in the past. Ask him about songs he loves, that he wishes he had written and we delve immediately into pop’s glorious past.”I always liked “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted”, the Motown song, I always just thought that was just the most crazy song I think. And “Be My Baby” produced by Phil Spector by the Ronettes, I love that. That song was just the best pop song ever”.
“I’m trying to infiltrate a scene that I’m not actually that interested in”.
Nothing from the present makes his list, ”I don’t really listen to a lot of modern music”, he confesses. “I’ve learnt my song writing technique from listening to classic song writing and really mainstream song writing. I find it kind of amusing that I’m using very mainstream techniques, or at least they were mainstream, and because I’m doing them now, people find it quite unusual and strange. To me I don’t really see much difference between the way I write songs and the way, I dunno, the Beatles write songs. I mean I’m not comparing myself to them, but in terms of structure it’s all kind of much of a muchness, you know?”
He’s a thoroughly modern musician and producer, writing music in a quite old fashioned way for a modern audience of which he is not a member. ”I listen to some modern music but it’s a really hard one to think about modern music cause I’m trying to infiltrate a scene that I’m not actually that interested in as a music fan, as strange as that sounds”.
As paradoxical as that may sound, it actually makes perfect sense. ”I’ve been brought up along with this sort of Sixties music really so that’s kind of where my real passion lays but of course I hear some modern music that I really enjoy but I just don’t have that burning desire to stay up to date with it like some people do”.
Almost like he was born in the wrong time? ”Yeah, I feel like that sometimes”.