It’s difficult being a songwriter in Australia, more difficult still when your tangled history precedes you at every given corner.
The decisions – both fruitful and destructive – you’ve made professionally, your past fronting various bands in various colourful outfits, those sodden half-quotes you’ve mumbled in interviews when you’ve been too drunk, too shy or just too tired to really bother. The raw, lurid details of your love life, documented to the letter in achingly honest rhyming couplets and carefully constructed choruses. Your prolific output defines you as a human being, yes, but are you prepared for the minds of your listening public to be made up before you’ve even had the chance to open your mouth?
Angie Hart has never been afraid of her beautiful and terrible tangled history. It is these experiences, indeed, that have shaped her both as a songwriter and a performer, and led her by the hand into the creation of her second solo album, ‘Eat My Shadow’.
Her seven years as front woman for wildly successful alternative pop band Frente! Ineluctably informed her creative process, as did both her time spent living in Los Angeles and her gentle reimmersion into an existence as a working musician based in Melbourne. Add to that a new recording environment and a collaborative partnership with producer Shane Nicholson (‘It’s A Movie’, ‘Familiar Ghosts’) and Hart – again – has laid herself bare. Not that it’s entirely her choosing, of course. As Angie says, “As much as it is my end goal, I never intend to write so openly…because it’s painful, and who wants to bring that upon themselves? I just can’t write any other way. My subconscious is the ruler of such things. I often write a song, that doesn’t reveal itself to me until much later. By then, it’s recorded and I am talking about it in my interviews, as it unfolds. It’s as if the listener and myself learn of these things that must have been going on inside my head at the same time. Scary!”
‘Eat My Shadow’ is the natural progression for a songwriter whose gifts have shamefully been merely glanced over by a public perhaps too immersed in the surface value of her previous output. While her last album, ‘Grounded Bird’ covered a raw and at times enormous emotional catharsis after the break-up of a marriage, she describes ‘Eat My Shadow’ as “more tempered”.
“I guess it’s about planting my feet even more firmly in the ground and living with who I am and the outcomes of that,” she admits. “The themes in this album are much less drastic and more accepting. The whole process of slowing down and really giving some thought to why these things may have happened on a micro scale, is the food for this latest batch of songs.”
From the gentle romance of ‘Funny Guy’ to the eclectic Egyptian bass of ‘Ask’, ‘Eat My Shadow’ reaches its tendrils musically around various genres and intertwines seamlessly in both an aural and emotional sense. Angie’s list of collaborators is suitably diverse, and each brings something fascinating
to an already complex and fruitful canvas. Long-time musical companions Bill McDonald and Peter Luscombe make an appearance, as do other songwriters wholly famous in their own right – Ben Lee (‘Simple’), Mark Seymour (‘I’m Afraid Of Fridays’) and Charles Jenkins (‘When You Sleep’). Dusty and prolific troubadour Bonnie Prince Billy lends his earthy vocals to ‘Little Bridges’, anchoring a murmuring musical voyage.
There are songs of fighting the inexorable slide into adulthood, songs of one-night stands, songs of power play within relationships. And above all, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and humble acceptance. On ‘Glitter’, the tentative tiptoeing around self-doubt rings searingly true: “Tomorrow in the morning, when you find out I’m boring/the champagne’s flat, I’m snoring…will you feel cheated by this other woman that I am?”
Yet even when lyrics swoop dangerously into darkness there is always a possibility of redemption. Angie’s songs are close to the bone, but not dangerously so. As a result of this, Shane Nicholson’s production is sparse and supportive. Angie said: “The lyrics sit a little more comfortably with me this time around, so I wanted them to be heard. I’m not running a million miles in the other direction throwing all the whistles and bells I can muster (production-wise) at my songs to dull the scent.”
Never is this clearer than in ‘letter of compassion’, ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With You’. The title of the album is taken from this song, and in it Angie faces up to that aforementioned dark side and reconciles with it – diluting its power, as it were. As a songwriter and wordsmith, she accepts this – that your shadow is not a separate entity to you, it is a part of you, or at the least, a reflection or a facet of who you are. And the album is rich with shadows; creeping through the ethereal landscape like hidden codes.
Drama is – of course – a deep and riveting thrill that feeds the muse easily. Living beyond that may appear to be mundane on the outside, but there is such a rich vein to tap when it comes to the intricacies, subtleties and depth of living an honest life, there is still so much to explore if one dares.
Songwriters so often exist in a world of constructs, carefully editing their peccadilloes and passions in order to put forth a neat, marketable falsity. They hide behind guarded half-lyrics and fiercely protected public personas. How lucky we are to stumble across a rare gem as Angie Hart – presenting her truths so beautifully and simply for us to do with what we please. Take her as you will.