What travel taught Tim Hart

“I love reading, and I’m interested in the way the English language works, stating things in a way you hope other people haven’t stated before.”

There’s an adage that runs something like this: talking about art is like dancing about architecture. That is to say, the expression – the art – is both the means and the end. But sometimes, diving into the motivations behind someone’s creativity can draw out some fine illumination, and so it was with Tim Hart. The drummer and shared songwriter of Boy & Bear, Hart is unveiling his second solo record, The Narrow Corner, and his thoughts on writing and music made for some refreshing conversation.
“There are some people who purely draw from their own experiences. But you run out of ideas pretty quickly, because I reckon nobody is that exciting,” Hart laughs. “So you tend to poach. Like Paul Kelly, he poaches from everywhere, and if he gets stuck he goes and reads the Bible. For me, I get to see a lot of things, I’m fortunate enough to travel, and you hear a lot of people’s stories whether you want to or not. And you take those on board, you’re almost like a magpie going and taking little bits here and there.
“I think [travel] completely changed me as a human being. To see the world and understand a little bit more about other cultures. It’s super important. And as a songwriter, as you see more things you’ll have more to write about.”
Across the scope of The Narrow Corner, much of this advice was put directly into practice. Throughout Boy & Bear’s last European tour, Hart found himself writing between performances in places as disparate (and inspiring) as Berlin, Dublin, Portugal, and Madrid. It’s a romantic image, but it doesn’t quite disguise the fact that within such a grand itinerary, the discipline and practicality of writing remains.
“A lot of times it’s about finding your own space, it’s getting away and clearing your head. It’s not the most comfortable thing, to write on the road. For me, it happens out of practicality, because if I don’t do that, well, I don’t have a whole lot of time. The one time it really worked for us in Boy & Bear was, we wrote ‘Southern Sun’ backstage before a gig at Falls Festival, and that was cool. That was romantic, but other than that, it’s a hard slog, and that’s fine. You get a little bit of inspiration, and then you have to jump on the drums and soundcheck, so you try to finish it later after dinner. It’s all about just fitting it in.”
The result, it must be said, is pretty spectacular. The Narrow Corner is a damned accomplished album, full of the epic sense of landscape and story that hallmark so much of Boy & Bear’s canon, but laced with a sense of imagery and poetry – of voice – that is entirely Hart’s own. It’s a strength he has honed across many collaborative songwriting sessions within the band.
“It’s honestly like a different muscle,” Hart says. “Collaborative songwriting, you can work for four or five days on a song and end up throwing it out. Whereas with me, I like to work quickly, and get into a song spontaneously and do the hard work afterwards. It feels almost like two completely different forms of writing for me. The lyrics and the music come at the same time, whereas in B&B the lyrics are the last thing to come. It feels different. I love it, but it’s a different thing.
“No one ever really taught me how to write a song. I love reading, and I’m interested in the way the English language works, stating things in a way you hope other people haven’t stated before. And that’s why it seems like a natural progression to me that it evolves at the same time. As the music evolves, so do the lyrics and story.
“In the ebb and flow of the story, you know where the music should go, and in terms of where the music’s going, it helps you decide lyrically when the moments are. That’s how it works for me. I love playing around with language,” he says. “I keep repeating myself, but I feel very lucky just to be doing what I’m doing.”

Tim Hart’s album The Narrow Corner is out now via Island Records/UMA. He’ll perform at Wesley Anne on Friday February 16.