Dan Hart:
never in Billboard
January 1995

Dan Hart has never heard one of his tunes one a Top 40 countdown. He's never been listed in Billboard magazine. Madonna has never called to ask "How do you do it?"

He sounds a little grudging when he says he's glad.

"You know you're compromising yourself when you've had a pop hit," he said, defining a rule of thumb for folk musicians. "We have to avoid that at all costs."

Then he reconsiders.

"I personally wouldn't mind a pop hit, but I wouldn't want to have to write some awful Barry Manilow-type stuff to do it."

Hart, a folksinger and songwriter from the Philadelphia area, said folk music is making a minor comeback on the American music scene.

"We have this whole folk underground," he said. "A few of them have broken the barrier and gotten onto the pop charts, like the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega. But they used to play in the same dingy clubs that I and all my friends are playing in."

Hart is wrapping up work on his third album, which he hopes will do better than his first two. His first one, he admitted, was a strategical error.

"I mistakenly thought that CDs were merely a fad and so I put it on vinyl. That killed it right there."

The second did better, and paid for its own production costs several times over. The third, due out this spring, comprises another set of Hart's musical wit; some of his songs have been branded funny enough for the L.A.-based Doctor Demento novelty radio show.

Take the song "Traffic" -- "It's about the annoyances of traffic -- not the traffic itself but the kind of monsters that people seem to turn into, including myself. Perfectly mild-mannered people turn horrible when they're sitting behind the steering wheel."

Or "Five Senses" -- "It's about how all my friends seem to have various kinds of psychic powers. ... I'm sure they're telling the truth, but I've tried and I can't seem to get the hang of it."

How 'bout "That Was the Week" -- "That's about overlooking the major news stories so we can hear about O.J. Simpson and Pee-Wee Herman."

Then there's "The Understanding Blues," which pokes fun at his former career as a psychologist -- "Every emotion I have to look behind. I always look on the other side of things. I start off with the usual 'My woman done me wrong. But on the other hand, I probably contributed to it.' It makes fun of the whole profession, and I make fun of myself and my inability to sing the blues."

Hart said people listen to the words more if they're funny. He also said he has found more receptive audiences at bookstores.

"It's relaxed, there's usually a cafe, and people are there to browse books and drink coffee," he said. "But they are also a listening crowd. It's not always a rapt listening crowd, but it's definitely more so than you'd get in a bar."

interview by
Tom Knapp

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