Interview: Hazel English Sheds Light on Transition Into Music

HazelEnglish-Interview-JulieJuarez-1

With days leading up to her first Noise Pop appearance, we met up with Hazel English to discuss her experience as a musician in the Bay Area.

Hazel English made her debut last summer when the track “Never Going Home” was released on Soundcloud. Since then, Hazel English has picked up steam in a non-traditional way. The music blog community took notice immediately, leading to a high volume of shares from the smallest music blogs to the most established. The 25 year-old transplant from Australia played her first show at Great American Music Hall in support of Craft Spells last September, and since then, she’s gone on to support other heavily listened to acts, such as Small Black and Gardens & Villa, at some of our favorite spots in San Francisco. The most impressive part of Hazel English’s story is that with only three tracks available, she’s built up an eager fan base of listeners on both Soundcloud and Facebook. Although she has a full live setlist, a proper record release is still in production.

With Noise Pop going into full effect this week, we met up at the gardens near Adam’s Point in Lake Merritt where we discussed her transition into music, the development of her current project, and women’s roles in the music industry.

When did you move to the US?

Hazel English: About three years ago.

Did you move straight to California, or were you somewhere else first?

I moved to San Francisco to study. I was doing an exchange. I had visited San Francisco a few years before that while I was traveling…and of all the cities I went to, I loved San Francisco the most. I wanted to see what it would be like to live here, so I did the exchange and then I decided that I wanted to stay.

And eventually, you made your way to Oakland.

Yeah, I moved to Oakland because everything got too expensive. Like everybody else, I moved across the bridge.

Did you move here knowing that you wanted to pursue music full time? Or, was there another motivation?

I didn’t know I wanted to do music full time because I was actually studying writing. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a musician, or an author. I was in between these two passions and I started playing around my area at open mics, meeting other musicians and recording; so the more I got involved, the more I really wanted to do music. I kind of chose music in the end.

I’m sure I’ll keep writing. Songwriting is a big part of making music, but the kind of writing I was doing was more novel writing and fiction. I know I’m going to come back to it someday but I decided to just focus on one thing—music—and I’ve been more productive with it. I’ve had to say no to a lot of other projects and creative things that were taking up my time.

What other bands and musicians have you worked with in the bay area?

There’s the collaboration between me and Jackson from Day Wave, and that’s how Hazel English came about. In terms of writing songs, I haven’t really done that with other people. Mainly just jamming with friends. You end up doing that when all your friends are musicians. I want to collaborate more, but I’ve been so busy recording my own stuff. 

I’d say that you and Day Wave have somewhat similar sounds. Did his music influence yours when you were working together?

Well, we met at a book shop that I work at and so he mentioned that he was a musician. So I was like ‘do you want to collaborate, or whatever’—it was all very natural. It wasn’t a planned thing, like, we didn’t say ‘it’s going to sound like this’ and ‘we’re going to do that.’ It was very much meeting in the middle of both our influences. I didn’t even think about it, it was very natural. I wrote the song the same day that we recorded it.

Which song?

“Never Going Home.” I had never done that before—written in a recording studio. I’ve always had the frame of mind that you have to write a song, jam it, practice it until it’s really really good, and then you record it. Jackson has his own studio in his house, so we had all the time in the world, it was great. We could really experiment and try lots of things, and there was no pressure, which was really awesome. Before that, I really hated the recording process, I thought it was a really stressful thing, but now I love it. It totally changed my perspective on recording. If you only have one day or a few hours, you don’t get that time to reflect. [Music] needs reflection. Giving it time and space, and coming back to it with a fresh vision is really important.

It seems like you’ve gained a big following in the last months after only having three tracks available. Does that stand out to you?

I try not to think about it too much. I wasn’t expecting to have that many listens especially for the first song. That was really cool and the fact that people are writing really nice comments. It makes me excited. I wasn’t expecting it, so it was a bit overwhelming for me. I kind of felt like I was thrown into the deep end because our first show was with Craft Spells at Great American Music Hall, and that was pretty crazy for me. It was our first show and I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. It was good in a way, though, because it made me want to practice a lot and rehearse more with the band. I’d rather have something to work hard for. I need a purpose and direction. 

When you overcome that thing that seems so big in your mind, like that show, I felt so good. It was hard but it made me feel more confident. I think its a good position to be in, where you’re always in a place to step up. I think you can get stale that way, if you’re not challenging yourself. Well, not everyone is like that but for me at least.

[Music] needs reflection. Giving it time and space, and coming back to it with a fresh vision is really important.

Every band has their own approach to preparing for playing shows. I would think artists would want to improve every time they play a show and build up more confidence. 

I still get super nervous before every show. I don’t know if it will ever go away and even though I’ve played more shows. I still have that same anxiety I had for that first show, which is kind of crazy. It is hard to get up in front of a lot of people and be vulnerable in that way. I don’t know if the people in the audience think about that–it’s scary. You can’t get anywhere without taking risks. I’d rather take risks and fail than look back and think I was in my safe zone for so long.

