@The Feldman Agency
At 56, Corey Hart surrendered and returned to the studio and the stage
Corey Hart is, by his own admission, an "all or nothing" kind of guy.
So while, to outward appearances, the once-inescapable Can-pop superstar responsible for such timeless ’80s staples as "Sunglasses at Night" and "Never Surrender" has opted to do nothing for the better part of 20 years, the opposite is actually true: he just went "all in" being a father to the four children he has with his wife, chanteuse Québécoise Julie Masse. He decided his kids were everything. And he has no regrets about that.
"Look, if you’re a farmer or even someone who has a restaurant, I know the hours are crazy, but you can still come home and have breakfast with your kids," says the affable Hart, an impossibly youthful 56, during a visit to Toronto earlier this week. "But not in this business. And our job, as a musician, as a troubadour or a minstrel, you’re also very selfish because when creativity goes in your brain there’s no room to think about ‘What are my kids doing right now?’ For me, there wasn’t, anyway. I’m all in. So it was like I couldn’t compartmentalize the two worlds."
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that it was at the urging of his three daughters and his son, who now range in age from 15 to 23, that Corey Hart has tentatively re-emerged from his self-imposed semi-retirement this year.
After staging a tearful four-hour "farewell" concert at the Bell Centre in his hometown of Montreal in June 2014 — the first show he’d played since 2002 — he’s finally accepted an offer to return to the touring trail for the first time in 20 years this spring. He’ll kick the "Never Surrender" jaunt off in St. John’s on May 31, his 57th birthday, and arrive at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage on June 14, and he’ll have new music to share, too.
Dreaming Time Again, a heartfelt and surprisingly earthy five-song EP preoccupied with family and the predicament of being a middle-aged rocker returning to action, will be released on May 3 through Warner Music Canada.
Hart credits producer Bob Ezrin, whom he met after performing a couple of tunes at a fundraising gala at Casa Loma in 2017, with gradually wearing him down and getting him back in front of a microphone.
A few months later, Ezrin came to visit in Nassau, Bahamas, where Hart moved his family in 1995 in an effort to better get to know his own father, whom he’d only really seen once a year since he was 10.
Even then, there was no pressure they just "talked about life." But one of Ezrin’s visits last year happened just a couple of days after Hart had written the rather lovely "Another December," a melancholy Christmas song he’d penned for his mom one Christmas after her passing in 2017. Hart had intended to keep it for himself, but Ezrin convinced him that it should be shared. And he managed to get a few more songs out of his new charge, too.
Ezrin wisely took the tactic of getting to Hart through his children.
"I just started talking to his kids," recalls the Toronto-born producer. "They called him and his wife, Julie, up onstage to do a couple of songs at the piano at this Canada’s Walk of Fame fundraiser and I hadn’t seen him perform live ever before — I’d only seen him on video — and he was really good. Like, really good. And I turned to the kids and I said, ‘Your dad rocks.’ And they said, ‘We know.’ And I said, ‘Well, he should be out there doing this.’ And they all looked at me and went, ‘We know. You tell him.’"
From there, Ezrin says, "I just sort of wore him down more and more" as they hung out together occasionally. When Hart finally took him aside and said he wanted to record again, his only wishes were that he could work with his friends and do it in a live-recording situation. Ezrin was happy to oblige.
When the songs were ready, they were tracked "in just a few days," with most of the takes coming "very fast and very spontaneously" live off the floor. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy was even convinced to add some vocals to a tune called "First Rodeo."
"I could see what he was capable of," shrugs Ezrin, who’s glad to have played a role in luring Hart back into the spotlight.
"Listen, he’s a really good man, which is an important thing," he says. "The celebrities that we follow and the people who entertain us that we love, they’re often not quite what they seem to be, you know? And sometimes not the best people in the world. But it’s wonderful when you go out to a show and the person who’s entertaining you and inspiring you and lifting you up walks the walk and is actually a really good person, and somebody that you can admire and aspire to emulate."
Hart says he was "pretty prolific in my 20s and in my early 30s — I mean, as a teenager I was probably writing 150 songs a year, when I was a young boy — and in the last 20 years I would write more for other artists," he says. "Sometimes I would start a song for myself and I would go, ‘Why am I even bothering to do this because I’m not going to record it and it’ll just bother me.’ I needed to make a clean separation that I wasn’t writing and I wasn’t singing anymore.
"I don’t know if I’m going to do anything beyond these five or six songs. There were seven or eight songs written for the record, but some of them were more reflective about what I’d thought about in the past, as opposed to me in the present tense. And every single song on this record is how I feel today … Songwriting should be about the pursuit of this unattainable, magic song that you can write that you’ll never be able to write, but you just keep trying to write it.
"The closest thing I ever got — or one of the closest things I ever got to it — is ‘Shawnee Girl,’ which is a song on the EP I wrote for my daughter, because the music, the lyric, the interpretation of my vocal, the way it was mixed, there are just so many elements of it that worked. And when that happens it’s, like, ‘Wow.’ I’m really proud of that song."
Why jinx it? He only wants to do this if his heart is in it, not simply for the sake of doing it or because he can.
Which is why, after accepting his place in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards in London on March 17 — where Hart will close the Juno show from Budweiser Gardens with a live performance — and putting this EP out there and doing the Never Surrender tour, he’s not making any plans. Let’s put it this way: Hart has no intention of overburdening the marketplace.
"Billy Joel, who was a big influence on me when I was growing up, said something very interesting that I heard," says Hart evenly.
"Someone said, ‘Why haven’t you made a new record, Billy?’ He said something like, ‘Í did 12 albums. I said what I had to say. It’s out there. I have no need to make another record.’ And then the interviewer said to him, ‘But look at Paul McCartney. He’s still making all these records.’ And Joel goes, ‘Well, maybe he shouldn’t.’
"For me, it’s been 20 years. And when I met Bob Ezrin, even though I’d be hard-pressed to name you more than one or two Alice Cooper or KISS songs, the relationship I developed with Bob Ezrin really stimulated me. His urging, his quietly gaining my confidence and trust — not in a sinister way, in a very friendly way — and his approbation gave me the nudge that ‘You’ve got good music in you, you should share it.’ And I loved it. I loved it."
Correction — January 24, 2019: This article was edited from a previous version that misstated the name of the Christmas song Corey Hart wrote for his mom.