Kerry Hart wants to get it right. Before embarking on a career in music—a passion she’d harbored her whole life—the L.A.-based singer/songwriter worked in philanthropy and startups for over a decade. Writing at night, singing in the car into a digital recorder while knocking out 60-hour weeks, Hart took her time honing her artistry and nurturing the skills and creative partnerships needed to fully realize her vision. She did not want to start singing—as Bob Dylan so famously put it—until she knew her song well. Though that self-exploration was not swift, nor a straight line, Hart now arrives with her full-length debut: an album potent with the sense of agency that long eluded her.

“For years I tried to talk myself out of making music,” Hart admits. “It seemed like a really big ordeal to go through just because I love songs and singing. But finally it became clear that if I didn’t make this journey, and say all these things burning to be said, that part of me would die—and take with it parts of myself that I rely on to be a good human to the people that I love.”

Once she’d hit that breaking point, Hart learned to play guitar and began writing a song a week, all while undoing her college training as an opera singer and uncovering her own distinct vocal style.  After moving from San Francisco to L.A.—in part to immerse herself in the city’s musical landscape—she joined up with Nick Rosen and Léo Costa, multi-instrumentalists who have worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Jason Mraz.  Soon discovering an undeniable chemistry inspired by a shared love of live performance and songcraft, the trio spent several years patiently playing and writing, forging a vibrant connection before ever heading into the studio.

The result of all that care and conviction, Hart’s full-length debut I Know a Gun arrives as a truly singular body of work. With its lavishly detailed and largely acoustic sound, the album unfolds in transportive melodies and sweeping arrangements suggesting a Celtic folk influence, yet bears an edgy complexity entirely unique to Hart. “To become truly creative, I had to move through the mess and pain of life and it was a fight for the freedom and peace on the other side,” she points out. “That’s been the journey for me, and my music necessarily reflects that tension.”

Centered on Hart’s mesmerizing voice—an instrument at turns elegantly controlled and utterly unbridled—I Know a Gun takes its title from the Wild West-era phrase “A gun knows a gun.” “It was said that a good sheriff could pick out the quickest draw in the saloon just by looking at him,” Hart explains. “The gun in my song is no gun at all, it’s the other, the equal that is suddenly luminously before you-- it represents recognizing yourself, your vastness, in another person.” And on the album’s hypnotic title track, Hart makes a powerful plea to honor that recognition. “It’s about meeting someone who really gets who you are, and feeling your whole universe open up,” she says. “The question is, ‘How do you confront that opening? Do you freak out and bail, or are you gonna stay and ride out that fear and uncertainty to see what unfolds?’” 

Produced by Nick Rosen and recorded at Perfect Sound Studios in L.A., I Know a Gun finds Hart embedding her lyrics with pieces of hard-won insight, enveloping that wisdom in her endlessly warm delivery. With a richly layered narrative voice inspired by such playwrights as Lanford Wilson, and Tennessee Williams, the album examines everything from the Earth’s grief over human carelessness (on “Screaming Quietly”) to the restorative joy in discovering love (on “Aaron”) to the pain of failed connection (on “If This Burns”) to the seductive nature of certain destructive forces (on “Sirens”). “All of the songs come from emotions that I needed to process,” says Hart, who partly attributes her intricate inner world to growing up in a troubled home and learning to tend to herself at a young age. “In the end, I needed to make this album for my own wellbeing and healing and peace, almost as a balm for my own hurt.”

After completing the recording of I Know a Gun, Hart and her bandmates headed to Ireland and traveled all around the country performing the songs in pubs and churches, in nature, and in a cave in her namesake County Kerry—a trip documented in an upcoming short film Caves and Cathedrals directed by award-winning filmmaker Savannah Bloch. “It was my first time playing my music for utter strangers, outside of Los Angeles, and it was a test of whether I could bring the joy and hope and presence of the songs to people everywhere, and enjoy the grind of it,” says Hart. “It ended up being so magical, and I realized I’m absolutely made to facilitate human connective experience through music. I was born to do this.”

Both onstage and on record, Hart instills her performance with a raw passion rooted in finally claiming her calling as an artist. “I feel driven to be the most fully expressed person I can be, and to keep exploring the things that excite me with wild abandon,” she says. And with the release of I Know a Gun, Hart hopes that her songs might spark a similar courage in others. “I feel so lucky about where I am now with music, after having felt far from it for such a long time, refusing to chase it, and letting it come,” she says. “Now I want everyone to take this medicine for themselves, and realize the value of their own magic. To create this at long last, it’s absolute freedom.”