You’ve played a lot of shows over the last few months. Do you feel the pressure now to make more songs? It seems like people have been quite receptive to your songs and are saying ‘we want to hear more music! When are you releasing more songs?’

I definitely want to share more songs. I had this period of time where I was really… well, I felt that pressure and it started to affect my songwriting, but I realized that it’s not good to write songs based on other people’s expectations. I had to get rid of that fear and just not worry about it. It’s kind of out of my control. If people like it, then that’s great, but if not, then I can’t really get too upset. I can only do what I can do, and go with my own intuition so it’s not good to get caught up with thinking about what people are going to like. You just end up in this downward spiral so I try to stop myself. When you start to do things based on what other people want, I think people can tell when something isn’t genuine. It’s really important to me to be genuine. It’s a big thing in my life to have honesty and transparency.

I could see how thinking that way would make someone stagnant. 

Exactly. It’s hard not to take notice, especially when you get pigeonholed into a certain sound. Then you start to think ‘I can’t try this because it doesn’t fit my sound.’ I think it’s really important to try new things all the time and even if it doesn’t work, at least you tried that and explored that.

I really don’t know what the next project will sound like…but that’s what makes it exciting, is that exploration. 

Do you have an idea of what genre your music would fall in? 

I tell people indie pop.

I think no band wants to define their own sound…I sense that in a lot of musicians. And like you said, no one wants to be pigeonholed.

It’s awkward when you have to describe your sound or songs because everyone interprets them in a different way and I don’t want to tell someone, ‘that’s wrong, you heard it wrong, or that’s not what I meant’—but I definitely try to write lyrics that everyone can relate to in some way.

I do find that people sometimes overuse adjectives. People always say ‘jangly guitars’ or people use beach terms like ‘sun soaked’–which I get because it might be the closest way to describe it. I wouldn’t want to try to describe my own music. I’ll just let everyone else decide what they think.

 

HazelEnglish-Interview-JulieJuarez-2

In terms of songwriters, who do you praise and appreciate? I’m a big fan of Matt Berninger from The National. His songwriting is super weird and complex, I have to really stop and think about what he’s saying, but because of that I’ve come to really appreciate it.

Morrissey is one of my favorites because of how interesting his melodies are but also how hilarious his lyrics are. He’s hilarious–I think he’s very witty and clever. He also does interesting things and was very innovative. Stevie Nicks is also a a big inspiration. I could listen to Fleetwood Mac all the time. Broadcast, I’m really fond of too. They’re a great band from the 90s and early 2000s. I feel like they’re a band that will stand the test of time. They created a very strong atmosphere when you listen their music. That’s the kind of music that I like, where it’s transportive and makes you feel like you’re in a different place. That’s the kind of music I want to make. Creating a whole new setting, or environment, for the person listening so that it’s like an escape from reality for that person. I think it’s why I like dreamy sounds so much because it feels kind of magical. Broadcast is definitely one of those bands that does that.

What I really respect about Noise Pop is that they seem very inclusive and have really tried to bring in bands from a lot of different genres and bands of all scales. What shows did you want to go to?

I’m glad to be part of it and admire so many of the bands playing. I’m kind of bummed because I missed out on getting tickets to a few shows. I wanted to see DIIV but tickets are sold out!

I wanted to touch on in the fact that you’re the first female musician that I’ve been able to interview. Do you feel like you’re part of a community of female artists in the bay?

I still feel like there has always been a lack of female artists. When we play shows, we mostly play with men. I’m okay with that, all the bands we’ve played with have been great—but I am sad that I’m not playing with more women. It definitely brings out the fact that there are less women in music. And not just musicians, people in other fields in music like producers. And not just creatively, but on the technical side.

There are lots of stories of women being confused for being a girlfriend of a member of the band or as the band manager. It’s very surprising to me that we’re still dealing with sexism in the music industry. It’s crazy to me that some people think it doesn’t exist. I’m hopeful that it’s changing and I think social media is really been great in order to help point out when people say things that are misogynistic because they get called out for it, which is really important. I hope that when people see me playing, that they think ‘I can do that.’ I do feel like as a woman, or as me personally, I have this feeling of having to prove myself more than a man would.

You see it all the time, where people at a show will talk about a front woman and what she’s wearing on stage, rather than how great of a performance she had. We have to try harder to be taken seriously. I’m fortunate that up to this point I haven’t had that happen to me and I hope that it stays that way. I think it’s really easy, the way we’ve been conditioned as women to always be appeasing and not do anything too confrontational. I’ve had to overcome some issues in terms of my own self doubt and I think that comes from the conditioning as a woman. Feeling like you need a man’s approval for something to be good, it’s so subconscious…but I’m hopeful and excited to see more women in music. 

 

Hazel English will be performing Tuesday February 23rd at Brick and Mortar Music Hall for Noise Pop with Dick Stusso, Be Calm Honcho and Diane Coffee.

All images copyright © Julie Juarez.