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Roddy Hart bookmarks his future

By Jason MacNeil, April 2007

Musicians can at times be a naive bunch, believing in the good in everyone and giving all the benefit of the doubt. These same musicians are often the ones that get hosed when it comes to signing contracts and other legal paperwork. But for anyone trying to pull the wool or any other fabric over the eyes of Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Hart, think again. Hart has a law degree to fall back on.

"I didn't really feel old enough to be writing about some things," says Hart, 26, on the phone from across the Atlantic. "Sometimes what I hate in music is insincerity, and if you're particularly young, sometimes it can come across as if you don't really know what you're singing about. You've not really necessarily had the life experience."

Although he took the time to complete the degree, Hart also kept writing and honing his craft. The end result was his 2004 debut "Home Tapes," which earned him a loyal following, in Great Britain.

"I recorded a bunch of songs that I put together over the years, and I bought a little 8-track recorder, a Roland 8-track digital recorder," he says. "I just sat in my bedroom at my mom and dad's house where I was living at the time and recorded about 12 tracks in a week."

The musician also says he was surprised by the album's moderate success despite the fact he'd never played a solo gig in his life.

"I was really quite young, and my voice was completely different," Hart says. "I was still trying to find a style. But that really served its purpose because it let me raise enough money by going around gigs and selling that album."

Starting small, Hart took the money from "Home Tapes" and put it towards his latest effort "Bookmarks," his U.S. debut on Compass. The album is a very strong collection of singer-songwriter tunes that bring to mind a cross between Rodney Crowell and The Jayhawks' lead singer Gary Louris. Hart sees "Bookmarks" as his true debut effort, and he's extremely happy with the response.

"I'm delighted to be honest because when I started the album, it was literally with no budget," he says. "I didn't have any deals on the table or anything like that. To go from that stage recording these songs in a small studio going slightly mad in Glasgow to the stage we are now where people are just getting to hear it has been amazing."

Unlike some artists who record a lot of material, Hart recorded 13 songs for "Bookmarks," the same 13 that made the final cut. "A few people kind of said the same thing that it worked really well as a 13-track album," Hart says. "So, they kind of convinced me to do it that way."

Hart also says the songs that ended up on "Bookmarks" all had a certain feeling to them. This is evident whether listening to "Suffocate" or the closing "Journey's End." "I know we're in a digital age, and a lot of people want a single track a lot of the time," Hart says. "I think that there's still a huge audience for an album that has a certain feel about it and that was what was important to me - a collection of songs that sat alongside each other and felt like they were part of the same album rather than a collection of singles or individual songs that you would want to grab off the Internet at times. I'm a bit of a purist in that I love the idea of a whole album."

But like several albums worth their salt, Hart says making it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. After finishing the writing, the sound of the album changed due to the addition of musicians, including some members of Scottish band Trashcan Sinatras.

"I took a break from the album, and it still wasn't quite right," he says. "It didn't sound the way I wanted it to sound, but that was really due to the fact the arrangements weren't fully formed yet. I took two months off and put a band together, and we played some gigs. Then all of a sudden the songs came together, they were much tighter. So I went back and re-recorded a big chunk of it, and it happened a lot quicker."

Hart also says producer Paul McGeechan, a member of the band Love & Money, also brought a lot to the table. "He's very kind, and he's brilliant," Hart says. "He really added in terms of someone to bounce ideas off of because I'm quite stubborn, and I know what I want. Sometimes that can be to the detriment of the record. It was good to have somebody there to chip in ideas, but mainly for me to bounce ideas off of and to use as a kind of distilling process."

But perhaps the biggest highlight Hart had in making "Bookmarks" simply came from blind luck. Two songs feature backing vocals by the legendary Kris Kristofferson, including "Home" and "My Greatest Success." Kristofferson was in Scotland filming "The Jacket," the 2005 film starring Adrien Brody and produced by George Clooney when he decided to do something he never done before - a solo acoustic show in Glasgow.

"I got called because he was looking for a support act, so I submitted a CD for it, and he said he wanted me to do it," Hart says. "It was just supposed to be one or two shows, but it ended up being eight or nine shows because he asked me to do the English dates with him. It was an amazing experience."

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