Matthew Hart is the kind of musician whose idols are producers, not songwriters. As a teenager, the Peterborough, Ontario, native was a beatmaker, not a rapper, and when he attended Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, in the late 1990s, he majored in the recording arts program. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming Canada's next Bob Rock.
"In the process of studying studio engineering, I realized I wanted to be doing my own music instead," says Hart, reached at his Toronto home. "It's funny, because producer music is what's always really interested me, but you'd never know it listening to my music."
Working as the Russian Futurists, the Ontarian records wondrous bedroom-pop songs that just can't seem to contain themselves. With their effervescent melodies and cheery synthetic tones, the best of Hart's tunes strain mightily against their lo-fi confines. For example, "Paul Simon", from 2005's Our Thickness, sounds like a miniaturized outtake from the real Simon's Graceland album, its tinny sampled horns suggesting, more than evoking, the grandeur of the real thing.
Hart's got a flair for major-chord uplift, but he contrasts those bright tones with some of the bleakest lyrics this side of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. "Paul Simon", for example, is almost Brian Wilson–esque in its isolationist pathos, Hart casting himself as a lovelorn loser whose heart has burst "like a piñata", leaving him bitter and alone. No matter how merry his tunes, such scenarios have led some critics to see Hart as a miserable Canuck, obsessed with his country's often desolate landscape. According to the songwriter, that perception isn't far from the truth.
"I actually conceived of the band in the dead of winter when I was in school and super bored, and feeling really locked up and isolated," he says. "I've always found that time of year to be really productive for me, because you end up spending so much time inside. And a lot of the songs have that sad imagery and wintry feel. But it's funny, because you'll read some review from the U.K. that calls my music summery pop. So I guess it can go both ways."
Hart has nearly completed his next full-length, slated for release next spring. While he says the new record draws more from his hip-hop roots in its sampling and drum programming, he admits that the new material's still pretty much like the old: shiny on the outside, bleak on the inside.
"I don't feel like I'm one of those bands that has to reinvent themselves every record and completely change their style," he observes. "There's bands like Stereolab or Guided by Voices that have put out almost the same record a bunch of different times. I like it when they do that, because I'd rather get another good record from them than hear them change their style for no reason. In the vein of what I'm doing, I still have a lot to explore before I'm done with it. When I get sick of it, then I'll move on."
The Russian Futurists play UBC's Pit Pub on Tuesday (October 23).