Ahead of a sold-out show London tonight, we got a chance to talk to Hazel English about lyricism, wanderlust and her stunning debut EP.
Hazel English’s journey began the best part of 7,500 miles away from where she finds herself today. Born and raised in Sydney, but now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, she admits she’s a little unsure of her identity. “I don’t know what I am anymore,” she states, emphasising that she doesn’t consider herself an American at least. Truth be told, it doesn’t really matter; her music amply defines her. Bridging the gap between beach and purer, chart-worthy pop as effectively as the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County, she’s steadily and confidently making her mark.
It goes without saying that upping sticks and moving halfway around the world to pursue your musical ambitions is a fairly big deal. But that doesn’t mean Hazel’s decision to do so was a hard one to make. “I went travelling about five years ago,” she begins. “I went to a lot of different places but I felt like the Bay Area just felt like home to me, like somewhere I could live. And there was just an opportunity for me to come and study [here], so yeah…” And that’s that! Indeed, she’s adamant that it’s “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
And you really do have to be certain if you’re going to make the move Hazel has; it’ll burn one hell of a hole in your pocket. San Francisco was ranked earlier this year as one of the ten least affordable cities in the world, and even though she’s since crossed the water to Oakland, the hole isn’t much smaller. “It’s really hard,” she says, breaking into a slight anxious laugh at her powerlessness to do anything about it. “Every artist, I feel like they’re struggling here. I’m pretty thrifty – I’m pretty good at living on a budget – but it’s not ideal for artists to spend most of their income on rent, you know?”
She may be an outsider technically speaking, but Hazel has never felt like one in the local scene she’s so “stoked to be a part of”. That’s thanks largely to the sheer diversity of the place. “The great thing about the Bay Area is it’s so inclusive,” she enthuses. “And there are a lot of people that come [here] from different places – it’s actually quite rare to meet someone who was born in the Bay Area.”
“I feel the more I overthink a song, the worse it’s going to get…I always feel like the first thing that comes to my head is the best thing.”
While she celebrates that aspect of where she calls home, Hazel remains somewhat apprehensive about what the future holds. “It’s such a sad thing that the tech industry is driving that away, and it’s becoming more the same type of person that can afford to live here,” she says with a hint of resignation. “Thankfully Oakland is still very diverse, and I just hope it stays that way – [but] it’s changing all the time so you never know.”
As much as Hazel is one outsider among many, she’s found creative company in one of those lesser spotted Bay Area natives – a certain Jackson Phillips, the man behind the magic of Day Wave. “I definitely prefer collaborating with other people,” she says, “just because I feel like it becomes more interesting – more interesting things can happen.” If her recent Never Going Home debut EP is anything to go by, that belief is spot on – working with one of the scene’s most successful recent breakout acts in the studio has led to amazing things. They’re continuing their respective solo endeavours for the time being, but if they want to join forces for the dreamiest of dreamy side projects in future then that would be, well, totally ok. Fingers crossed, hey?
But let’s not get away from the matter in hand. Hazel English is already shaping her own destiny by taking beach pop, doing away with the stereotypes that so often – maybe too often – come to define it, and turning it into something fresh that really challenges what the genre can be. Her always lucid and never mumbled – a crime that’s all too often committed in this kind of music – lyrics, are key to her standing out from the crowd, and the perfect fit for the striking ‘polished lo-fi’ production of her sound.
“Lyrics are important to me,” she states frankly. She needn’t say more. Infallibly infectious in their candidness, her songs do the talking perfectly, and they come not as a result of “hours and hours of hacking away” but rather “from a place of intuition,” she explains. “I feel the more I overthink a song, the worse it’s going to get, and I’ll just never finish it if I keep analysing…I always feel like the first thing that comes to my head is the best thing.”
Hazel grew up in musical isolation in a way. “I didn’t know anybody else that played music,” she says. “I wanted to learn an instrument so I could have something to sing to.” So her first steps into what has become her world were borne out of a certain loneliness – but she now seems firmly on a trajectory that should see her garner many an adoring fan who’ll share in the bittersweet brilliance of her songs. Special things await – not that the future is at the forefront of her mind. “I try not to plan too far ahead,” she explains, “because some things happen that you just don’t plan for, but they can be the best things.”
Listen: Hazel English – Never Going Home.
Live: The Waiting Room – 21 November (tonight – sold out)