PHOTOGRAPHER SCOTT LEÓN @scottleonphoto
INTERVIEW KAREN LEVITT @karenlevittstylist
You are from Australia, and I know you moved to the Bay area to study creative writing. Did you know people in San Francisco and the Bay area before moving and what was it like to integrate yourself into their music community? Were people and venue bookers supportive right away or did it take time to find your way in that community?
I moved from Melbourne to San Francisco about 8 years ago. When I moved I didn’t know anybody at all, but I decided I was going to go to this place and see what happens. What was really cool was that I was able to make friends pretty quickly. Going to open mics and meeting musicians, everyone was super friendly and welcoming and it really felt like a community. It definitely made it feel like home.
In your first years in the US, what cultural differences were you enjoying the most?
I just really thrive in being in new places. For me, it was just exciting to be somewhere completely different and to get to explore. I did a lot of road tripping and explored different parts of the country and the different cultures within the US. New Orleans is so interesting and different, and New York has its own vibe too, and Nashville… It’s so cool to see all these different places that have their own cultures within themselves and still be within the same country. In Australia the cities are pretty similar, the accents are similar, and there’s not as much variety.
What are you missing the most?
My friends, and family, and I’m also really missing the food! Australia has really good brunch and the cafe culture is so good.
What’s a typical Aussie brunch?
What we call a smash, which is avocado on toast with goat cheese and maybe some poached eggs on top. There’s all kinds of things you can add like halloumi cheese, or cherry tomatoes, or sometimes smashed peas. They have so many different creative brunch options. Corn fritters are another one of my favorites!
You have great style, seeing your album art and videos like “Five and Dime” feels like some form of color therapy. Was that your styling & art direction?
So with the Five and Dime video, I knew the visual that I wanted was the palm trees. I had those outfits ready in my wardrobe just waiting. I often buy pieces knowing i’m going to use them later in a video or photo shoot and just kind of stash them away. I talked to the director about what I was going for, and he brought his ideas and we had a really nice collaboration. The color choices were partly coincidental, as I just happened to already have two green looks and one gold look. For the album art, I did the photoshoot with Janell Shirtcliff. I brought some of my clothes and she brought some things too. She had really great backdrop colors and we looked at everything and chose the outfits together.
Your debut album Wake UP! came out in late April, but when did you actually write the album and how did it feel to unintentionally have a title that was so aligned to what was happening in the world and especially in the US in April?
That was really interesting. I felt like the themes took on a new relevance and new meaning during the pandemic because I wrote most of the songs on the album in 2018 and I titled it in 2019. I think a lot of things got heightened during the pandemic that were already issues in society and it brought them all out in the open.
Tell me about the album title? Was it important to you that (Wake) UP! be capitalized and with an exclamation? At first glance, it really caught my attention, it seemed that was a very thoughtful choice, what led you to that?
I definitely wanted the emphasis to be on the “UP!” I guess for me, I felt like I was in a slumber state and I wanted to wake myself out of the state of only seeing what was in front of me. It was a message to myself, and it’s a message for other people too. It’s so easy to tune out these days. Last year, there were so many things going on and it felt like a new crisis every week, it can be so easy to just become numb to all the news. I think it’s important to be aware of that, and not become numb, and still be willing to fight for the things that are important.
What do you hope the title track will wake people up too?
I think it’s personal for everybody. I hope people will question what the things are that they’ve been sleeping on. Maybe they’re secret dreams and desires you’ve put on hold. Maybe it’s fighting to be respected in your workplace, or fighting for other people to be respected, or fighting exploitation. It’s really up to the listener what they want to take from that.
Your song Wake UP! Says:
“Open up your eyes and you’ll see
You’ve been living complacently
Watch the world through glazed over eyes
Tell me what you’re gonna do”
Is this you talking to someone else or to yourself?
All of the above. Don’t get complacent, your life is your life. For me I feel like if i’m not taking control and making sure i’m going where I want to go then i’m not progressing. We’ve still got work to do…
I think you make an important point with the chorus repeating “tell me what you’re gonna do” because with any issue it’s one thing to become aware and it’s another to do something about it. How has the album changed you in how you move forward in life, what you are going to do about the things you want to see change?
It’s been really interesting because I feel like during the time I was writing the album I learned a lot about myself and society and the ways that they interact, and the way the world around me affects my internal dialogue. Especially with things like media and technology. I think people are now starting to now become more aware of how much internet addiction has taken a toll on our mental health. It’s something I’m starting to learn more about. I’m trying to be more careful about how much time I spend online. And I’m trying to make sure I notice how much that affects my mental health. I’ve been doing a lot of learning but we are living in a time where there is so much information that even learning can be overwhelming and you have to step back sometimes and take time for yourself. I’m learning balance. It’s something we are all grappling with, I think.
I find your music to be hypnotic. What do you think it is about dream pop that resonates with people?
What I’m drawn to about it is this trance like quality in dream pop. What I like about it is it feels like you are being drawn into this other world. I just kind of love creating this mini universe, it feels almost cinematic in a way.
Which bands influenced you toward that genre?
I love listening to movie soundtracks. I love composers from the 60’s like Lez Baxter and Martin Denny who are pioneers of the exotica genre. With Wake UP! I was very influenced by a lot of 60’s rock bands and psych bands. I listened to a lot of The Zombies, The Mamas and The Papas, The Doors. Carol King is one of my biggest heroes. I just admire her so much, she’s an icon. She’s not just an amazing artist but also a really prolific writer.
Finish this sentence: Beauty is……
being true to yourself
What’s next for Hazel English?
I have a lot of plans that are just germinating. I’ve just been writing a lot. I’m starting to think about how I can do things a little differently the next time around. So for now, I’m just enjoying the writing process and seeing what happens.