Hazel English: The 13th Floor Interview

Having moved from Australia to the US, Hazel English is due to release her first full-length album tomorrow. The new release is actually a combination of her first EP, Never Going Home, bundled with a set of new songs titled Just Give In. 

Hazel English’s music has been described as “sunkissed” while her lyrics deal with the issues of stress and anxiety that come with a twenty-something who pulls up stakes and moves thousands of miles from home.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Hazel English just prior to the release of Just Give In/Never Going Home.

Click here to listen to the interview with Hazel English:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: You recently moved to Oakland, from Australia, and I was wondering how much of the United States you’ve had a chance to check out?

HE: I’ve seen quite a bit. I’ve been to New York a few times. I like to travel, and we toured a little bit on the West Coast, but I also did a road trip across the country a few years back; so, I’ve seen a bit, but I’d like to see more.

MD: You obviously must have liked what you saw. It’s interesting, because this is a time when a lot of people are considering moving away from the States, and coming down to this part of the world; you’ve done the opposite.

HE: That’s true.

MD: How does it compare – for you, and especially with the music scene in the back of our minds – moving from Australia to the Bay Area?

HE: I felt like I wasn’t that involved in the music scene back in Australia; I dabbled, but I wasn’t that involved. It did seem quite tight knit, to me, from what I observed – going to shows, and stuff like that – and so, when I moved here, it still is quite tight knit here as well, but in a broader sense, there’s a lot of opportunity… to have a bigger chance of success. It’s still nice, because I feel like the local scene is very communal and supportive of each other; so, it’s nice to have that on a local scale, and also feel like there’s a lot to discover, in a broader sense too.

MD: So, they were quite happy to embrace you as this outsider coming in and becoming part of the local scene?

HE: Yeah! I felt totally welcomed, and it was really nice. It was more than I expected. I just felt right at home, and I liked that….

MD: Has that local scene, in that community, affected your own music?

HE: Yeah, I’m sure it definitely has in ways. I don’t really think about it that much; it’s probably more subconscious than anything, but I’m sure it probably does.

MD: You have a very specific sound. Is that a sound you’ve always had, or is it something that you cultivated and developed? How has it come about?

HE: I think it’s… the kind of sound that I’ve always gravitated towards; both from listening and my own discoveries. It’s also something that I gravitated towards in the last four or five years…. I’ve always been into guitar music, and I’ve always been into dreamy kinds of stuff.

MD: Yes, because it does have that very dreamy quality, and a lot of people allude to the California, sun-kissed vibe to it; so, it almost seems like it’s natural that you would be there

HE: Yeah…

MD: But there’s probably quite a bit of sunshine in Sydney as well; so, it’s not that big of a difference, I guess.

HE: Oh yeah, definitely! The weather isn’t too different. I feel like I’ve lived in two of the most temperate cities in the world, probably; which is nice.

MD: That area – Oakland and the Bay Area and San Francisco – has a rather distinctive musical history and personality. Once you moved there, did you do anything to investigate its past, and look into what happened before you got there?

HE: Yeah, somewhat. I definitely tried to get involved in the local scene, and find out about the local bands, and stuff like that…. I’m always curious about the history of the place, and the music scene, and stuff like that. I’m constantly looking up documentaries, and stuff like that.

MD: You’ve got your double EP album coming out in May 12th, which consists of the initial EP that you did plus six more new tracks. For folks who have been following along with you and are familiar with the first EP, will they hear any difference in what you’re doing in the new stuff, or is it a continuation? How do you look at it?

HE: It is kind of a continuation of the sound…. I feel like there are some calmer songs. I try to make them sound different… but it definitely feels like a continuation from the first EP.

MD: I noticed one of last songs, I’m Fine, has more of a synth thing going forth than a guitar thing. Is that something that you’re dipping your toe into, musically, and seeing how it works?

HE: I think that song specifically more …, and there are no drums on that song too; so, it’s more obvious. I wouldn’t say that the next EP is more ‘synthy’, but I’m always trying to experiment and see what’s going to work, or what sounds good, or should I try more drums here, or should I try more guitars; so, it’s not something that I would dismiss, or a direction that I wouldn’t put out of my head. I try to always keep an open mind….

MD: Lyrically: what inspires you? Where do your ideas come from, for your songs?

HE: Most of my lyrics come straight from my diary. It’s usually just the things I write about, the issues that I’m going through, trying to get my feelings out and make sense of them. I guess I try to speak from personal experience pretty often, but a lot of the stuff I write about is somewhat philosophical or trying to figure out a problem. I don’t know if I really write many love songs.

MD: Well, they don’t seem specifically like love songs…. The song, Birthday, is that written around an event that happened?

HE: Yeah. I guess that is the closest thing to a love song, maybe. That’s more like a narrative song. I guess it’s pretty obvious what it’s about. I’m also inspired by confessional poets – Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath; people like that – that are very vulnerable and contrite about their own lives, and the problems they go through too.

MD: Do you find that when you’re playing these songs,  that you have a lot of folks who identify and are thinking along the same lines as you are?

HE: I think so. I feel like when we play I’m Fine live, I get a really strong response from the audience; and so, I like to think that it resonates, in terms of other people experiencing the same kinds of feelings as me.

MD: I know you work with a producer whose name is Jackson Philips.

HE: Jackson Philips, yeah.

MD: What’s the relationship like between the two of you; especially coming up with this distinctive sound that you’ve got?

HE: … We just meet in the middle. When it comes to our influences, we have pretty similar tastes in music, which is nice; so, it’s a really easy flow, and I feel like we connect really well. It feels very natural when we’re working together, which is great.

MD: What are those common, musical touchstones that the two of you have?

HE: I guess bands like The Cure and New Order and Slowdive, and bands like that.

MD: … I see that Slowdive have a new album coming out; the first one since 1995.

HE: I know! I’m so excited about that! I can’t wait.

MD: I think it’s going to be a good one. I heard a couple of tracks on it; it sounds great. Do you get out and see much live music in the Oakland area?

HE: Yeah, I do try. I feel inspired when I go to see a band that I really like; that’s always nice.

MD: Do you run home and write a song immediately?

HE: Yeah, sometimes I feel like that; when I see a band that are doing so well… I want to go home and write a song now; it’s great!

MD: I know you’ve been back and forth to Australia a few times since you’ve moved. I have a two part question: what is it like going back there, and are you planning to come to New Zealand at any particular time?

HE: I like to go back every year to see my family and my friends; it’s really nice. Usually, it’s great, because I’ll go in January; so, I escape the winter over here and go to the summer in Australia; so, it’s fun. I catch up on all my favourite places, and I get to see all my friends; it’s really nice. In terms of coming to New Zealand: I really would love to. I really hope that we can make it happen. At this point, we don’t have any plans right now, but I guess, knowing these things, in the future, we’ll definitely try to make it over to New Zealand.

MD: Hopefully, you’ll make it down here, because the record’s sounding good. I get the feeling that this music sounds even better live, with a band playing and you singing out front; it must be good vibe.

HE: We try to make it a bigger experience live, and we really try to make it a unique experience for people, so it’s not just like they’re hearing the record.

Hazel English’s Just Give In/Never Going Home is released on Inertia/Rhythmethod on May 12th.