December , 1984
By David Huff
Corey Hart’s First Offense a Big One
Canadian Corey Hart is somewhat of an enigma.
To sit down and talk with him about his emergence onto the pop music scene, you wonder how this shy, soft-spoken musician ever got enough nerve to walk into the office of a major record company and convince them his material would one day be the stuff hits are made out of.
"I'm not the type of guy that is going to shoot off fireworks,” admitted Hart coyly. "I do it within myself and when I go out on stage. I have dreamed about what I am doing now all my life. I am a shy person and just because you have a hit record doesn't mean that you have to change and take things for granted. I am proud of what have done, but I want to do a hell of a lot more."
The 22-year old Canadian began writing music when he was in high school. While playing a gig one night in upstate New York, a sax player with Billy Joel's band took an interest in Hart and asked him to send a demo tape to Joel's hotel room. Joel, who was in the midst of a tour, heard the material and asked Hart if he would come down to New York City because he wanted to play with the young Canadian and produce his music.
"That in itself was a good experience," said Hart. "It gave me a chance to play with some extremely talented musicians and to work in the studio with some of the top people in the business. I mean, Phoebe Snow would drop in. Billy Joel would always be around and there would be that caliber of people in the studio always doing something. But, after a while, I felt as though I had to move on so I went back to Canada."
Hart had accumulated some impressive credentials for himself because of the Billy Joel connection, but it still didn't help him get into the door of the major labels in New York.
"I sent about four of my songs out to major American labels,” smiled Hart, “and got turned down right away. At that time, I didn't feel as though I could go into their New York offices and meet them personally, which I felt that was important in my case. That's when I decided to try it out in Canada and maybe if things worked out there, the Americans would take notice of me a little bit more, and they did."
Hart overcame his shyness and his strategy paid off. Four major Canadian record labels were interested in signing the musician. Interestingly enough, it was an ad in Billboard Magazine that caught his eye. A record company, Aquarius, was advertising April Wine's new album and they listed their address in Montreal, Hart's hometown. He decided to look into it.
"Since they were in my hometown,” offered Hart, “I just decided to go check it out. I had already received four offers in a week so I walked into the Aquarius offices with my confidence high. It wasn't a last ditch effort on my part, I just thought I might as well go and see them.
"I think that everyone that succeeds has a little bit of luck, but I think with luck you make your own breaks. The luck you make pushes the door that leads you to your breaks. It was lucky that I stumbled upon the Aquarius ad. It was a little bit of good fortune, but then again I made that good fortune. Like I said earlier, I was walking in there with four offers in front of me.
"I told those guys that they had two weeks to decide if they were going to sign me. I sort of wanted to get their commitment and see what type of people they were. I signed with them, and it turns out that they were the best choice."
Hart already had some material ready for his first album. A decision was made to record the Canadian’s debut at Pete Townshend's Soho Studios in London. It was a fortuitous, and lucky, because the location would end up being the inspiration for Hart’s break out on the record.
"I got the idea for 'Sunglasses,' when I was recording my album in England," Hart replied. "One of the producers, Phil Chapman, was always wearing sunglasses in the studio. Sometimes when we finished up late at night, we'd go out for a meal and Phil would still be wearing his shades. He got teased a lot about wearing 'sunglasses at night,' and when I heard that phrase, I thought it would make a great song title."
Hart and his management decided to finish up his album in Canada because the conditions in Townshend's studio weren't quite right. Mainly, it wasn't a completed studio and though Pete repeatedly said it would be finished soon, the band opted for their native country. A few weeks later, Corey Hart was ready to recruit a band and commence his first tour opening Brit heartthrobs Culture Club at the Montreal Forum.
"The British bands that have succeeded in America,” answered Hart thoughtfully, “opened up radio in this country. That helped me a great deal and made it possible for a new artist like myself to emerge. I don't think that "Sunglasses," would have been a hit if groups like Men at Work, Duran Duran and the Eurythmics opened up radio and help create Top 40.
“I mean, look at the kind of songs that are on those radio station formats now? I think it would have been a lot harder three years ago to break through in this country. FM radio was starting to evolve into the powerhouse it is now. Image now, especially with the advent of MTV, is everything now. A good looking guy with a strong visual image is something that people have always looked for. Now it's a major focus and has become very important,"
Hart should know what he's talking about. Weeks before he started the Rick Springfield tour, the producers for ABC's Paper Dolls series chased Hart trying to convince him to appear in three episodes of the show. All he had to do was portray his self. Hart steadfastly refused and the part went to John Waite. Was it a mistake?
