Even before we found ourselves in whatever this current global climate is, there were many of us that have had to deal with a regular feeling of being stuck and isolated. These feelings, exasperated by social media, have been one of the prevalent things of growing up and trying to find yourself while living in the 21st Century. Hazel English herself had been dealing with these feelings for a long while before there was any sort of quarantine. The Los Angeles based, Australian born singer songwriter had increasingly felt herself dealing with the emotional toll of feeling cut off from community and questioning if she felt happy with the direction her life was taking her. She decided that she needed to confront these feelings head on and used her gift as a songwriter to craft her own wake up call, one that has manifested in her gorgeous new album, aptly titled, WAKE UP! On the album, English asked herself a series of questions, “Am I happy? Do I like the direction I’m going? Am I engaged with my community? Do I feel connected to others?”, and explored the emotions entwined in these questions to find a way, if not to answer these questions, then to spark a dialogue with herself, to start the process and use it to also spark a dialogue with the listener to look inside themselves to find ways they can start to discover the solutions to whatever issues plague them.
“I feel like a lot of my writing and art comes from an existential crisis,” the thoughtful English says with a bit of a laugh. “I was starting to notice that I was feeling somewhat isolated and a little bit tuned out. I had fallen into cycles of addiction to social media and this need to buy things to make myself feel better. I really needed to wake up to this behaviour that was causing me to become anxious and depressed. I think there are environmental factors that are involved in things like social media that are designed to get us hooked and it’s up to us to stop this behaviour and that really set me on this journey of self realization. I wanted to figure out what was important to me and what I needed to discard.” English had recently moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area, and before that from her original home of Australia, and one of the things that really became apparent to her was that it made her feel better when she was experiencing things outside of a computer screen. “I think it’s really important to experience the world in a tangible way. I was spending too much time online and I felt disconnected from myself,” she explains. “It’s important to have real conversations that are meaningful instead of just small talk or these kind of socially expected conversations. When I moved to LA I was out and having these types of conversations that were making feel empty. Just asking people ‘oh, what do you do?’ type of thing and for me, I need to be more present and to connect to the world around me in a more meaningful way.”
A more meaningful way for English to connect was to start within the community around her and more importantly, the communities she wanted to be a part of. “It’s important to be a part of any community”, she says, “There’s my musical community and I also have a writing group here that is important to me. There are so many creative people in Los Angeles and I wanted to feel like I wasn’t just a transplant here, I wanted to be really engaged. To feel like a part of something greater than myself.” English knows that these days this type of engagement is becoming increasingly more difficult but with the release of her album it has expanded what that community looks like. “It is harder these days especially in the current climate to keep engaged in those communities but through my music and my bands and the people that support me, I am able to keep in touch with it all.”
Hazel English’s music is something that can definitely bring people together. Her songs as well as her style are rooted in this vintage late 1960s style. Clearly inspired by that era’s Los Angeles music scene, artists from Jefferson Airplane and The Zombies all the way to Sam Cooke, but it’s not just a pastiche or a form of cosplay. English has the ability to take the feel of that time and embolden it with throughly modern sentiments. From the album’s opening track “Born Like” and through singles like “Shaking” and “Five and Dime”, the record practically jumps out of the speakers, irresistibly, with hooks a plenty and just as much gravitas to make you reflect on where you find yourself at this point in your life. “I found myself really drawn to the vibe of that 1960s time period and the aesthetic of it all,” English explains, “but I found it was all very in line with the sentiments I was trying to express and the dynamic of that time was so appealing. It was what I was listening to at the time and when I get deep into a genre or style, I get obsessively into it,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like when you are younger you hear these hits and then when you get older, you listen again and you can have a different sort of relationship to the records. Like Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News. I was listening to that record everyday and would know what song was going to come next and the relationship that song has with the rest of the track listing and how it adds to the full experience and that was something I wanted to convey with my record.”
That kind of thoughtfulness is just part of English’s artistic process. The songs on the album were all fully written and processed before she had even taken a step into the studio and besides, as she says, “a couple of tweaks here and there”, the songs were put to tape as such. English does have a background in creative writing and that is not surprising considering the way she works but it was the risk that she took to pursue music that sets her ambition apart from others dabbling in both fields. “I was at this point, a kind of a fork in the road,” she explains about her career shift. “I was doing my masters in creative writing, which is a bit more of a structured path and had been writing and playing music for the last ten or so years but it always just kind of felt like it was a hobby. This option to explore it was a little more vague and the more risky path but I thought why not now to try and be a musician and give it that all I have and if I fail I can come back to writing later. I have to to try it or I’ll never forgive myself later.”
Now that English has taken the more risky path and excelled at it, she does find herself in the precarious position of having an album released during a global pandemic. Without being able to tour or promote the record in any traditional sense, English has turned toward social media, the thing that prior to this she had to wake up from. Now, though, she comes to it with a clearer understanding of what she needs to do to make it work for her. “It’s an interesting time and it’s a very alienating time now,” English says, “It’s a balancing act. How much time I can spend online and promote my album and how much time can I spend online connecting with my friends without feeling totally burnt out and exhausted? I feel like just recently I’ve been able to find that balance. I’ll delete certain apps at times where I don’t need to be on my phone but then I can re download them when I need them again. When the album was just released I was spending a lot of time online. It is important for me to be engaging, to the people that are sharing the record and I do really enjoy that process but I did find myself getting burned out spending all day on the computer. I have learned to give myself time off. It’s hard to make clear boundaries. I just have to be a bit more mindful and I have to be here doing this one thing and then I get off. Everyone has their own limits and that’s the balance you need to find. What you have to do for yourself in these times.”
While we all await what may come next in terms of how the world will eventually reopen, English has used this time to reflect on what is important to her moving forward. “I think for me it’s been more of a time to reflect on my own behaviour and trying to figure out how to be healthier in a lot of ways,” she explains. “How I can deal with anxiety and I’m starting to have a lot of revelations and I actually have this time to think about it,” she chuckles wryly. “If after everything I can hopefully come out of this as healthier person and take things less for granted. I think a lot of people will find themselves more grateful for what we’ve had.” Regardless of how we eventually come out of all this, it’ll be important to have artists like Hazel English who have the ability to be thoughtful, interested and with so much talent. We will need them around for the next phase of whatever this all becomes.
interview by Adam Fink