“Thank you angels”: Hamish Hawk on touring, lyricism, and Angel Numbers
By Alex Cooper
We find Hamish Hawk at a very interesting point in his career. The Scottish singer, songwriter, and performer has broken through with Heavy Elevator, and his captivating live show is entertaining nationwide this month. Constant touring and dedication to his craft has placed him in a very exciting position; you can’t help but feel this is the relative calm before his music goes completely stratospheric.
On the day of the release of Angel Numbers, his latest album, and the day of his biggest headline show to date at Manchester’s Gorilla, I sat down with Hamish Hawk to discuss the new album, his lyricism, the unnatural rhythm of life that is touring. And, of course, his own angel number.
For someone that has just released their biggest album to date merely hours ago, and will play his biggest ever headline show merely hours later, Hamish is remarkably relaxed. When asking if he’s enjoying the album being released, he’s joyful and relieved in equal measure.
“So much […] knowing it’s out there being heard, you establish a completely different relationship with it. I’ve always had this perfectionist streak; if I was listening to one of the songs on Angel Numbers three days ago, I would never really have the will or the impetus to change it. But at least once it’s released, it’s not your business anymore. It’s just done.”
“Other people can relish in it, and enjoy it, and relate to it in their own way. And it can resonate and chime in different ways. And suddenly, it’s a much happier experience. I can really toil for such a long time.”
“I think Angel Numbers has a lot of different faces and a lot of different voices. And I’m happy with it for that reason.”
Angel Numbers was somewhat of a renaissance in the way Hamish Hawk goes about producing albums, especially in comparison to its predecessor, Heavy Elevator. “Heavy Elevator was the product of several years’ song-writing; it was a collection that grew and grew. Angel Numbers was a short burst. It was a sort of lockdown inspiration, a lightning strike.”
They kept tight hours in the studio, working a more traditional 10am-6pm working day. “When I recorded previous records, because we were all so psyched to be there, we were up at 9am and in bed by midnight […] I think it’s probably more normal to do a working day. And especially when it came to Rod Jones, my producer, he’s living inside the songs for hours on end, hearing the same bit of the song over and over again […] it’s important for him or any producer that they say ‘okay, I’m a spent force now, I’m going home.’”
Angel Numbers sees Hamish Hawk at his most musically expansive to date. Hawk touches on a whole host of genres. There’s huge, soaring choruses akin to that of ‘Calls to Tiree’ and ‘The Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973’ from Heavy Elevator, but also some new dimensions displayed. “I would say one of the differences between the albums is that there’s a couple of musical pallets that don’t rear their head on Heavy Elevator that do on Angel Numbers.”.
“I don’t worry too much if the songs don’t sound similar in terms of genre, I think if they’re unified by a voice, and they make sense emotionally, that’s all I’m really bothered about […] I think sometimes the word cohesive can be a bit of a weapon word […] I love certain albums like that, but I do also like multifaceted records. And I think Angel Numbers has a lot of different faces and a lot of different voices. And I’m happy with it for that reason.”
‘Grey Seals’, on Angel Numbers, is one of these explorations of different musical pallets. The song is a post-punk landscape that closes the album dramatically and ponderously. “I have probably only two or three other songs I would compare directly [to it] […] It’s sort of the lesser spotted kind of song that I write, which is more of a stream of consciousness lyric, which often makes me feel quite exposed. I feel those songs, because they’re more fluid and sort of free flowing, they maybe have what the ‘Mauritian Badminton’ songwriter in me would think of as an imperfection, or maybe a half-formed thought.”
This is something Hawk has accepted in his song-writing, however. “I think ‘Grey Seals’ has something because of those imperfections and that’s something that I’ve learnt on Angel Numbers generally. You need to let these songs live and breathe in their own way. You can’t shoehorn them, or corner them into being something they’re not”
The live show is something that’s very important to Hawk. “I can get a bit nervous in the few days leading up to a tour. I’m out of sorts. But once I get into the full swing of it and realise what it is, playing the stuff of my life, and playing these songs to people who want to hear them.”
“It’s often the way that can remember everything about your day, you can remember where you ate lunch, signs that you passed on the motorway. But the gig […] it’s kind of like a flash […] I mentioned on stage last time in Leeds, that our friends and family and close ones’ duty to us particularly at this stage in our careers, is to enjoy it. Make sure you take that moment to really live it in the moment. And ever since I’ve been told that I really do take that moment on stage to do a snapshot in my head, that this is really happening”.
