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Interview: HARRT talks Toolroom, Early Influences, Studio Process & More


HARRT looking to the side

Tony Hart, who goes by the alias of HARRT, is from Southend on Sea, UK. His early years were blessed with classic 90’s UK garage flavours, which still influence today’s productions.


He found his love for house music after exploring House music’s fascinating roots and history. HARRT has been producing on and off for over a decade and wanted to hone his craft, leading him to become a student at Toolroom Academy. Tutored by the industry’s finest, he is now fine-tuning and developing his sound in the House / Tech House arena. Big-hitting drums, big groovy basslines and melodic hooks get him moving. His debut release on Toolroom Trax showcased his palate with the inception of ‘Chicago’, which was influenced by Inner City, Martin Ikin & Eli Brown which to date has amassed over 13,000 streams and various radio plays & DJ support from the likes of Carly Wilford & Essel.


With this great start to the year, he feels more inspired than ever - working hard in the studio, lining up the next instalments. Aside from his dedication in the studio, HARRT has embarked on a passion project called HARRTS House, which has been gaining more traction each month, featuring mixes from himself and international talents and interviews with rising and established artists.



HARRT’s latest release, ‘Delirio’ on Toolroom Trax, results from five graduates meeting through Toolroom Academy's renowned production programme, forming new creative connections, and then producing the kind of club-ready underground music that Toolroom stands for. You can buy/stream it here: https://trx.lnk.to/DelirioAS.

In honour of his latest work, we caught up with HARRT for an exclusive chat about his journey, his latest release and much more:


 

Can you tell us about your music production process? What inspires you when creating a new track?

Firstly – thank you for having me!


So, when I’m listening to music – if I really love something, that usually goes into a special playlist predominantly just for references, when I get a couple of good reference tracks for a project, I will then sit down, study them and really get an understanding of how it’s been produced.

After I have had a good listen to the references, I will then make a sample pack, this could take a few hours, but I try to get as much as I can; drum loops, percs, bassline ideas, synth lines, vocals, fx, hook ideas etc. Before I have even sat down to write anything, I know I have got loads of inspiration in my curated sample pack. That all gets dragged into Studio One, and then I will think about the different reverbs, delays etc., that I want to be using and set up all the buses.

When I start creating, I want to write; I don’t want to be sidetracked for setting this sort of stuff up, so I do it that way. I have saved most of those chains, so I tend to drag them onto the bus, but they all have different vibes. I have spent quite a long time just messing with varying chains of effect to get them working well; they may get a little tweak here and there, but overall, that’s drag and drop - ultimately saving time.

Once I have everything set up and ready to go, I will chop up drum loops/perc loops and take the parts I like or need for the record. I set up a hierarchy of importance so the groove comes together quickly. At this point, I’m usually just working in an eight or 16-bar loop. Once the drums are in, the bassline gets sorted out. Apart from referencing, I never really use a sampled bassline; I always write my own basslines using a VST or synth. I like to have control over it to automate ADSR, cutoff, modulation etc. There’s nothing wrong with using samples and each to their own; I’m sure many outstanding records have been written with a sample; I enjoy the process (or frustration, haha) of making it my own. So now we have drums and bassline, the core foundation of all house music, in a good spot; I then start getting synths, vocals and all the hooky elements down. Once I have that, I will expand the project. Usually, I create a breakdown that leads into a drop, and then you’re pretty much there. There are a couple of ways of dealing with the arrangement; a lot of labels have structures that are common to them, so it’s always good to study that at the very beginning and put your markers in at the top of the project before you start so you can see what goes where. You can also copy the arrangement of one of your references. I usually write tracks in the same structure because I know it works for me, and if you listen to Chicago or Delirio – the arrangement is the same, and many Toolroom releases share it.

Once the track is written and arranged, I will look at FX and chop up the track. Automating filter sweeps, messing about with kicks, taking out percs or drums in sections etc. That’s where the track really comes alive for me because all it needs at that point is a good mix down, a club master, and it’s ready to be sent out. I will usually dish it out to a select few to run their ears over it, along with a few car plays. After all this, there are always a few tweaks to do, but then you have your track finished. That’s how I approach making my records. It’s always good to take a week or two once a track is finished before sending it out to a label or giving it a DJ play, though; give the ears a rest and revisit it. I usually pick something out to edit before it goes out.

You have cited influences from Inner City and Martin Ikin; how do you incorporate these influences into your tracks while maintaining your unique sound?


