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Pittsburgh's Up-and-Coming Artists: New Victorians

By Brooke Keane

(Photo: Brooke Keane)

Ben Hardt is not a pretentious rock star.

He might play a handful of instruments and have his own band that began releasing music from the first of three albums this past November, with the last of them being released between May and June, but he is in no way pretentious.

In fact, Hardt is a collaborator extraordinaire. Formerly Ben Hardt and his Symphony, the newly named, New Victorians began releasing new music just a few months ago and though Ben is the only constant member of the band and writes all of the music, he quotes the involvement of between 40 and 50 musicians on just the first two albums of the series.

Hardt sees the albums as if they were acts in a play, and the lyrics tell the story of lovers set in World War II London. The idea for the story came to Hardt both through his fascination with the era and society at the time, but also through listening to the radio broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow. A self-proclaimed "hopeless romantic," Hardt says it is an idealistic love story, but that he will still allow people to use their imaginations, considering everyone will interpret the music in their own way.

(Photo: Brooke Keane)

The first act, or album, centers on the relationship between the lovers, building into the second album, which showcases how the war has seeped into their relationship and ending with the third album, which Hardt says, culminates in surprise.

Though the themes of the albums are anchored in the 1940s, there is also a large 80s dance pop influence, yet still with a gripping emotional quality. Like the band's name, Hardt combines new and old using synthesizers to create a "gritty surrealism" while using classic strings to provide the idealism and keep the feel of the 40s.

Again the juxtaposition of the sounds makes the songs complex and emotional, something that he feels is of the utmost importance in any song.

"Rock-n-roll needs to have some sort of ache to it," he said. "Even a great pop song has an ache to it."

Hardt's broad appreciation for music as an art is not only evident in his own music, but also in what he listens to himself. He says his alarm is tuned to pop stations, citing an appreciation for Adele and Katy Perry's lyrics, while his car radio is switched to classical and throughout the day he checks out newer indie groups like Passion Pit and My Morning Jacket.

(Photo: Brooke Keane)

In conjunction with the first album, Hardt released a series of black and white photos online to coincide with the telling of the story. Almost as if they were screen shots from a 1940s movie. He also recorded videos of the creation of the albums and hopes to also release those online to give fans and followers an inside look at the story behind the story.

He hopes that the combination of all these elements will not only strike a chord with listeners, but also probe questions of values, love and idealism. And of course, like any musician, he hopes that the albums will bring him some notoriety.

"Most musicians have pretended to sing a live concert in their bathroom, right?" he said.

Hopefully his sure-to-come rock star status doesn't go to his head. Make sure to keep an eye out for the New Victorians around the city in the coming months.

Brooke Keane acquired a bachelor's degree in journalism from Pittsburgh's Point Park University where she served in several editorial positions on school weekly, The Globe. Since graduating, Brooke has blogged for online vintage clothing boutique Crazy Hot Clothes and tried her hand at some freelance work. First a writer and then a fashion-lover, Brooke can be found spending time at the mall, when she doesn't have her nose buried in an AP Stylebook or is surveying Craigslist for jobs.

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