Is it any surprise that an Australian, living in California, makes tunes that feel balmy and sun-kissed? Is it any surprise, furthermore, that someone whose surname is English should make summery songs that have a few ominous and tempestuous dark clouds hanging around them too?
Hazel English has been releasing her songs since 2015. She's already toured with Ride. A sizeable online following preceded being signed to Marathon Records, with whom she has recently released her double EP, "Just Give In/Never Going Home," eleven tracks that provide a strong testament to her songwriting prowess and turns the spotlight starkly on herself as the focus for her lyrics. The words frequently examine the gremlins in our thought processes that can ambush or sabotage our self-esteem and sense of security. She describes her sound as 'transportive; it makes you feel like you're in a different place.' Hazel's dream-pop vocals, draped with gossamer guitar lines, drift forth through a synth haze, the drums and bass both busy and compelling. If you're a fan of the 2017 offerings by Girlpool or Fazerdaze, or an existing devotee of Beach House or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, make sure you add Hazel English to your playlist.
Hazel spoke to Contact Music recently, prior to her splendid show at the legendary staging-post for many a stellar career - the Louisiana, in Bristol.
You're approaching the end of your second UK tour. How has it gone?
It's been great, especially because the weather this time has been beautiful. Last time we came, it was late November and it was freezing. It was still fun, because it was really festive, but the most glorious weather on this tour has added to the happiness.
What's been your best gig?
Probably the Lexington in London - super-good vibes and tons of people came, so it felt really special.
Can you feel a big difference between your first tour and touring second time around?
Yeah, definitely. When we first did a tour of Europe, it was very new and there was a lot of stuff we were still figuring out. We're still fairly new as a band even now. There was so much of the unknown first time round, like 'Does anyone even know about us?' or 'Will there be anyone there?' So it's been interesting to feel more settled this time. We've played some new cities and it's been cool to see some different places, but in general, it's been more familiar and easier to get into the groove of touring.
When we see the public face of Hazel English, it's just you, but when we go to a gig, it's you plus the band. Has there been a transition from playing by yourself to playing in a band?
We've always played the current songs together live, but when I first put the songs out, I didn't have a band. There was definitely a steep learning curve with that. I'd put the songs out there and I started to get asked to play shows, so I quickly realised that I was going to have to get a band together. I never really wanted to play the songs solo; they definitely needed a band.
You've achieved a lot in a short time. Have the last two years flown by for you?
It does feel like that. I feel like I'm always learning. It's good, though. I'd rather be in the position where I'm put outside of my comfort zone and I have to catch up. I'd rather be like that than be super-comfortable and not really going anywhere. It has been daunting sometimes, but I think it's been really good for me to take risks and force myself to step up.
What are the biggest risks?
Messing up, I guess. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I'm always thinking of how many ways I can screw up on stage. The first tour in Europe, I was a little nervous, especially in London. I guess when you go to a completely different country, you don't know how people are going to receive the music and it feels really scary. We've played more UK dates this time round and going to new places is a risk, but in new places like Birmingham we've had great crowds showing up and being into it. You just never know until you get there. This tour, I'm definitely more confident and as a band, we're playing well together.
Is it curious going from being a private citizen who happens to make some music, to becoming more and more of a known figure?
I don't think my brain can really process that part of it. I'm just constantly surprised and grateful when people come to the shows.
You mentioned perfectionism earlier and you've talked in interviews before about the anxiety that you often feel. What does the process of songwriting and performing do for that anxiety? Does it push it further or does it rein it in?
That's a really interesting question, because I feel that it does both. It can exacerbate anxiety, but it also helps to calm it. There's definitely a double-edged sword.
Listen to 'That Thing':
Is it always shifting from one state to the other?
It depends, because sometimes I write a song and it really helps me to get my thoughts out. Sometimes I'll write a song, though, and it'll make me become so negative because I start to hate the song and then I think, 'Oh, I really suck at this'. It totally depends on the mood I'm in. Some days, we'll play a fantastic show and I'll think, 'Yeah, we really killed that show' and other times we'll play a show and I'll feel like I messed up a bit and I'll get so down on myself and keep those negative thoughts in my head. It can go either way. I'm trying to focus on the positive aspects, though, not dwelling on the anxiety, because that can easily happen. I'm learning now, how to use performing in a positive way, rather than it making me more anxious.
The songs are significantly autobiographical. How do you feel about being exposed or vulnerable in your songs?
When you're playing live and you're vulnerable, that's when you can really connect with an audience. My most vulnerable song is "I'm Fine" and that's the song that people react to the most. Once I've written a song and it's out there, it's not about me anymore. I'm just hoping that people can connect with the song and relate to it. That's the most important thing. I feel most successful when people come up and tell me that a song has really helped them.
Apart from "I'm Fine", the tunes are relatively summery and upbeat, whereas a lot of the lyrics are often working against that. Is that a deliberate move?
It's just happened to be like that. I don't think I thought too much into it. I do think it's easier to write a more introverted or slightly negative message if you use music that isn't too depressing underneath. If you're combining a more upbeat, summery vibe with a more serious lyric then it's easier to swallow and you can listen to it both as a song, to fill the space, hanging out with your friends, or you can actually listen to the words and hear that it has another layer to it. I like the fact that the difficult subject matter is not quite so obvious initially.
Has your move to America been essentially liberating?
It's liberating in terms of just moving to an entirely different place, where you don't know anybody. It's also liberating in that you just have to figure it out as you go and know that you're on your own with only yourself to rely on. I didn't have a place to live and San Francisco is just the worst place to try and find housing. In those challenges, you find out a lot about yourself. I got really lucky, made friends quickly, felt supported straightaway. I felt like I was in the right place and that everything started to make sense.
Does that inherently provide good material for songs?
I guess so. I did write "Never Going Home"! You go through a lot more and you think about a lot more, so it just forces you to deal with things that you might not have dealt with before.
What's been on your headphones during this tour?
I've been listening to the new Slowdive album. It's been great to listen to on tour, especially when I've felt tired. It's hard to sleep in the van, so I can just put on my headphones and relax listening to that.
Are there any songs out there that you'd love to cover?
I was recently thinking how much I would love to cover "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears, and then I realised that Lorde had already covered it, so I'd probably better not. I love Tears for Fears, so maybe I just need to find a different song.
Or a collaboration?
Oh my God, that would be so cool!
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