The first time I had a conversation with Corey Hart, it was over a game of "name that tune". I had recently acquired an album by a Colombian artist named Shakira, and while I loved the record, a certain melody was haunting me, reminding me of some other song that I couldn't name. One evening, Corey and his manager were in my office to discuss some business with a coworker, and someone suggested that I should put the song on for Corey to take a listen to. I was embarrassed -- I mean, this was Corey Hart, legendary singer, songwriter, producer, and rather commandingly handsome guy to boot -- but I reluctantly put the disc in the nearest stereo. Corey Hart sat, listened, and nailed the plagiarized tune in 30 seconds. He went on to translate the Spanish lyrics for me in full, coach me on the pronunciation, and recommend a few other artists I might like. That brief conversation taught me a few things about Corey Hart: he's smart. He has a gift for languages, a gifted ear for a good pop song, and a gift in making a stranger feel like a friend.
Other things worth knowing about Corey Hart: He was born in May of 1962, which makes him a Gemini. "The best sign," he smiles. He confesses to only really paying attention to astrology "when it's something complimentary. I'm not the guy reading Omar's advice from the stars in the morning paper. I will say that there's a definite duality to my personality, which is a very Gemini trait." His current residence is one of the 700-odd islands in the Bahamas. He's the youngest of five children (the eldest sibling is in his 50s), and admits to being "the baby". Spoiled? "Probably. My parents split up when I was very young. I was born in Montreal. We lived with my mother in southern Spain, Mexico City, Florida, and returned back to Canada in 1974 . . . a crossroad caravan." The new album, Jade, is Hart's eighth and, as he flatly states, "the best-sung record of my career." Somehow, in his delivery, that comment doesn't resonate with the usual artist bravado; instead, it's the admission of a professional who's been honing his craft for almost 20 years. Corey Hart, the artist, is self-deprecating enough to admit his weaknesses -- and be comfortable with his strengths. "I always appreciated the art of songwriting, and I gave it a lot of attention, but I was a sloppy singer when I started," he demurs. "Now, I look back on a song like "Jenny Fey" [from his multiplatinum debut, 1983's First Offense], which I still believe is one of the strongest songs I've ever written, and I realize that I shortchanged it by not singing it to the level it deserved as a song." Hart put a new focus on his singing without the help of outside vocal coaches or an imposed regimen. He chronicles it as a "private" attempt at discipline, one that shines through on the twelve tracks of his newest disc. Discipline hasn't always come easy to an artist who describes himself as "obstreperous", and whose early hits had such anthemic titles as "Never Surrender". These days, if asked to characterize the evolution as growing up or growing old, he'll answer instead, "growing steady". This theme is perhaps most poignantly evoked on the new song, "Reconcile". One of the most personal tracks on Jade, it speaks to the struggles Hart has had, in his words, "coming to peace" with family strife and some past emotional scars. It's a bittersweet song that celebrates a hard-won peace.
As if on cue, "Daddy!!" comes the knock on the bathroom door. Hart's not getting any peace today -- India's missing her daddy, and with the innate ability that all little girls have to be heartbreakers, the child worms her way into the conversation and temporarily distracts him from our talk. He coaxes her to sing into the telephone, but she refuses. I hear the child's footsteps retreating on the tiled bathroom floor. "Obviously, the urge to perform doesn't run in the family," I wisecrack. "Well, no . . . but she blew me a kiss as she left," Hart volleys back. Apparently, charm is hereditary.
I decide it's time to shift gears, to play a free-association game with Corey picking from a list of pairs.
Hammer or nail? "Hammer."
Vanilla or chocolate? "Chocolate, in any colour."
Rain or snow? "Rain. Absolutely." (This one slightly obvious for the guy who scored a Top Ten hit in 1997 with "Black Cloud Rain".)
John Coltrane or John Lennon? "Lennon. N-n-o-n, not n-i-n."
Black or white? "Michael Jackson." (Score a point for the sense of humour.)
Sunrise or sunset? "Sunrise."
Fame or fortune? "Love."
