Brisbane based songwriter Hazlett has recently toured Australia with the lovely Katy Steele, and released his debut EP, Honey, Where Is My Home. Today we spent some time talking about the tour, living in Sweden and whether nostalgia really is a mental illness!
Congrats on your new EP Honey, Where Is My Home. It’s been described as ambient, and emotional. Have you drawn on personal experience to create this release?
Yeah, so, it was mainly from a breakup. Well, that was the catalyst. I try not to publicise that too much. But it was more, however, that I’d given up on music. I’d tried and then stopped, I was trying to be a bit of a grown up and get my life together after music, and I kinda threw it [the music] away. I got a job in an advertising agency, but my mum was the one who told me to give it one last shot [at music] – which was very weird! I thought parents would be all ‘oh yes, he’s settling down’, focusing on paying the bills, things like that, but mum was like, just stuff it, go do music again. I think she could tell I wasn’t happy. I was just trying to find myself, embarking on a soul searching mission.
A kind of turn of events, a change in direction, as the one you were on obviously wasn’t the one for you.
Yeah. I love the creative stuff so I was lucky to get a job that is like that, but I think deep down I wasn’t really happy with what was going on there. I was doing pub gigs on the side as well, that’s where I started making a living. While I was in that soul searching [period] I took a week off pub gigs as it was just driving me insane – playing other people’s songs, you know? I started writing and then went back and played some of my own stuff instead. I ended up getting fired for not playing pub tunes! I was super disheartened, and questioned if I should still do music at all, but it was mum who said I should go do it properly.
At the end of the day, playing covers does pay the bills. Most people like to hear what they’re familiar with, but as a creative person not being able play your own music would be frustrating and leave you feeling trapped!
Yeah, I was stuck in this cycle as I would play 4 – 5 shows a week, 3 – 4 hours a set and I would be like, I love playing music, but I started feeling kinda guilty. I’d get home and almost resent my guitar, it would just be sitting there in the corner. I was like, I really should play some songs, do some writing, but I was just that sick of it by the end of it, because I think playing covers for me was very soul sapping. For some strange reason, I still felt guilty, saying I wasn’t a real musician because I was only playing covers. I just needed to step away from there, and do it properly rather than two things at once. There’s that male multi-tasking thing not working there haha!!
Haha! So, with recording the EP, I read you worked on it in Sweden. How was that?
Yeah! Sweden’s my home away from home now. I started learning the language while I was there, made heaps of friends, it was almost like this double life I was leading over there. I went back and forth for the better part of last year, recording and writing, and things like that, but it was an old friend who was trying to get me over there in the first place. He spotted an old acoustic video that I did online, and was trying to get me to go over to record, and I just kept knocking him back. As I said before, it was my mum who kept trying to get me to give it a shot and actually listen to this guy and give it at least one last go. I think everything just aligned right, and Sweden was so good! Also, just walking around, they speak English, but they also speak Swedish. You feel isolated, but in a curious way while you’re there.
There was a show called Welcome to Sweden on recently, which sounds a bit like what you’ve described – adjusting to their different customs and language.
The language is so melodic! I learned the most useless things in Swedish, general chit-chat etc. The first thing I learned was [in Swedish] “the bus is late to technology high school”. And then I learned [in Swedish] “hello is anybody home”, and you’re supposed to knock on someone’s head whilst you’re saying it haha! I was speaking but they said I sounded like an angry Russian!! If you don’t go up at certain points in the conversation, it sounds completely wrong – it’s really complicated but really nice learning that too!! I’d love to master a second language!!
There’s a song on your EP called Oh Nostalgia. I was going to ask you your thoughts on nostalgia, as I learned on QI apparently it was once deemed a serious mental illness!
That’s kind of fitting! I feel like the whole EP process of when I recorded them (I have recorded three of them). My plan was always to put them out three in a row – a gradual progression of them. It was when I was writing and recording everything it was a very therapy-based thing for me, where I was sorting out where I was at the time, what I was feeling. I just had a massive smorgasbord of emotions going through, so possibly [the description of] mental disorder is kinda fitting I guess!! It was a really mentally draining process. I think I write best when looking back at things, and the nostalgia is a big thing that I look into when I’m writing. It also weird’s me out, the feeling of nostalgia. It’s not quite happy, it’s not quite sad. It’s this awkward limbo where you could go either way.