"I just felt that taking that part,” he confided, “was not the right move to make at that time in my career. It wasn't the type of role in an acting situation that I felt was suitable for me. I didn't think that I would have been seen in the right capacity by my fans had I taken that role.
"I have control over a video whereas I didn't have control over falling in love with a Brooke Shields type model in a television series that resembles Dallas. I am in no hurry for films and in my opinion I can take each step as it comes. I am certainly not hurting by the decision I made. I have a lot of movie offers to consider already and when the time is right, I will do something.
"My dream was not to be in a television series, it was to make records. I will tell you that I have written a script and have a lot of people interested in doing films with me. We are going to be filming a role I wrote for myself that sets Corey Hart the way I think he should be portrayed. When you see that, you'll go, 'Damn, that Corey Hart, smart guy, knows what he is doing.' "
Hart obviously does know what he is doing when it comes to music. He has just charted his second Top Ten single, "It Ain't Enough," off his First Offense record. Now that he has finished touring with Springfield, he is getting ready to go on tour with the red hot Hall & Oates as they begin their North American tour.
"I really do think that some things are meant to be," answered Hart. "Everything that has happened to me occurred because I was very determined. Growing up, I remember every day waking up with my focus in one direction. I would think of ways, a million ways, to make it in this business.
"There were days where I would sit down with a piece of paper and think of 25 different things I could do that would get me a little closer to where I wanted to be. I do the same thing today now that I have my record out. I phone up radio stations wherever I go. Anyone who will play me on the radio I will speak with if they want to talk to me."
Hart's confidence, as Merrill Lynch would say, has made this Canadian ‘a breed apart’. It's easy to talk about what you are going to do, but putting those words into action is an entirely different matter.
"Well, I have always been real confident in what I could do," insisted Hart. "I am not arrogant mind you. I just think that you have to be confident in your abilities in order to sustain yourself in this business. If you doubt yourself in the least, you're only handicapping yourself.
"I am not a fatalist. I am not better than your local musician that plays down the street. All I am saying is that if you want to make it in this business, you are better off if you have complete self-confidence in what you are doing. It's not easy to block out everything else in your life to concentrate totally on one objective. This business isn’t one of those ventures where you can snap your fingers and it's there. You may have some of that desire rub off on you from other people, but you need to have it within yourself if you want to succeed."
With two hits under his belt and only his first album, you would think that Hart should have it relatively easy preparing for his second album. He says it's not so.
“I would hate to think that I was going to re-write 'Sunglasses,' ten different ways," smiled Hart. "I already have most of the next album written and it is quite different from the first, but it is still me.
"I like to try different rhythms and different approaches, perhaps working with another producer, something like that. It would be hard for me to describe what direction my music is headed for. Once I am in the studio, the whole thing starts to some together. But I have always been a firm believer of keeping people on the edge of their seats."
There is little doubt that Hart's convictions and desires were the difference in separating himself from the rest of the pack on his musical odyssey.
"You know, if I had been born in Somalia I still think I would have made it," laughed Hart. "I always wanted to be a solo artist, and I honestly believe that I would have made it regardless of where I was born. I don't believe there is a limit as to how high you can set your goals. When you know you have the talent, that knowledge is the thing that drives you.
"I always knew that my stuff would be commercially viable and people would respond to it. I don't write music to bounce of four walls. I write songs to make people react. It is nice to see my songs break the Top Ten in America because it is a strong pat on the back and an endorsement for what I am doing. I always knew that I was capable of creating music, and it is always good to be reassured. America is the place I wanted to excel in and it was high on my priority list."
Hart has excelled beyond his wildest dreams, but he does admit to playing it somewhat safe on his debut because he didn't want to leave anything to chance.
"I wanted to get a record deal very badly," admitted Hart, "so I played it safe. It was like, ‘If the record company people didn't hear a hit in the first ten seconds of listening to a song, that was it.’ My first album gave me respect not only with the record company, but myself. I have a following now and I have legitimate success behind me.
"I always wanted to be a solo artist so I could write my own music and perform it. I realized then, as I do now, that you don't have to do it the way everyone else does it to become a success. I did it my way, and now I am living proof that you can do it anyway you want if you just dedicate yourself."