Cats or dogs? "Mmm. . . they both kind of bug me, actually. How about Uma Thurman?"
Red wine or white? "Neither. I hate drinking."
Walk or ride? "Can you explain the rules of the game again?"
Did Corey Hart know as a kid that this is what he wanted to be when he grew up? "Do we ever grow up? Yeah, I knew. Architect, acrobat, hockey goalie? No. Singer-songwriter? Yes... it's a form of learning to fly. Creating music and a family brood of my own has been my life's purpose since I can remember. I love writing songs -- all at once cathartic, consuming, frustrating, life affirming, humbling. Dreaming about love, searching for truth and happiness, these supreme forces have always resonated through my songs." The new album's title track, "Jade", speaks to those forces both simply and evocatively, and it works well as the centerpiece in both theme and style of the new record. "It's a very romantic song," Hart offers, "not in the sense of chocolates and a candlelit dinner, but just in terms of where you would go to for someone. It feels like the heartbeat of this album. The other songs work as tributaries, flowing to this song as the centre, the underpinning of the record." Interestingly, it wasn't the first song that took shape when Hart sat down at the piano to begin writing new material on October 31, 1997. "I was sitting around and I wasn't sure I had anything to say, so I looked at the calendar. The first words I wrote were, 'I think it's Halloween night, tonight. Monsters climb my wall. Chimera in sight, no fright, revelations after all.' That thought became the first lines of the song, 'You and I'." Hart wrote Jade's songs in his Bahamas home, at the piano of his little living room, "in between Barney and Little Bear episodes on the television," he recalls. Writing at home with his family around was a uniquely domestic experience. "When I'm writing, I definitely need to be left alone," he admits with a chuckle, "but sometimes, I'd be sitting there at the piano working something out, and I'd sneak a look over my shoulder to see if Julie was enjoying what I was creating. She'd be cooking something over at the stove, completely ignoring me, and I'd be like, 'c'mon! Say something!!'" Hart laughs like a true Gemini guy, clearly comfortable with his own dualities. And, Quebec singer Masse's stove-top analysis notwithstanding, her vocal contributions are warm and welcome on the album, most noticeably on the stunning duet, "L�-Bas". All twelve tracks were recorded from February to July of 1998 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau. It's an historic studio that has hosted recording sessions by such stars as the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, the B52s and Roxy Music. For the first time in his career, Corey chose to produce the entire album himself, and I suggest to him that the production values, the pushing of the voice -- that signature voice -- to the front of each song, make this feel like an intensely personal album. "I've done some thinking," he says quietly. "Remembering . . . Found myself hanging out with Tom Jones and Paul Anka, jetting to Las Vegas, recording his songs in a studio. My initiation rite of passage. I had just turned twelve. Then, summer of 1983, recording my first album in rainy Manchester. Got my ear pierced. Worked with Eric Clapton. Heard 'Every Breath You Take' on Radio One. A perfect pop song. EMI released �Sunglasses at Night' worldwide -- my first single ever. I was 21. It was a big hit. More hits to follow. Big misses too . . . I've had my share. I much prefer the hits, but I'm at peace with it and very proud of our work. Still writing songs, still singing, still fascinated by the alchemy."
And in being fascinated, he continues to fascinate. We talk of our common love of words, his craft of marrying words with melody, and as an aside, the surfacing of the word "mendacity" in the opening track of Jade, "Let It Fly". "I first heard that word used by Burl Ives' character in 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof'," he confides in a conspiratorial voice, "and I saved it. Hoarded it, actually. I've been waiting eight years to find a place for it in a song. In this one, I finally found its place and it's perfect!"
Mendacity. The spinning of the lie, the fabric of deceit. Its only place in this relentlessly honest artist's life is as the perfect turn of phrase in a thoughtful song. Elsewhere, in "Break the Chain", he sings: "Truth is everything I believe in." Words are cool, he tells me. Kids are cooler. Sharing even just a few of those things across a long-distance telephone line is a window on the world of Corey Hart. Jade is the full 10-storey view.