It seems to have a more romantic connotation these days, compared to the stigma it once had.
I think musicians have changed it for the better – I hope!! Poets and what not!!
So you’ve just been on tour with Katy Steele – how was that, how did you guys cross paths and decide to go on tour together?
It was a friend of a friend that organised that and it was a very last-minute thing. I think I just got an email from my manager Paul, and he was chatting to someone and mentioned that they knew me and I might want to go on this tour. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew Katy from Little Birdy but I hadn’t heard her new stuff just yet. It was this really awesome combination of me getting up and playing my guitar, and the difference between her music and mine, which worked out really well.
Oh, did you guys play together?
I opened for her, I wanted to organise doing a cover on stage, but we didn’t end up doing it. I did get up to sing a Little Birdy song in Perth, where she got the rest of her band and me on stage to sing with her. She was like, get on stage and sing, so I was like, oh ok we haven’t rehearsed this – trying not to freak out!!
It all worked out fine though! So you had good fun on the tour – it was quite extensive!
Yeah, we went everywhere! It was great to go over and see the different vibes of each place. Melbourne was awesome, that was probably one of my favourite gigs, as it was close to a sell out. Even going down to places like Hobart and Launceston was awesome as well, getting the music out there.
It’s good to get to these sometimes overlooked cities!
I think it’s important for bands to work that into their budgets. It’s expensive to travel to places like that, but you should be able to take money made at other gigs to enable you to get to some of these places. I think that’s gonna push your music out there, getting around to everyone! Well, that’s what I think anyways!! Not being a capitalist haha!!!!
Have you got any artists you hope to be able to work with – a collaboration, or a producer?
I would love to work with Francis and the Lights, just because I love everything he does. He just seems like a very eccentric guy. A producer – hmm – I’d love to work with someone completely off-kilter of what I would normally do. You know, someone like Questlove or someone like that! Having said that, I love working with Freddy. Ever since I started working with him, I don’t really want to work with anyone else – but it may just be me scared of not wanting to work with anyone else!! He’s really understood where I was coming from, when I first started to try and record everything. He just got it completely! He really loved the three EP concept, there was so much stuff going on in my life that I wanted to write about, and I didn’t want to just leave it as the sad stuff. I wanted to see progression. To have someone jump on this first EP and then go on the ride to wait for the next one, and understand the progression. The first one is acoustic and ambient, and then changes in the second and third ones. I am obsessed with little details that not many people pick up on. The last song of this EP is what the first song on the second EP sounds like – drum and synth bass, and then the last song of the second EP is what the first song on the third EP sounds like. I really like little things like that – not many people notice it, but I get obsessed!
It makes a logical progression – if it makes sense to you, then that’s the main thing! And bringing out three EPs as opposed to a full album is interesting!
Yeah. People like to listen to full albums, but I guess for the most part, people are just jumping on Spotify and looking at the most played song, so if you pour yourself out into a full length album, half of that stuff you really care about is probably going to fall by the wayside, so that’s why I started breaking it down. If I break it down into 6 tracks, that’s about 25 minutes, and that’s a train ride to work or something like that, and you can get people’s attention for that long. It’s hard to keep people’s attention for much longer than that! If you can give people little digestible versions like that, you can give each song the love it deserves.
That’s a cool concept. So, what’s on the cards for the rest of the year for you?
I’m planning a few things at the moment, just trying to find different ways of doing things. It was one of the main things I wanted to do, looking at different venues instead of the conventional gigs. Sometimes moody music can get a bit lost in places you go to dance at. Like, old church spaces, city halls, something a little bit different. And teaming up with other people as well, showcasing the music in different ways, especially when all three EPs are out. If I’ve done something a bit unique with the EPs, I’d like to continue the process of doing unique things in a live setting.
So, one last question for you! Everyone has a favourite album they can never grow tired of. What’s yours?
Hmm, that one for me is a toss-up! I think Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon is one of them, and the other one, to be honest, is probably this old Van Morrison CD in my house that my parents had, that I listen to over and over again. Other than that, Continuum by John Mayer I can listen to back to front, day in day out. I wasn’t sure if I should say that one or not, it’s cheesy as hell haha!! But it’s so good!
Well, if it floats your boat then that’s all that matters!
It definitely does that haha!!
Well, thank you so much for your time Hazlett, it’s been fun!