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Hattie Briggs - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 19 / 6 / 2015

Hattie Briggs - Interview


After the glowing reviews for her debut album ‘Red and Gold’, British singer/songwriter Hattie Briggs explains how she started her career in music, and her plans for the future

It’s been quite a year for Hattie Briggs. Since being nominated for the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, her singles have all featured in the iTunes charts. The release of her debut album, ‘Red & Gold’, has seen favourable reviews and raised this talented 22-year-old's profile even further. One listen to any of the tracks on ‘Red & Gold’ will have you thinking: 'here is a young singer/songwriter who is going to be around for a long time'. Hattie Briggs has one of those typically English, pure folk voices. While it’s been said that Hattie was inspired by the likes of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, it’s English folk, such as Anne Briggs and Nick Drake, that immediately comes to mind when hearing her music for the first time. But for all of the folk influences that Hattie carries in her music, there’s a pop sensibility that makes her story/songs instantly likeable to those who would usually avoid music tagged ‘folk’. Then there are her lyrics: Hattie's ode to her pet dog, ‘Old Eyes’, captures all the joy that having such a companion can bring, without falling into cloying sentimentality. ‘A Beautiful Mind’, which was inspired by a speech Peggy Seeger gave about her brother Pete at those Folk Awards will confirm just what a talented lyricist this artist is. Hattie Briggs has also been astute enough to surround herself in the studio with those who understand her music perfectly. It has brought out the very best in every line and each and every instrument. Choosing Peter Waterman as producer and having Warren Bassett (Stranglers, The Fall, Wishbone Ash) as co-mixer was a pretty smart move too. While the videos of ‘Old Eyes’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’ are getting all the attention just now, we’d recommend lending your ears to ‘Happy In Your Arms’ if the music of Hattie Briggs has so far passed you by. It displays all that makes Hattie the one to watch, why there is so much to her than the folk tag would have you believe. Her lyrics have a depth that many songwriters of her age can only hope to achieve. We’ve a feeling that the music world is going to hear a lot more from this talented artist. PB: It was a courageous move to quit university to pursue a career in music, what prompted you to make that decision? HB: I'd say there were several factors that combined to prompt the decision. The first was that during the spring/summer of 2013 I had started to do some proper gigs (previously I'd only performed at open mics, and before that school concerts), which I really enjoyed and subsequently wanted to do more and to bigger audiences. I had been writing songs for around 3 years by that point and was in the process of recording my debut EP. When the EP came out I managed to get some radio airplay on BBC introducing and BBC Radio Gloucestershire and soon afterwards I sent a track into Radio 2 for the Young Folk Award competition. I was chosen as one of the final 10 and then later one of the 4 nominees, performing live on Radio 2 as part of the ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall in February 2014. I dropped out of Uni the month before the awards ceremony. I figured that even if I didn't win the award, the whole process had hugely increased the strength of my profile and I had lots of momentum to capitalise on that year. While I was going through the musical journey I just described I was in the second year of my degree at Oxford, studying Russian. A keen hockey player and obsessed with writing songs the rest of the time, I found it impossible to focus on the increasingly long and difficult essays I was being set. By the time it got to January I had lost all interest in my degree and was really stressed about the work, hating every minute of it. I had many sleepless nights at that point until I had an epiphany and realised that dropping out of Uni was the obvious thing to do now that I knew music was what I wanted to do as a career. I think it took me a long time to realise that leaving Oxford was an option. Up until that point I'd spent my whole life working towards getting into a top University, so it wasn't something that I'd ever considered throwing away. PB: How long had you been making music before you made that life-changing choice? HB: I wrote my first song when I was 17 and I was 20 when I left Oxford. PB: Do you come from a musical family, were you influenced by the music that your parents/family listened to when you were younger? HB: My Mum's side of the family is very musical, but my Dad's isn't at all. He once took up the saxophone for a few months as a bet/dare and he is no longer tone deaf, but I definitely inherited the music genes from my Mum. She played lots of different instruments growing up and still sings in the local choir. Her brother is a songwriter too. I was hugely influence by my parents music collection and can remember singing along as loudly as I could in the car. We listened to a lot of great singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Eva Cassidy, Don Mclean, K D Lang etc, as well as the big pop superstars like Elton John, Queen, ABBA and of course The Beatles. I didn't really get into listing to modern pop until I was 11 or 12 years old and Artists like Avril Lavigne and Maroon 5 came on the scene. PB: You cover ‘Fields Of Gold’ both on stage and on ‘Red & Gold’, many are familiar with the song from the Eva Cassidy version; Eva’s brother, Dan, produced your version of the song and plays violin on your album, how did that come about? HB: I was in contact with Dan over Facebook and email through a slightly tenuous connection - my Mum's friend has a shop in Stroud and she knew a lady who had previously done some promoting for Dan when he toured the UK. The two of them got talking and I came up in conversation as did the Cassidy link and the fact that I often perform Eva's songs. So that's how Dan and I were introduced, but even so, I never considered putting "Fields of Gold" on the album - I guess I didn't feel worthy of it. It was later on, when my producer, Pete, found out that Dan and I were in contact, that he asked Dan behind my back, whether we had his blessing to put Fields of Gold on the album, and whether he'd like to get involved. Dan said "yes" and then Pete surprised me with the news during preproduction. It's probably the best surprise I've ever had! PB: Peter Waterman also produced the album; did he approach you with a view to producing your album, or how did your paths cross? HB: Another strange coincidence