We speak to Richard Hawley about his home, his political beliefs and his hatred of fashion, ahead of next week’s shows in Spain. Roots, relish and why he will “NEVER discuss creativity.”
"Someone call 999” Alex Turner famously quipped on winning the Mercury Music Prize 2006, “Richard Hawley's been robbed!". Six years on, Hawley may well be compensated for his loss, as his latest release - “Standing At The Sky’s Edge” – is nominated for the coveted award. Hawley, however, is wonderfully blunt when asked how he is feeling about the prize: “I don’t care”.
It’s a response that is perfectly in keeping with his reputation as the quintessential Yorkshire Man. Indeed, his beloved Sheffield not only informs his manner, but also his music; at once bleak and tender, rugged and soaringly beautiful, his work is a reflection of the unforgiving landscape he calls home. He wears his roots with pride: the titles of many of his tracks refer to areas of his hometown, whilst he went so far as to stock special edition bottles of Sheffield-made Henderson’s Relish as merch on his 2007 tour. Hawley explains: “I live in Sheffield, always have and always will, I write about what I see around me”.
Furthermore, it appears the feeling is mutual. Richard Hawley is woven into the fabric of the cities thriving scene; founding The Longpigs, playing in Pulp and collaborating with the Arctic Monkeys alongside a prolific career as a session musician (rather fittingly, he was turned down for the backing band of Morrissey … a Lancashire Man). For the last 12 years however, he has been focussed on his solo career. It is here we talk to Richard Hawley, following the triumphant release of his seventh studio album and ahead of a world tour which features dates in Spain next week.
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There seems to be a bit of a sonic shift on your new album, with the guitar playing a central role again. Was this a conscious decision and if so what drove it?
Yes it was, I wanted to dispense with the orchestration for while and try and push the music in a new direction, I guess I always try and widen the ground I stand on.
However, the lyrics and vocal lines are still integral. Although not overtly political, it feels more politicised than your previous releases, perhaps infused by the anger on the streets to the current political situation. Is that something you recognise?
Yes, but I am not an overtly political writer. I tend to write about the fall out from bad political decisions, how it affects us on a personal or street level. We are led by greedy idiots who have very dangerous thinking.
Do you think having children has affected this? The feeling that mistakes made now have a palpable legacy.
Definitely I grew up in the Thatcher era in my country and she destroyed so much of our lives, it led to so much misery and I see it happening again. Our children, the world over, have less and less of a future and the rich have it all, it isn’t fair and it isn’t right.
All of your solo-albums are very much rooted in Sheffield; to what extent does geography affect your work?
I live in Sheffield, always have and always will, I write about what I see around me. I don’t know what it’s like to live anywhere else so why write about something you don’t know about? That would be false and I can’t do that.
Could you perceive writing an album anywhere else?
There is a strong musical history in Sheffield - Human League, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, Cabaret Voltaire – do you see yourself fitting into a specific lineage? Was there a strong scene while you were growing up? How does it compare to today?
Sheffield has always had a great music scene but a lot of the bands in the past weren’t successful even though they deserved to be. I think a lot of the younger bands have a lot more hope that they can achieve something these days which is a positive thing that’s come out of Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys and even myself I guess.
"I just make the music I want to without any concerns for trivial passing fancy"
You have spent many years working as a session musician. This has its obvious pros – collaborating with a diverse range of artists for example – but are there any cons? Did you ever find the years of playing on other people’s records limiting; for example people only seeing you in a specific role?
Not at all. I learned so much from the artists and producers I worked with it was a great learning experience for a young man. I learned to adapt to any situation and add a lot to any project, I am very grateful for all that time. I learned for free and got paid for it, invaluable experience.
Can you tell us a bit about your song-writing process? What comes first the lyrics or the melody? Is there a specific place you like to compose?
NEVER discuss creativity, you might make the song genie angry. Then she would leave me.
There is a timeless quality to your music – infused by retro sensibilities but informed by contemporary issues. It certainly doesn’t feel constricted by the whims of fashion. Is that something you consciously pursue? Where do your influences lie?
I loathe fashion, it’s meaningless, it’s more for business men to make money from gullible people. I just make the music I want to without any concerns for trivial passing fancy.
Although sonically it doesn’t really sit with the conventional view of “folk”; the drive behind your work seems to. Would you consider your work folk music?
Well Norma Waterson - who is a legend in the English folk world and a dear friend -describes me as a folk musician, but I don’t know what I am, I am just me.
How are you feeling about the Mercury Prize nomination?
I don’t care.
Finally, how’s the tour going? How does being on the road as a solo artist compare to doing it as part of a band?
I am in a band it’s just called “Richard Hawley” we’ve been together for 12 years - far longer than any other band I have ever been in.
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