Hazel English

Interview: Hazel English

Hazel English. Photo: Greyson MacAlpine

Hazel English: “I was reading Philip K Dick at the time, so was feeling a little existential!” Photo: Greyson MacAlpine

We get to know the hotly tipped, Aussie indie-pop songwriter and hear of her passion for sci-fi and confessional poets

Four years ago Australian indie-pop songwriter Hazel English left her homeland to study in America, having studied creative writing in Melbourne. After releasing and touring her brilliant Just Give In/Never Going Home collection, she now finds herself one of most hotly tipped artists of a vibrant Oakland scene which includes Songwriting favourite Jay Som.

We were fortunate enough to catch some time with Hazel and discover just what it is she’d liked to be asked in an interview, along with picking up some great insight on how she crafts her songs.

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How was your recent European tour

“It was great. We had a really good reception and the weather was awesome, which made it really nice; I felt really good about it.”

Which venue was your favourite?

“That’s a really tough question! I think the London show was my best; it was just really fun and people were singing along and I just had a really good vibe. We played there in November [2016]. I just feel like we always have a really good reception there – our first show was sold out and it was just a really nice crowd. It’s really nice to play in places where I feel that people enjoy the music and get into it.”

How did you write your song It’s Not Real?

“That song, I had the lyrics already as a stream of consciousness in my diary and I was waiting to put them into a song when I had the music ready. I think that I was reading Philip K Dick at the time, so was feeling a little existential! I was just kinda going through a phase of questioning everything.”

How do you normally write music: do you start with a lyric, or a melody, or a combination?

“Usually how I do it is that I have a melody and then I’ll kind of fit the words to the melody. Then I’ll find stuff that works with that, then maybe cut a few words out, or add a little bit to make it work.”

Do you think that studying creative writing helps your songwriting?

“I think so. I don’t analyse it too much, but it does make it easier, maybe less daunting, to write lyrics and I find that the easiest part of the process. I don’t know how other musicians approach their writing, but I guess that I take a lot of care when it comes to the lyrics.”

Does how you write your lyrics translate to how you write your music: do you have a formula that you use for both?

“I don’t try to put too many limitations on myself because I try out different approaches; I like to be open about my writing because it make it more fun if I go about it that way. So, honestly, it’s usually different every time because sometimes I’ll come up with the melody first and sometimes I’ll come up with the chords first, it really just depends how the inspiration strikes.

“I think it’s good to leave it open, so that those moments when you make a mistake and go “on no, that’s a bad note” and then you find that there could be something there. I feel like the mistakes that you make can be something really cool, or something you hadn’t thought of before.”

Hazel English. Photo: Kelia Anne and Luca Venter

Hazel English: “Not every song is going to be amazing and you only get better by practicing.” Photo: Kelia Anne and Luca Venter

Which artists inspire you?

“I listen to lots of music, but I do have my favourites that I always come back to: Fleetwood Mac, Cocteau Twins, and The Smiths.”

You’ve relocated from your homeland (Australia) to the United States. What was the reason for that?

“I was studying in America, I had the opportunity to study abroad, and I had always wanted to live in San Francisco, so I just decided that this was my chance. I was supposed to only go for six months and here I am four years later, still here!”

What’s the music scene like?

“It’s really great. It’s a real communal vibe; everybody is super open and supportive of each other, which I really love. It’s quite a tight knit community and there’s always room for new bands to come up; I kinda feel like there’s no hierarchy and that everybody sees each other as equal, which is really nice.”

Are there any artists from the scene that you want to shout about?

“You might already know Jay Som because she’s been getting a lot of press lately, But Jay Som is great. We played with them before and we’re good friends with those guys – Melina is super lovely, I think she’s just doing really amazing things and it’s really exciting to see that happen.”

“It was really cool because I was able to see them play in London when I was there – Jay Som played with Day Wave, so I was able to hang out with all my friends from the Bay Area and see them play.”

What would you write about your music? What questions would you like to be asked about it?

“I guess would maybe ask what writers I’m into and what I enjoy reading. I’m really into science fiction: Philip K Dick, Kurt Vonnegut…But I also really love poetry, which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I’m a very big Sylvia Plath fan and Ted Hughes, I just have a whole shelf of my book shelf. And Anne Sexton. I just really like the confessional poets.”

As a songwriter, what advice would you give to our aspiring songwriters?

“I would say just don’t be afraid to write about songs. Because not every song is going to be amazing and you only get better by practicing, so just do it: keep writing and don’t worry if it’s going to be a good song, just finish it and keep going.”

“Because that can sometimes hold me back, I get into that habit of getting worried about whether it’s a good song or not. You can just write a song and you don’t have to share it, but at least finish it because then you’ve got something to build on.”

Hazel English’s two EPs Just Give In and Never Going Home are out now. Find out more at hazelenglish.com

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