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Mar 30, 2020

By Richard Ray Ruiz

Photography by Drake Alexander & Words by Katherine Turman

As a teenager in Sydney, Australia, Hazel English taught herself guitar by playing covers of the Smiths and the Cranberries… “I probably even learned [Oasis’] ‘Wonderwall,’” she remembers with a laugh. Cut to some years later, and English’s own music, raved about as “gauzy fraught-pop” and a “quiet revolution,” takes a step up with the release of the 10 beguiling songs that comprise her first full-length album, Wake UP!, on Polyvinyl Records. English, who came to America on a student visa and earned a degree in creative writing, now lives in Los Angeles full-time, focusing her myriad talents on writing infectious, shimmering songs rather than novels.   

I understand you were a big reader and writer as a kid. What did you want to be when you grew up? 

I did love to sing. I was also a dancer, so I love performing. But I don’t know if I was confident enough to think that I would become a musician, you know? I remember singing loudly in the car to the radio, probably driving my parents crazy. I never really took vocal lessons. But I did also love writing stories, so I could see myself being a writer. I don’t know if I necessarily saw myself as a musician or performer until I started writing songs when I was about 16 and kind of started gaining more confidence playing and performing for people. 

 How does your songwriting process work? 

I always keep a journal and I’m always writing every day, so I feel like a lot of things [from my life] just slip in. I do try to make a practice of writing every day. I think that’s really important to make it a habit. I’m trying to see it as more of a craft that I’m honing all the time, and I’m always wanting to get better at it. The only way to get better at it is to keep doing it as much as I can. With this album, I wrote a lot of songs that I didn’t end up using; I wrote about 50 songs.  

I read that you like music like the Mamas and Papas and Jefferson Airplane, older classic rock… Do you listen to others’ music while you’re making your own albums?

I definitely do. I’ll find bands or albums that I get obsessed with and listen to the same things over and over. Nonstop. The one album I continuously come back to and blast every day in the car is Sam Cooke, Ain’t That Good News. I pretty much listened to that album every day for the last few years. Every song is a banger. I think I’ve always loved old music; I listen to contemporary music, but it’s more like keeping abreast with what’s going on. The albums that I keep coming back to are those classic records.

What goals did you have for Wake UP!?

I definitely was going for a ‘60s vibe. I felt like with the messages of the album, the ‘60s era just felt appropriate, because that was a time where there were a lot radical messages and a lot of change happening. I felt like the sentiment with this album was also trying to get people to kind of wake up to what’s happening in the world in the same way that people were really taking action back then. 

I love that you have the UP! capitalized with the exclamation point to drive it home. When did it become clear that that would be the title track or maybe an overarching message of the record? 

I definitely feel like there were themes running through the songs that maybe I didn’t really realize until I’d written them all. When I started writing this album, I was feeling like I was in this space where I felt kind of stuck and a little bit apathetic. I started to see that this was kind of a symptom of a lot of factors that were in my environment. I started to see it as a reaction to social media and news and consumption, like, ‘A lot of these things are having this effect on me and I am reacting in this way.’

Then I started to see I could make a choice, kind of put it into perspective where I was able to see myself… I don’t know if this is going to make sense, but when you’re able to see a bird’s eye view, you just become more aware. I thought, ‘I don’t want to feel apathetic or like I’m not involved in my life.’ I don’t want to be detached. 

To be more present? 

That’s definitely something I am still working on and constantly trying to figure out. Like, when to turn off my phone. I try little tricks. I’ll try to delete an app from my phone, so even if I go to check my phone, there’s nothing to check! These apps and things are designed to hook us, intentionally created to draw us in. So you have to be extra mindful to stop yourself. I think it’s really important that we at least take that first step in becoming aware that, ‘Oh, this is sucking up all my time and taking me away from living my life.’ 

Since you’re such a word person, were any songs inspired by authors or literature? 

Yeah, definitely. Literature has a lot of influence over me, and especially with this album, a book called The Society of the Spectacle. It had a very big impact. It’s by Guy Debord, the head of this avant-garde movement called the Situationist. It’s super fascinating, so I did a deep dive on him and the group because that’s what I do when I get interested in something! The book was written in the ‘60s, so it was very ahead of its time. But it really explores that idea of going through the world and not really experiencing it fully, but kind of showing representations. [Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.”]

In the last couple of years, the #MeToo movement and women speaking out is really at the forefront of our consciousness. Have you experienced uncomfortable situations in your career or been disrespected because of your gender? 

I haven’t felt like I had any experiences that I needed to come forward about. There’s definitely an overall impression that you can feel sometimes of exploitation, but I think honestly that’s the music industry in general. Artists, regardless of gender, are feeling like that, just because of the way that the system is designed; it’s to exploit artists. Some of the topics within the album deal with power and exploitation. I see that as kind of a result of capitalism in general. I think it’s an issue that’s really important right now. Finally, I feel like people are talking about it more, especially with a movie like Parasite winning the Academy Award. 

Very true! 

There’s more of a conversation about, ‘How is the working class being exploited through capitalism?’ So for me I want to figure out, ‘Okay, how do we make the music industry better for artists?’ 

Do you have an answer? 

I’m still trying to figure that out, and I think one of the best ways to do it is to start a dialogue and support each other and come together. Coming together and not buying into this rhetoric of competing against each other. I don’t see that. I don’t feel that. 

Photographer: Drake Alexander @drake.alexander

Words by: Katherine Turman @katturman

Hazel English @hazelenglishmusic

Print and download Available Here https://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1757709

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