Nerves are a huge part of the live experience too for Hamish Hawk. “The pacing that goes on in our dressing rooms is unreal. I can’t speak for the other members of the band, but I think I get more nervous than anyone […] what I rely on on stage is an emotional thing. And I really get a lot from the audience. But I do get nervous […] And you don’t stop being nervous, you get used to being nervous. But five minutes before you go out, we’re all just pacing, walking in circles. It’s an absolutely terrible scene.”
When asking whether he would change the intensity at all, Hawk ponders, and then thoughtfully responds. ‘No. I don’t think so. We’ve all come to learn that when you feel like that, the only thing you can do is go on and play. That’s all you can do, there’s no getting away from it. You’ve walked through, you’ve opened a door, closed the door behind you and you’ve got a corridor with one door at the end. That’s what it is, you’re pacing up and down that corridor going ‘oh my god, this is going to be intense’. But it is. And there’s 400-500 people out there waiting for you to come and play. […] at the end of the day, whether you’re Bruce Springsteen, or whether you’re Little Simz, or whether you’re Hamish Hawk, you’ve just got to do the show. Someone has to do it, and it’s going to be you.”
“Five minutes before you go out, we’re all just pacing, walking in circles. It’s an absolutely terrible scene.”
“Sometimes there’s just something in the air and you feel more nervous than you might otherwise. There’s no controlling it. […] On an evolutionary level, it’s a really bizarre thing to do. It’s landing in front of hundreds of people and essentially being open to immediate negative feedback. Fortunately, these days, I’m humbled and delighted at the audience response to our shows”.
Fans are something that are very important to Hamish, and the community that has been cultivated around his music. “The advice I’ve always given myself is not to is never to have expect too many expectations in place. I’m definitely someone that goes with the flow, and is in it for the ride generally, and is generally grateful for what comes. If you’d have told me several years ago that I would be playing a sold-out at Gorilla, I wouldn’t really have believed you at all […] it’s bewildering, it’s really astounding. And I’m just so humbled by it, because the feedback that we get from the fans at the shows and people sending me message on social media. It’s a lot to take in”.
On his relationship with fans, and whether he’s protective of his fans, Hamish is hesitant to take ownership. “They do a real service to the band […] I wouldn’t say I’m protective of my fanbase but I’m very proud of them, if I can be proud of them, if I may. I think they reflect really well on us. If that’s the fans we’re accumulating, then I’m happy with the direction we’re going.”
Lyrically, Hamish Hawk has a beautiful knack of imagery. His writing process is meticulous and it seems like his life is forever intertwined with writing. “I’ll accumulate notes, phrases, idioms, things I hear people saying. Sometimes people come up to me and me and say, ‘I’ve got a good word for you’, and I’m like ‘that doesn’t really do anything for me that word’”, he laughs. “I’m generally inspired by language wherever I go. Because I always think it’s fascinating. It’s the one thing we all have, it’s the one thing we all share, and yet it’s also something that can make us completely unique […] I’ll usually collect phrases , and then I’ll get a feeling of ‘this is the time’. I don’t sit down trying to write a song about a certain thing, but I get the sense of being ready.”
“It’s a very sensitive feeling. It’s sort of like you’re under a time pressure. If I don’t sit down and do this, I might lose it. It feels very much like a fleeting thing; I pretty much drop everything […] and often, I’ll only know what the song is really trying to say after it’s written.”
Song-writing is a sacred thing for Hamish. When asking whether he asks for feedback from his friends and family, he suggests this is something he shies away from nowadays. “I wasn’t too sheepish about it [in the past]. And I must say, shout out to my dad, because he’s my biggest fan, but I didn’t play him anything from it [Angel Numbers] […] I used to send things around, and then they became sacred. Maybe I’m not ready for feedback when I’m able to change something.”
“It is what it is’ is a lesson I’ve come to learn. Don’t fiddle with it […] it’s in the tinkering that things go wrong, because you can just overwork things to the point of destruction”.
Angel Numbers is a forced to reckoned with. It dovetails genre, and found within it is beautiful and affirmative lyricism. The tour show perfectly showcases this, and it feels that Hamish Hawk’s peak is not in sight. Meaning is found everywhere in Hamish Hawk’s music; and even in the title to the album. I posed to him the question of what his angel number is. “I’m a sceptical person, and the idea of angel numbers, I don’t necessarily buy into it, however I definitely have an answer to your question. I don’t know what those in the know know about this number, but my number is three. It crops up a lot.”
“Three’s the magic number. Thank you angels.”
Hamish Hawk is on tour now.
Angel Numbers is available to stream everywhere.