happened here, and I don't really believe in fate, but after all the things that have happened in the last few years to get me to this point, I do think that some things happen for a reason. Pete found me through researching the Folk Award nominees. He had just taken the plunge to become a full time freelance producer and was looking for Artists to work with. He happened to send me an email introducing himself during the very conversation when I was telling my Mum that I wanted to quit University. My Mum supported the decision anyway, but Pete getting in contact definitely made the whole thing seem like it was meant to happen. I went and met him later that week and we were in the studio the next month recording my first single "Pull Me Down". PB: ‘Old Eyes’ was released as a single last year, we missed out on it so didn’t discover the song until ‘Red & Gold’ came along. Without exception everyone we have recommended that video to since has had the same reaction; tears of happiness. Who came up with the simple but powerful idea for the video and did you realise it was so powerful? HB: I can't remember exactly, but I think I came up with it. Panda is very photogenic, and since he was my inspiration for the song it seemed like the right thing to do to make him the protagonist of the video. Plus everyone loves watching films with cute animals in them! No, I didn't realise quite how many people would connect with the video and be really moved by it. I guess anyone with a pet, or even an old friend or relative (so basically anyone and everyone) can directly relate to it. It's a sentimental song and the message is a sweet one so I suppose it's not surprising. At gigs there are often a few tears shed during that song too. PB: So the next question, and the most important one, concerns the star of the video. Is Panda your pet and what breed is he/she? HB: Yes, he is. We got him from a dog rescue when he was a puppy and he is now 15 years old. He's a mongrel and we're not sure exactly of the mix, but we're pretty sure there is some retriever in there, as well as something bigger and fluffier like Bernese Mountain Dog and lots of other things too. PB: You seem to write songs about what is happening around you, the song about your pet, the touching ‘A Beautiful Mind’ which was inspired by Peggy Seeger’s speech about Pete that struck a chord with you. Are you one of those songwriters that can be inspired by something as simple as a line from a conversation you hear? HB: Yes, definitely, it doesn't take much - a line or a word can be enough, but it differs with every song I write. Sometimes I struggle for inspiration and at other times I can't sleep for lines and melodies coming into my head. I recently wrote a song by looking around the living room for inspiration and seeing an old suitcase that I had just purchased from a vintage shop to use as a merch case. The first couple of lines are "I bought an old suitcase, I filled it with things, I laid it all out and there was too much to bring". PB: Once you have an idea for a song do the lyrics generally come quickly or do you have to sweat over them? I think I heard that ‘A Beautiful Mind’ for example came to you quite quickly. HB: It changes with every song, as most of the time I don't really know what the song will be about when I start writing it, I just have an idea of the mood. I generally find that if the idea is there and I know what I'm singing about then the lyrics are pretty easy to find. They often just pop into my head, I don't really know where they come from, it's kind of weird actually. Yes, "A Beautiful Mind" happened very fast, it just worked with the melody and the chords and I knew what I wanted to say. PB: Do your lyrics dictate, to any degree, the melody? Do you generally have the idea for melody or lyrics first? HB: Once again there's no hard and fast rule, no precise method, but I often start with one line or lyric attached to a chord or melody and then it develops from there. For example with 'Share Your Heart' I had the words "It's hard to write a love song when you've never been in love" in my head and then I happened to play an F chord on the piano and the melody just came to me straight away. Sometimes it's the other way round. I'll find a guitar or piano riff that I like and start humming along on top of it until some words jump out a me. After I've got the fist line or two I tend to figure out the melody and the lyrics simultaneously. I've never written the lyrics to a whole song and then put it to music or vice versa, it always just seems to develop into something meaningful as I go along. PB: You’ve released a couple of singles, an EP and now your debut album. Checking on the site that carries everything that we all check out first your songs are only available on download. Are CD versions (or even vinyl) available anywhere? HB: Yes, you can buy physical copies of my album and EP via the shop page of my website - http://www.hattiebriggs.co.uk/shop - I send them out in the post asap once the order has some in. The album is also now available in vinyl. As far as shops go, you can buy the Red & Gold CD from the Subscription Rooms in Stroud, and very soon it will be available along with the vinyl in a few fairly local independent records shops. PB: You’ve just finished a tour that took in over 30 towns, was that your longest tour to date and what did you think of the reaction your music received? HB: Yes, it was my first national tour and the longest string of dates that I've done in one go. I was exceptionally happy with the response I got from audiences all round the country. People seemed to really connect with the songs and loads of people came and spoke to me after performances and took CDs home with them. PB: While you deserve a well-earned rest, do you have any plans for more gigs or festivals this year? HB: Yes, indeed. I absolutely love gigging and will be touring solo and with the band as much as possible in the coming months. I'm especially looking forward to playing at Cambridge Folk Festival this year, but there are plenty of other great is coming up before then, and I'm organising a living room tour for September, which I think will be fantastic fun. All my gigs are listed on my website - http://www.hattiebriggs.co.uk/current-gigs. PB: And any plans for more recording this year? HB: Yup. We're back in the studio in June to record some more tracks for a Deluxe version of Red & Gold that will be out later this year and also a Christmas single. I can't wait! PB: Finally, what music do you listen to when you are not on stage, in the studio or writing? HB: A huge range - Joni Mitchell, James Blake, James Taylor, Adele, Ben Howard, The Civil Wars, Lewis and Leigh, First Aid Kit, London Grammar, Jake Bugg, Louis Armstrong, the list goes on! PB: Thank you.

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