As a songwriter, he’s so engrossed in his craft that it’s hard to imagine another life for Edinburgh’s Hamish Hawk. The artist possesses an unrelenting eye for thoroughly idiosyncratic, yet strangely relatable lyrics, embossed on rousingly dramatic anthems on his breakthrough record Heavy Elevator. Now, as he gears up to play the Final Fling on New Year’s Day and release a new record in 2023, SNACK sat down with the erudite singer to discuss making connections, the importance of the arts, and being in it for the long haul.
2022 has been another big year for you. Have you had a chance to take stock of it all yet?
It really has just snowballed. When I was ostensibly performing solo over the past ten years, I was used to waking up in the morning and pushing the boulder up the hill. And over the past year, it has been my first experience of waking up in the morning and the boulder is already moving somewhat, and sometimes it’s rolling down the hill and I’m trying to keep up with it.
I am so grateful to be able to say this, but the opportunities are coming in thick and fast, and sometimes things whizz by, so you have to pause and acknowledge that they did actually happen and that it was a lot of fun. It’s easy to look back on things and think ‘that was great’ but it’s a different thing to be present and recognise how great it is here and now.
How important were your live dates for road testing new material and figuring out what would end up on your new album, Angel Numbers?
Absolutely invaluable. The songs are still being honed at that stage. It doesn’t take me a long time to write songs, but I am such a perfectionist that there’s only ever going to be an album-length amount to choose from.
So playing them live was less about choosing and more about cementing how the song was going to sound. It puts the song in a pressure cooker, and you also get the response from the audience which tells you things you might not necessarily know yourself.
For someone who invests so much time and effort in their lyrics, does it then make it harder to release them to the world?
I don’t feel too self-conscious about the content of the lyrics, or how the lyrics reflect on me, as I am so consumed with the actual process of writing. It’s not necessarily an enjoyable thing; it’s an all-consuming experience where everything else in my life falls away. But once the song is written and it goes out, that’s when I do worry about being judged. But I worry about being judged on the quality of the lyrics. Not on what the lyrics or the character say about me.
I have given some thought to how idiosyncratic and how particular I want to be if I want people to relate to the songs. But I don’t think it’s as simple as putting generalities and banalities in songs and hoping that everyone knows what that means. But if you are quite specific and true to yourself then people really love that, and I know that to be true of songwriters I love and respect.
In increasingly bleak times, how robust a defence against the world do you feel the arts still are?
I think they are absolutely imperative. I think anyone in my position or in a similar field would say the same. It’s almost not up for debate. One thing about art in society is that you might be able to monetise it, and you might be able to critique it, and there’s all kinds of legislation and infrastructure there making things more difficult, but there is also something completely untouchable about it.
Art exists in a world of its own and if the powers that be try to stymie its progress or silence its voice, they can’t. So long as people are songwriting, or painting or writing poetry or whatever it might be, I feel that art is impervious to the taxes that are levelled against it, and I think in the most difficult of times it tends to thrive. It’s very much a part of being a human being.
You are set to play the New Year’s Day Final Fling. How will you be spending your Hogmanay?
I think it’s going to have to be a sensible one. As much as I have had excellent Hogmanay celebrations throughout the years, I also find it quite stressful. You have the enforced sense that you must have a good time. So the idea that I am performing the next day is fine by me. I’ll have a wee dram and then bed and then… Soundcheck.
Do you find markers of time – such as the start of a new year – to be motivational?
For as long as I have been writing music and performing music I have known on some level that I am in it for the long game. So I try not to put too many expectations on short periods of time. I’ve certainly learned, since the release of Heavy Elevator, that keeping my expectations low, staying grounded, and just taking the whole thing as a bonus is the best way forward for me. And these days it feels like it’s going so well that I am waking up each morning with another bit of good news ,which is great. And kicking off 2023 on New Year’s Day with a show with Elephant Sessions and Tide Lines; that’s a cracking start to the year as far as I’m concerned.
Hamish Hawk will play Edinburgh’s Final Fling on 1st January, and Angel Numbers is out 3rd February via Post Electric
By: Craig Howieson