My taste and influence in music are eclectic. I have always been a huge fan of Inner City and the rest of the timeless artists who have blessed house music with amazing records over the years. I wanted to produce something that reflected my love for the early period. Working on my sound was something I spent quite a bit of time on while going through the masterclass with BK & Pete. The keys in Chicago were a little tip of the hat to those guys. Martin Ikin and Rene Amesz are the gurus of drums and grooves; I spent a lot of time working on drum loops, listening to these masters of the game and figuring it out. Since then, I know what I’m looking for when it comes to those elements, and I’m a big fan of call and response throughout percussion, introducing not only obvious groovy sounds like toms but also the delicate sounds that are clever in the mix that sound right. Producing great drums and basslines is hard because they are the fundamentals of any record. If they’re not that great, it will impact the track – so that’s where my influence comes from with those guys.

Your latest release, ‘Delirio’ on Toolroom Trax, features four other Toolroom Academy students. Can you share with us your experience working on this track?


Yes, absolutely! Firstly, it was a huge amount of fun. We had all grown quite close and were great pals when we got together to write this record. We were all staying at an Airbnb in Deptford for the Toolroom 338 party in November of last year, and that’s when we decided to get something started. I think, initially, it was more like - let’s get some ideas together and see what we could come up with a deal; I don’t think any of us expected how it turned out.


The issue was though, five good mates all getting together that didn’t see each other, which often led to some irresponsible drinking on Friday night in Deptford, and we were meant to be creating a track all day Saturday. So, Saturday, if I’m honest, was a bit of a write-off. We eventually managed to get our heads into a production space at about 3 pm and then spent about 3-4 hours on an idea. We had all come with our own curated sample packs and ideas, so we threw them into Logic, got rid of the bits that didn’t fit, and kept what sounded good. The sound selection was ruthless amongst the group; there were no maybe’s. It was either yes, keep it, or not get rid, as we didn’t have time because we were heading out to 338. After a couple of hours, though, we had a solid 16-bar loop with a nice groove and a vocal that fitted perfectly.


The next week I started putting the track together in my home studio and arranged with Loz to come across to finish off the record. Loz and I had previously worked in the studio, so it was pretty straightforward for us to expand what had been created and finish it; we spent another two days getting it finished. Then I mixed the track down and put a club master on it, which was then presented to Toolroom Academy director Miles Shackleton who was keen to hear what we had created. Interestingly, we had all been invited down to an Alumni Day at Toolroom HQ, and surprisingly, our track was given live A&R by Matt Smallwood and Pete Griffiths whilst we were there, which was unreal. We had great feedback, and during the one-on-one interviews later that day, we were told to my delight, that ‘Delirio’ had been signed. So that was an incredible moment, not only to be signed to a label that I love but to share that moment with my pals was immense.

There was an issue, though. The original vocal sample that we had used couldn’t be cleared, which led us to go on to find a replacement. I’m lucky to have become friends with the guys down at ThreeSixZero. I reached out and, thankfully, was put in contact with a Spanish lady called Cecelia, who agreed to come into the studio and allow me to record her.


Cecelia isn’t a vocalist, but she was perfect for what we were looking for and did an incredible job. So now I had the new vocal myself, and Loz then finished the record and sent it off to Danny Rhys at Toolroom, and that was it; the project buttoned up.


HARRT facing the camera

How do you approach DJing in comparison to music production? Do you have a preference?

I approach them with a similar mindset, to be honest. When you write a record, you want to take someone on a journey for 5-6 minutes or however long your record is, and it’s the same with a DJ set. For me, in a more profound sense, It should be a journey you go on with the crowd. The fantastic thing about the art form of DJing is that you have to opportunity to broaden people’s minds when it comes to music; I think that’s what blows people away. When listeners have never heard a particular record or artist’s work, they instantly connect with it and go mad. I think you get a different type of gratification when you’re either DJing or Producing, and both have an amazing buzz, so I don’t think I could have a favourite here – I love doing both.

What do you consider to be the most essential element of a successful track?

From a musical point of view – there must be an instant groove, then obviously a catchy hook. Whether it be a synth line, piano, or vocal – whatever it is- you need to grab the listener’s attention quickly and glue it into their ears so they remember it. When you think about the hookiest of records, you know the record is coming in - just by the intro. That, for me, is essential.

Promo has got to be spot-on. You could have the most outstanding record in the world, but if no one hears it, it will probably not get the recognition it deserves. It’s also become apparent in the short time I have been releasing music that promo is a dark art; it has to be perfect, or you won’t get the exposure.


You have recently worked with Toolroom Academy. Can you tell us more about your experience working with them?


Ahh, the Academy. It’s so easy for me to shout from the rooftops about those guys because my experience is so positive.

