"An album defines your life for ages and then it's done and dusted in an instant", says Hamish Hawk when delving into the creation of his outstanding new record Heavy Elevator. "It's been a long time coming; here's hoping it's worth the wait."
And worth the wait it is. The Edinburgh singer-songwriter invites us into his world using vivid and witty storytelling that's almost diary-like in its execution – akin to the masterful delivery of Jens Lekman and even the legendary Leonard Cohen – over an enchanting, sonically sprawling sound.
Three years in the making, Heavy Elevator is Hamish's most open and personal material yet across songs with surreal, imaginative titles, like This, Whatever It Is, Needs Improvements, The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973, and New Rhododendrons.
"Heavy Elevator was written in my mid-to-late 20s, and I think that comes across" Hamish told Daily Star. "It's when your world really opens up, when you're forced to make decisions that are wholly your own, and only you are responsible for how things turn out.
"You've experienced pain, embarrassment, joy, sadness, lust, anger, loss. Put simply, Heavy Elevator is a record of these experiences in my life."
Heavy Elevator was given the production treatment by Idlewild's Rod Jones at his Post Electric Studio in Leith, a collaboration that ignited after the pair met at the Iona Village Hall Music Festival in 2016 – and one that still holds strong today.
Such is Heavy Elevator's strength that tracks Calls To Tiree, Caterpillar, and the aforementioned Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973, have all been championed by BBC Radio 6 Music, receiving playlist status.
Heavy Elevator is an intriguing yet captivating piece of work and experience that deserves to be cherished from beginning and end, and one that will certainly propel Hawk forward as one of the most promising songwriters around.
Daily Star's Rory McKeown quizzed him on Heavy Elevator's creation, its influences and themes, working with Rod Jones, and his hopes ahead.
Hi Hamish, firstly. How have the past few months been for you as an artist? What challenges have you faced during the pandemic?
"It's been a very mixed bag. I went through the stages we all did: the initial disbelief, the concern for my family and friends, a degree of acceptance, restlessness, anxiety, boredom. I took it day by day as best I could, and even came to enjoy aspects of lockdown. I was in a fortunate position in that I was surrounded by loving, supportive people.
"It goes without saying that the lack of live performance was (and still is) difficult to bear, but there are reasons to be optimistic on that front these days. The band and I also managed to keep writing songs throughout lockdown, exchanging demos and so on, and that played a major role in keeping the monsters at bay."
Your new album Heavy Elevator is released on September 17. Tell me more about its writing and recording process. When did it get underway?
"The album was written more or less over a three year period, and it was recorded in two weeks back in September, 2019. It's an odd thing. An album defines your life for ages and then it's done and dusted in an instant. It's been a long time coming; here's hoping it's worth the wait."
You’re quoted as saying “there is more of me in it than any album I’ve written previously”. What made you opt for a more personal avenue this time around? What’s it like getting into that mindset as a songwriter to tackle themes close to your heart?
"My songwriting is autobiographical by nature, and it's always been that way. I suppose the notable difference between Heavy Elevator and my previous stuff is there was a deliberate attempt on my part to shave away a few layers of artifice and confront myself.
"The result is a record that is at least more honest, and far less concerned with what people might think of it. It's not easy to expose yourself like that, but I think it's essential if you want to develop."
From that, what are the main themes running throughout Heavy Elevator?
"Heavy Elevator was written in my mid-to-late 20s, and I think that comes across. It's when your world really opens up, when you're forced to make decisions that are wholly your own, and only you are responsible for how things turn out.
"You've experienced pain, embarrassment, joy, sadness, lust, anger, loss. Put simply, Heavy Elevator is a record of these experiences in my life. I don't tend to write along thematic lines, but I suppose patterns are bound to emerge, as they do in life."
It was produced by Idlewild’s Rod Jones at his Post Electric Studio in Leith. He’s also been a mentor for you since meeting a few years back. What does he bring to the table in terms of your output? What have you learned from working with him along the way?
"The band and I loved working with Rod in the studio. He works quickly, without fanfare, with remarkable intuition and a lightness of touch I really value.
"His wealth of experience writing, performing and producing is a real asset to us, and he brings an air of professionalism to the whole thing. He offers real encouragement as well, as a producer and as a friend, and is able to talk me down when I overthink the little things (which happens a lot)."
Did you do anything differently this time around compared to your previous releases?
"I think it's safe to say we worked harder on this than any previous release. We were fortunate enough to receive Creative Scotland funding for the album, so for the first time it felt like the album was so much bigger than us.
"We owed it to them, to the project, to ourselves, to make sure it was our very best work. I think we can really proud of what we achieved."
Was there anything that you were consuming for inspiration when creating this record? Either personally or musically?
"Haha! I couldn't possibly say. Everyone in the band has their own particular tastes, so what I hear when I listen to the album is a wide variety of influences intermingling and bouncing off each other.
"I think its diversity is one of the album's greatest strengths, and I think that's fairly uncommon in albums these days. Heavy Elevator is no monolith, it's more of a hodgepodge. There were many influences on the songwriting process, but none overshadowed the other I don't think."
Singles Calls To Tiree, Caterpillar and Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion 1973 have been playlisted on BBC Radio 6Music. What’s it like having that support?
"I'm still reeling to be honest! Not too long ago it was an unbelievable thrill for us to have just one play on 6 Music; these days we're struggling to keep up with them all.
"I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, Lauren Laverne, Radcliffe and Maconie, and so many others for their support. There's no overstating how much it helps keep the creative juices flowing!"
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What’s next for you, Hamish? Are you already thinking ahead to your next material?
"Absolutely. Lockdown ended up being quite productive in the end; the band and I have more than enough songs for a new album now, so we're currently whittling down what we have, honing things and getting songs ready for recording.
"With any luck we'll be back in the studio before the year is out! No sooner are we allowed out the house, we're looking forward to locking ourselves inside again! It's a funny old life."
Hamish Hawk's Heavy Elevator is out now via Assai Recordings
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