Interview: Howard Hart

Dan McAvinchey: Howard, what were some of the things that influenced your musical tastes
and led to your interest in the guitar?

Howard Hart: I started playing (or messing) with the guitar when I was just 8 or 9 years old - And I was totally into music even at that age; most of which came from the radio. I heard a lot of Beatles and all that, and I used to watch the Monkees on TV! I just wanted to play music and play guitar. It didn't take long before I was getting serious about it. At 10 or 12 years old I was into Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream...all the stuff that was going on, including the late preiod Beatles stuff. And Jimmy Page was the influence...
I was just totally into his playing.

Dan McAvinchey: What guitars and other equipment are you currently using to get your sound?

Howard Hart: Amplification these days is mainly Mesa/Boogie...the DC-3 is what I'm
currently using, along with a few different speaker enclosures depending on the situation. I also use a modified Carvin X100B for recording here and there. It has a certain quality to it that I like; and I always manage to get a good sound out of it in the studio. My main guitar right now is the Ibanez JS-100... Its a pretty comfortable guitar for me. I've got DiMarzio pickups in it, as do all my other guitars. My "2nd" guitar is the Performance mutt. Its got one of those early Kramer bodies (when Eddie Van Halen was working with them), and a Performance neck on it. Performance Guitar is in Hollywood, and they make some pretty nice guitars.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you hoping to achieve musically?

Howard Hart: These days I seem to be focusing on a balance between more complicated
compositional ideas (like a few of the things found on "Dancing Madly Backwards") and more straight-ahead rock stuff, like what's on the current "Mind Grind" CD. I'm enjoying focusing my overall playing in that direction...more expressive solos, etc...and placing it in the context of something more "digestable" - and having fun with it all of course!

Dan McAvinchey: What are your most recently completed projects and what are you currently working on?

Howard Hart: I've just recently finished the "Mind Grind" CD, which is available over at ( - and I'd like to do a band project at this point. I love the guitar, bass, drums, and vocalist setup. So, I've been
focusing on material in that area. But I'm always writing instrumentals as well - so I'm sure there'll be another CD in this department as I move along.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you compose your original music?

Howard Hart: It's been done in several different depends on the type of song it is. For instance, "Purusha" from "Dancing Madly Backwards" was 75% composed on paper in-between students. I pretty much had the whole thing in my head, and just went at it. Then I refined it later during the recording process. Other songs, like "Crying Hunger" were just written very quickly with guitar in hand. I might pick it up, lock into a groove, or some chord voicings, and off it goes. In fact, I actually wrote the melody as I recorded it, just listening to what I had played and developing it from there. "Mind Grind" is another 'guitar-based' tune - just picking up the guitar and coming up with a riff and a groove that I like, and developing it from, all different ways really.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you record at home as well or rent time at a commercial facility?

Howard Hart: I really hate renting time in a studio - especially for what I do. But then sometimes you have to just to get a good drum sound. A good studio usually has a good room for recording live drums. So, sometimes it's convenient and nice to go in the studio to at least do drum tracks. Other than that, I
prefer recording at home. I've got a modest setup - but I've been recording for a long time now, so I manage to get some pretty good sounds. Probably 75% to 80% of all my stuff has been recorded at home.

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to form your own record label and release
an independent record?

Howard Hart: Well, it's not really a label in the real sense...just a way of getting my own stuff out there. As far as releasing independently - there's really no other way. Instrumental music (other than 'happy saxophone' music I suppose) doesn't really get a lot of support from record labels, guitar magazines,
radio, whatever. So, if you love doing this kind of thing, then you really have to accept that you've gotta do it yourself. Put your stuff out there and try to develop a small fan base along the way so that you can afford to keep doing it.

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Dan McAvinchey: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent

Howard Hart: The advantages are being able to do exactly what you want...what you
believe in - right or wrong. You have complete freedom as an artist, which is nice. The disadvantages are rather obvious; Without a record label behind you, it's a tough road. Of course, a label can make it an even tougher road! But in short, you don't have the backing, exposure, or distribution that a good label might afford you.

Dan McAvinchey: Can you share any marketing or promotion tips for musicians about to release their first independant record?

Howard Hart: It's really just about developing a base of people who know who you are, and
will buy your CDs I suppose. And believe can be a monster player, but if no one knows you exist it really does little good. Even with a modest fan base, it can be difficult. I feel that it's just the nature of this kind of music. But you've got to get yourself out in any way you can if you want to keep doing it.

I've recently done the thing, which I was hestitant about early on. But it's turned out to be a real good thing for me. "Crying Hunger" spent several weeks at the #1 spot on the instrumental charts, and "Blue In Maya" and "Mind Grind" have done real well also. Most importantly is that it exposed my music to so many people.. a hundred to two hundred people a day might be downloading tunes. It increased hits to my website enormously, as well as email responses, etc... So, I really think that's what it's all about for an independent artist - especially an instrumental guitarist. But the good news is that those who like this kind of music tend to be pretty devoted and respectful of it - so all is not bad! The jar of picks is always half full!

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Taking his cue from such work as Steve Vai's "Flex-Able" and Mike Keneally's "hat", California guitarist Howard Hart has released "Dancing Madly Backwards", a 12-selection instrumental CD consisting of high-energy electric tracks and a few other-worldly acoustic numbers. Hart is no one-trick pony however. He has been teaching guitar for decades, and now runs H.H.G.I., a business which helps guitarists improve with Hart's innovative "pocket lessons". He also runs a web site called the HHGI Online Magazine, which features interviews, lessons, reviews and more.

Dan McAvinchey contacted Hart to get the guitarist's thoughts on recording and releasing instrumental records in the new millennium.