So, I’ve been producing house music on and off for the past 14 years, only really taking it seriously for the past 3-4 years. I was self-taught, watching YouTube videos and reaching out to friends that also produced, but I never got anything anywhere good enough. So, I contacted various vendors about tuition, as I wanted to up my game. I knew I had the right ideas for records, but I could never translate them into a DAW. After a few different options, I chose to sign up with Toolroom Academy on their Production Certificate, which is a 12-week program designed to take you through the journey, from start to finish, of making a record. It’s aimed at all levels with live weekly feedback / A&R, so everyone would learn throughout the process, so that was perfect for me. My tutors throughout the Production Certificate were Ben Keen and Pete Griffiths, who are just absolute legends of the game. At the end of the production certificate, I did have a finished track that I will most likely repurpose at some point in the future.


After the Production Certificate, I went on to the Masterclass Program, a one-on-one scheme tailored to you as a student. I was happy because I got to continue my time at the academy with BK & Pete, you do get to know your tutors through the Production Cert, but with the masterclass, you’re face to face with them for every session, and you become great friends. You also create friendships with the wider part of the Toolroom team, which is awesome. I have got to say; it’s been one of the best experiences of my life working with those two guys.


I hold everyone at Toolroom and the Academy in extremely high regard; they are amazing people.


To say that I have stepped up my production game is an understatement; I have gained so much knowledge that I am now confidently creating club-ready music to send out to labels, and a few years ago, that would have been a pipedream. I learnt so much, whether from a Technical standpoint with BK or an A&R standpoint with Pete. I have so much respect for both of them; as you can probably tell, there’s a lot of love for the Toolroom Family, which I admit does sound cliché, but it is so real. Just a thing to add, it’s not just the studying, the A&R etc., at the toolroom that is valuable; it brings together like-minded individuals who can create networks and, ultimately, friendships that go on to do great things. The proof is in the pudding with ‘Delirio’—that testament to the Toolroom Academy and its backing from the Main Label.

If you’re thinking about it – do it. It’ll be the best thing you ever do as a music producer.

How do you stay updated with new technology and incorporate it into your music production?


I’m a pest when it comes to hardware. I love the stuff. Wherever I can, I will use hardware if it’s at my disposal because it makes everything real. It makes the music production process more enjoyable for me. I feel more inspired when I’m in a space with hardware floating about, as it’s no longer just a waveform on a computer; it comes to life. My long-term plans for my studio involve a fair bit of hardware and a nice vocal chain to record original vocals for my future tracks, it’s still a little bit away from having all that, but I will get there. I get serious envy when I look at D. Ramirez’, Ben Remember’s & Salviones’ studios because it’s a playground of inspiration; what you can create is endless, and I have a lot of time for that. Right now, I do have the SSL UF-8 & UC-1, which I use extensively when it comes to mixing, and that’s used on every single track, so I still get to play with nice toys in my current studio.

What can fans expect from your upcoming HARRTs House episodes?


HARRT’s House has been great to get up and running. I was inspired by Danny Rhys at Toolroom, who has his monthly show called Straight From The Record Box. If you’ve not heard it, go and check it out, it’s so good – I’m an avid listener. So, HARRT’s House was born because I mainly wanted to support not only established artists but upcoming artists also; it’s a nice feeling when your hard work gets support, and it’s something I wanted to give back. In future episodes, I will continue supporting these awesome underground and established artists, and there is a vision to do interviews on the show with artists/industry professionals, which will be aired on YouTube. There’s still some planning/design work, and it will be up and running by the end of the summer.



Can you share a track or project you are particularly proud of and why?


Chicago. My debut release on Toolroom Trax is special for me. It was a recognition of a lot of hard work. I think it’s so easy to allow self-doubt to creep into your thoughts when you’re a music producer, but when you have your record signed by a label like Toolroom, you finally feel that you’re on the right path & doing the right things. For a label to believe in you and your music is awesome, and your first release will always be special.


What can we expect from you in the future? Any upcoming releases or collaborations that you are excited about?


The future I can’t help but get excited about. Collabs are so much fun and have a great learning curve. I have a collaboration coming up soon with a good friend of mine, Salvione. Mike (Salvione) is based in New York, we met through the Toolroom Academy, and he has such an awesome sound; it’s gritty, dirty and well – just New York, haha. We have an excellent idea for a record that everyone can relate to, so I’m excited to get that finished and out to the masses. It will be interesting to see how our sounds intertwine to make that record, so keep your eyes peeled. I have been working on various projects; a few are finished, and I’m just finding the right home for them. As we advance, I will continue to get records out to grow my music catalogue. I’m excited to see what opportunities open in the future.


 

Loz Seka, KEFFI, HARRT, Altere & Alex Lauthals’ ‘Delirio’ is available now on Toolroom Trax.

HARRT



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