In Conversation With…HIGH HAZELS

Before embarking on their mini-tour, starting in October going through to early November 2017, we had the pleasure of speaking to James Leesley of Sheffield born-and-bred quartet High Hazels. Their sound is timeless, bringing together a touch of Hawley and Ryder-Jones.

We talked all things Pulp, Studio Electrophonique and album details whilst the lads prepared for their show the following night in Leeds.

First show of the tour in Leeds tomorrow, what’s the general feel like amongst the band? Nervous? Excited?

I think a touch of both. We’re all individually slightly nervous but we never mention it. We’ve just come out of studio so… you never feel like you’re bang ready, but we might be I reckon after tonight.

For people who haven’t been to a High Hazels show before, what can we expect?

We don’t dive around the stage, that’s one thing we don’t do yet. I suppose we’re trying to create an atmosphere through our songs where you’d stand and, sort of, be really engaged into it, you know what I mean? Not many distractions, hopefully, so you’re lost in it for a bit of time. That’s the sort of gigs we go to. We do try and make something visually happen as well, but more a sort of mesmeric type thing, if we can. It’s not always easy if there’s a bar… Everyone just [stands] chatting at the bar. We’ve not played a huge amount for the time we’ve been going but when we do play, it can be a mixed bag but the people that are into it, will be really into it… not really chatting about anything, just zoned out. Usually, the crowd gathers if we’re playing somewhere that we’ve not played before. Leeds, London, and Brighton, we’ve played all those places before and it’s been quite a while so hopefully, people sat on the music when they first got to like us, and they’ll have got their selves some tickets, but we’ll soon find out. I suppose that’s why we’re slightly nervous and apprehensive.

You’ve been busy in the studio, will you be previewing some new music on this tour?

We were hoping to release some, but we’ve not had chance to ’cause they take a lot longer than you envisage. We’ve been rehearsing a couple of tunes that we’ve done in the studio and we think they’re about acceptable to play. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when that’s the thing we’ve been focusing on, trying get what we’ve done in the studio [and] sort of do it justice in the short space of time before we play live, but we think we’ve done that, so yeah there’ll be a couple of new tunes.

What’s the songwriting/recording process like for High Hazels? Do you find it easy?

Its developed differently over the years. If I have an idea… usually if it’s a melody or something, I can bring it to maybe Anth (our drummer) or Scott (on guitar) bring it to practice and wait for ears to prick or not to prick and then go from there really. I think that’s the thing that takes quite a while, the fact [that] we’re collaborative. There’s four strong opinions in the mix so it’s easy to suffocate things, but I think we’re learning to let it grow before we really take a hold of it. We’re doing that tonight actually, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I was just recording while [the phone] rang but it might not be good, I don’t know, it’s still early days. Then we do a little recording of [the song idea] whether it be on the phone or on the laptop. We’ve got a very primitive set up in Anth’s attic, so we try and get them down and send it to a potential producer and they’ll give us pointers. Then take it to the studio and see… we usually rip it apart. Usually the basis of the song we’ve captured, we try and keep that throughout the song. It’s a long drawn out, but exciting and good, process at the same time.

Are you a studio band? Or do you prefer performing more?

I don’t think we’ve fulfilled, potentially, what we could achieve live. We’ve recently had a lot of time on the songwriting side and thought, right, we’ll worry about playing live when the time comes. I think musically you can do a lot more and you feel a sense of achievement because its usually the first time you’ve got things where you want them to be after a lot of hard work so the playing live, I guess, you feel like it’s everybody else’s by the time you’re playing it live.

Being a band from Sheffield, do you feel a lot of pressure to live up to a certain standard?

Not particularly no. I think we, as a four, have the same expectations. We’re doing it for us, musically, like our own reasoning, we’re not doing it to particularly earn money, we’ve always done it to put something into the musical world we feel is worthy of people listening [to]. It gets you into the music scene, I suppose, where you’re from, if it’s really buzzing which it were at the time when we were young. It’s sort of irrelevant to us personally. I mean other people, I think, like to associate bands with scenes and places. It’s more of a burden to us as opposed [to] a good crutch sometimes ’cause you end up being pigeonholed, so we spend a lot of time trying not sound as people might expect.

Who is your favourite Sheffield band?

If I had to pick one, I mean you’ve got [briefly distracted] nice! Our drummer’s got my jacket on [laughs]… well, there’s Pulp and Arctic Monkeys of this modern era, so those, and Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker individually, all of them. I think ABC and things are a bit before our time. I’d probably say those. Pulp, when I’m in the mood for it.

Who are you listening to at the minute?

We were just discussing an artist we saw at La Route Du Rock in France recently. We went to Saint Malo to watch a festival and went to watch Allah-Las and we caught a lad beforehand called Andy Shauf… he’s got an album out called ‘The Party’ which is quite up our street. That’s the most recent I’d say but there’s your National‘s, people like that. They’ve just released their new album so been listening to that. Those two.

We hear that the band has recently taken up a DJ residency in Sheffield, can you tell us more about that?

Basically, it came about as we were not in a lull musically, but we just wanted to do something else, you know, as a band, together, and we just figured that there [wasn’t] much going on musically at night for us, you know, sociably to go listen to, so we just thought why don’t we try ’cause you see loads of people doing it. Not that we could DJ but it’s basically just playing as much vinyl as possible with the odd bit of iPod as backup just in case it cocks up but we’re alright at it now. It’s turned into a bit of a night, as friends come out and people who like music. The motto is we play every record to the end even if it’s like 12-minute Joy Division type thing. We just play what’s in our own record collection, or anything we’re listening to… It’s called ‘Studio Electrophonique’. In Handsworth (where we’re from) there’s a little estate over the back where we used to live, and Pulp used to, well they did their earliest recordings there. It were a bloke called Ken Patton, he had a little council house, semi-detached, just up back from where we grew up and he called it ‘Studio Electrophoniqie’. It sounded exotic. So, Jarvis Cocker and his pals and a few others, they all recorded there. It were just like a two-up, two-down council house so we thought we’d call it that! I think we’re doing one around Christmas but it’s just a nice thing to do on the side.

What’s coming up for High Hazels for the rest of 2017?

We’ve just got these few gigs that are coming up, so that’s just got the live ball rolling again. Hopefully, we’ll be booking some more studio time just to build enough tunes – we’re aiming for an album some point next year. Definitely in the bigger picture, for the musical point of view, we wanna get enough songs to be looking at an album in the next sort of year and hopefully tour off that again, revisiting some of the places we’ve just been. That’s all being well, but we’ve got plenty of writing which we’re enjoying and we’re very busy doing it so it’s looking good [and] a few more Studio Electrophoniques!

High Hazels’ latest EP ‘Weak Sun’ (featuring the single ‘Sequin Eyes’) is available now via Heist or Hit – and can be purchased on iTunes here. Catch the band headlining Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield on 10th November 2017 (tickets here).

Photo Credit: Ryan Turton

Find High Hazels on Facebook and Twitter.

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