High Hazels - Q&A
Beauty can come from the most unlikely of places.
The Smiths made melancholy Manchester swirl around our imaginations via bleak lyrics set to a Rickenbacker, Lowry made Salford factories and their workers look like a chocolate box and Ken Loach made us cry over the majestic Yorkshire dales and realisation that for many, it really was “grim up north”.
This halcyon notion of beauty coming from the ordinary sets High Hazels and their Joe Meek tinged sounds ahead of the guitar wielding pack.
Perhaps growing up listening to the likes of Richard Hawley and Pulp has subtly absorbed into their song writing subconscious. The former being a self-confessed High Hazels fan who they have twice supported. The band sound like they belong in a record collection far beyond their years.
The antithesis of the throw away indie band, Scott Howes, James Leesley and brothers Paul and Anthony Barlow, developed their hazy, soundtrack worthy music back in 2012. If their debut album, released in 2014 was anything to go by - slow and steady certainly did win them the race. Fans of Bill Ryder Jones or Kings of Convenience will be in comfortable territory here.
With a new single on the horizon and EP ready for release in the New Year, we caught up with lead singer James Leesley to ask what’s in store for the young Sheffield Troubadours in the coming months.
Q: Hello James. When and how did you guys start making music together?
A: We've been in each other’s pockets since we left school, but writing together as High Hazels around four years.
Q; What has been the highlight for you so far as a band?
A: A live session for Radio 2, our album launch show in Sheffield and supporting Richard Hawley have been particular highlights so far.
Q: How do you write songs? Do you stick to a certain formula?
A: For us the songs can come from a couple of chords, a nice line or anything that provokes an interesting melody really. There’s no saying who or what instrument that will come from, we just try and keep looking for the next interesting thing and let it naturally meander wherever it chooses until we’re all happy with it. It’s easy to unintentionally over-do things on a song if you’re not careful, sometimes we get coaxed down an inviting path, but it ends up taking us away from what sounded good in the first place. A bit like when you go for the vinegar thinking it’s a shaker and it turns out to be a pourer.
Q: Being from Sheffield, with it's rich musical history - have you found there has been expectation on your shoulders to sound a certain way? Has this helped or hindered you as a new band?
A: I suppose we accepted early on that you can’t control where you’re from, and ultimately, if the songs are good then that overrides the geographical side of things, so we try and just concentrate on clubbing together a good tune. I guess it’s hard to say whether being from Sheffield has helped or hindered us as we’re still in the process of paving our way…well, lugging the concrete slabs around anyhow.
Q: You are known for your attention to detail when recording or developing new material. How do you think this sets you apart from other artists around today?
A: The more I see and hear of other artists the more it makes me feel like we need to go into more and more detail. For example, Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes seems to have this well of musical knowledge that is so detailed and deep, to me anyway, that it makes you feel like you’re walking around with your eyes shut half the time. Those sort of artists really set the marker. I think it’s important to have someone with a good set of ears when you’re working on something new who isn't afraid to tell you when something sounds shit.
Q: Do you prefer playing live shows or recording?
A: We love both recording and playing live. Though I think one balances the other; too much of one and you start losing sight of the other.
Q: Where’s your favourite city/venue to play?
A: Hometown shows in Sheffield are always fun, we’ve had good gigs in Liverpool and Manchester too.
Q; What records have been spinning at HH HQ recently? Have any new bands caught your attention lately?
A: A band called Cigarettes After Sex have got some lovely tunes, they’re touring soon and we’ll hopefully catch them.
Q; What’s next for High Hazels?
A: We’re just in the middle of planning the release of a new 7” single, which should be out mid-late November all being well. We’ve written and recorded an EP so hopefully that will follow and be available in the New Year. We’ve been invited to play with Slow Club which is a sold-out affair in Sheffield on November 4th which we’re all looking forward to, then following that we are playing at the Leadmill on December 17th. We’d love to get out and play more shows further afield in the new year.