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Hamish Hawk - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 23 / 12 / 2021

Hamish Hawk - Interview


Hamish Hawk’s latest album, ‘Heavy Elevator’, is making an impression and gaining national airplay. He speaks to Mark Rowland about his need to mix things up, making songwriting an everyday habit, and managing expectations.

Hamish Hawk has just turned 30. Recently, he’s realised he’s been making music for more than half his life. “I couldn't tell you what it was that started me on the path. It just started happening.” Now, his years of hard work are paying off. His fourth album (or third, depending on how you view ‘Laziest River’), ‘Heavy Elevator’, is breaking through, garnering airplay on BBC 6Music and critical acclaim. And it is quite a record, mixing the wit and drama of Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour with jangly indie, angular post-punk, and even Springsteen-like bombast. No two songs sound the same, but it never sounds disparate. “I listened to a huge amount of music growing up,” Hawk explains. My dad was really into late 60s and 70s classic rock, and my mum was into folk singers. My sister was into Britpop and my brother liked nu metal and skate punk and all that stuff. There was always a lot of music around, and then of course you go off on your own musical journey.” Hawk likes the idea of being seen as a record collector-type of act, taking an omnivorous approach to absorbing influences. Variety has always excited him, he says, and he likes to surprise people with his songs. Listeners will hear the Smiths-like ballad ‘Your Ceremony’ one moment, the minimalistic post-punk of ‘Caterpillar’ the next. “I think to some people one of the most exciting things about listening to an album like 'Heavy Elevator' is that the only thing that is cohesive about is the fact that it's all done by the same group of people. There was no attempt to make sure that one song sounded akin or had family resemblances with another song on the record. We wanted to give credit to the listener. So long as it's us doing it, they'll be fine with all of those songs being next to each other.” Hawk’s baritone croon does a lot to tie this forever. His sense of melody draws heavily from French crooners such as the aforementioned Brel and Aznavour (he named his first album after the latter), but he also cites Morrissey, Leonard Cohen and the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt as influences. “I adore all of those singers. I absolutely live and breathe people like Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour, because one of the things they did was do this high drama sort of voice. It’s storytelling, very witty, very funny, but very dramatic. Everything sounded like something was going to happen. It feels like watching a play.” Writing songs is a habit that Hawk can’t quit. Phrases constantly bounce around his mind, and he writes down his dreams in the hope of finding new inspiration. It seems like such a natural thing for him to do, he says. “It took me a long, long time to realise that not everyone writes songs. The way I was going about it, it was just a thing that I did. It was something that naturally happened. It took me years to recognise that if phrases come to someone's mind, they don't necessarily go, this would be a great song.” Equally, it seemed natural to play his songs to others. He played in a band with his school friends and started playing solo gigs while studying at the University of St Andrews. Hawk impressed King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, after passing him a CD of his songs at a gig. Anderson became a mentor, giving Hawk support slots at his shows and helping to produce Hawk’s independently released debut album. A year later, Hawk pulled together his band, the New Outfit, comprising guitarist Andrew Pearson, bassist Alex Duthie, drummer Barry Carty, and keyboard player John Cashman. They were united by their love of music in all forms, and a need to avoid pigeonholes. “I think it's natural and probably healthier in a way, to want to be part of some greater community. But for me, it was always about being original and unexpected and true to myself. I didn't want to smooth the rougher edges of my work so that it fitted in with some greater body; I wanted to keep those extremes in there.” Part of this attitude comes from growing up in Edinburgh, he explains. The city has also seemed to play second fiddle to Glasgow when it comes to arts and music. Hawk would travel to Glasgow for more gigs than he’d see in Edinburgh. It always seemed like the more established city. But the Glasgow music scene felt so unified to Hawk that it was almost to its detriment. “You had these groups of bands that were almost indistinguishable from each other. Edinburgh, even now, does not work like that. There's less of a scene to be nurtured, I think that's only fair to say. Therefore, the people who rise to any kind of prominence tend to be quite unique.” Finding success with a few albums under his belt has its advantages, says Hawk. It’s given him a sharper sense of perspective, he says. He’s more of a realist about what it might mean for him in the long term. “It's always been good for me to not expect too much. It's lovely when great opportunities come along, whether it's radio play, a tour, a bit of recording, whatever it might be. I've got a vivid imagination, I can run away with myself if I let myself do it. But it can often lead to disappointment a little further down the line if something doesn’t work out. " It has also given him an appreciation of how long things can take, and how much work you need to put in to get where you want to be, he says. Since all the radio play, Hawk is getting a lot of messages from young musicians asking for advice about how to get a manager and get noticed. “I was that guy when I was 20. You think you're at a certain point, but you're maybe a few rungs lower than that. It's just about continuing on. It's about not giving up.” Hawk starts a nationwide tour of the UK in November, with some more shows to follow in the new year. “There's lots of exciting things being organised for the first half of next year, and with any luck, we'll be doing some recording before the year is out. That's the hope. In the meantime, we’ll be coming to a venue near you, and we’ll blow the roof off, so to speak.”

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Hamish Hawk - Interview

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