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Hatchie: ‘I Didn’t Realise How Good I Have It’

21 April 2022 | 11:10 am | Bryget Chrisfield

“I think I forget that good things that are happening to me that might seem normal now, didn’t even seem possible a few years ago. So I really need to sit and reflect on my present more.”

(Pic by Lissyelle Laricchia)

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Hatchie’s stunning new album release, Giving The World Away, is worlds away from her previously established dream-pop universe (see: 2018’s Sugar & Spice EP and 2019’s debut LP, Keepsake). When told standout album track The Rhythm gives us industrial, Gary Numan vibes, Hatchie (aka Brisbane-bred artist Harriette Pilbeam) looks chuffed before admitting that translating this particular track song for her recent live performances around the country “was a bit of a process”: “I think one of the main things with us is figuring out the drum sounds. Because we do have some live backing tracks, so we can sample some stuff, but we wanna do as much live as possible to really get that live sound, I guess, so it doesn’t feel like we’re like cheating... We got there in the end.”

During previous Hatchie tours, Pilbeam has played bass as well as singing, but she’s temporarily cast her beloved bass aside for her latest run of Australian shows. “I’m just singing at the moment,” she clarifies, “but I think we’ll be changing that up depending on where we’re touring. In America, we’ll be driving around and it’s a lot easier to have one less person in the van. So I think I’ll be going back to playing bass rather than getting someone in on bass, but we’ll see.”

We can’t help but wonder whether Pilbeam had separation anxiety when she first took the stage, sans bass. “A little bit, yeah,” she allows. “I definitely didn’t realise how much I have been hiding behind the bass; I think in some ways it’s easier, because you really can just stay in one place. If you’re singing into the mic and holding a bass, you can’t really do much so the pressure’s kind of off in some ways. But, in another way, it means it’s really hard to connect with your audience when you’re stuck in one place with just, like, your eyes moving around. So I think there’s a really fine balance that I’ve managed to find after a few shows of no bass, but it took a little bit to figure out, for sure.”

When asked how deliberate Hatchie’s sonic evolution was during the making of Giving The World Away, Pilbeam explains, “I really wanted to step it up and kick it up a notch and write songs that were for bigger stages and for, you know, really specific visual and light shows, and I really wanted to match that energy. But it was partly just a natural progression, with my confidence from being in bands for ten years and being in this project for – I think it’s coming up on five years now! But it was definitely gradual and took me a while to get here. I think the show now is very different from a Hatchie show you would’ve seen four years ago.”

Formerly a member of Go Violets (before they disbanded in 2014), Pilbeam also fronted the indie-rock band Babaganouj – singing and playing bass – but made her solo debut as Hatchie after quietly uploading her debut single Try to triple j Unearthed back in May, 2017. Hatchie quickly became a buzz act and, looking back on her rapid ascent during this time, we wonder whether she perhaps struggled with Imposter Syndrome. “Oh, yeah, for sure,” Pilbeam admits. “I mean, I think most people do. Especially because of how quickly everything happened in that first two years, I felt like nothing could have prepared me for the progression I had – which was amazing, but it was definitely difficult to keep up with emotionally so, yeah! It’s been a really wild journey.”

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While Hatchie steadily gained traction, Pilbeam supplemented her income working in “cafés and stuff like that”. “I quit the last [café job] in 2018 when we went to South By Southwest,” Pilbeam details, “and then I managed to just live off touring. And I moved back into my parents’ at that stage as well just to kind of make ends meet.”

But then when Covid the fun sponge hit, Pilbeam’s hopes of making a living from her chosen artform alone were immediately dashed. “I did about 12 months in retail and then I started a Patreon, where I share music and do special releases every month,” Pilbeam shares of how she managed to eke out a living once touring ground to a halt. “I honestly didn’t mind retail; I think retail’s better than hospitality. But, I mean, there’s good and bad in both worlds.”

When told this scribe’s go-to anxiety dream is being thrown in the deep end, working in a super-busy store for the first time and not knowing what to do or where anything is, Pilbeam sympathises, “Oh, I hate that! I know exactly what kind of dream you mean – it’s awful!” Has Pilbeam had any recurring nightmares? “What do I have?” she ponders. “I’ve had bad dreams to do with touring, definitely. I had one nightmare where my band was all too drunk to play and they messed the show up, which was a really terrible one. And that’s never happened, but maybe it’s a hidden fear of mine? Yeah, I guess being unable to play a show is definitely a fear of mine, particularly because – before the pandemic – I think we used to play shows no matter what. I played shows with hardly any voice, I played shows when I had a vomiting bug and it never felt like an option to cancel shows. Whereas now, with Covid restrictions and things, cancelling shows – or postponing shows, at least – feels almost normal. So I think, yeah! I’ve had a lotta dreams about having to cancel shows and it being the worst thing in the world.”

We discuss how emerging artists often say yes to absolutely everything, because they’re worried that knocking back even a single opportunity could mean they miss their ‘one shot’.

“There’s definitely a delicate balance with that,” Pilbeam offers. “I know that over the last few years I’ve definitely realised that I was saying no to a lot of opportunities, whether it was interviews or shows or writing sessions with artists. There was a lot of things that I was saying no to, ‘cause I wasn’t quite comfortable yet. And sometimes that’s definitely for the best, but sometimes I think you do need to say yes to things that scare you and take a leap of faith. So, again, it’s about finding that balance of going with your gut and definitely pushing yourself in some ways – and saying yes to a lot more than maybe you were previously – if you really wanna make a change. But also not getting yourself into uncomfortable situations.

“A lot of it comes down to who you work with and, yeah, just working with people that you really know and trust, which is definitely what I do: I like to work with the same people for a long period of time rather than jumping around a lot... I’ve done the whole project with my husband Joe [Agius, formerly of The Creases] from the beginning, we collaborate on everything. And I think the only thing that’s really changed is my record label in the US [Hatchie signed with Secretly Canadian in September, 2021] – just because we kind of took the opportunity to move to a bigger team that could cover more ground internationally.”

In February 2020, Pilbeam and her husband Joe – who is also a member of Hatchie’s touring band – went to LA to collaborate with some different songwriters. “That was really like a test, that trip,” Pilbeam points out. “Joe was the only person that I felt truly comfortable writing with at that point... We feel comfortable nutting out ideas and just figuring out what’s the best for the song, and not really worrying about ego or anything like that, and, yeah! I think we have a shorthand language for everything as well, so we get things done a lot quicker. And we can fill in each other’s gaps with knowledge – and our ability on different instruments and things like that – so it works really well.

“It was really important to me that [Agius] was a part of that process as well, because we really understand each other creatively – and personally – and it makes the whole process a lot easier and, yeah! We really see eye to eye on everything, so it just made sense.”

After spending “just under two weeks” working with a few different songwriters (Pilbeam: “We did something like eight sessions in eight days. I think we had one day off in the middle”), some successful new songwriting partnerships emerged. “Four of the songs from that week ended up on the record, including two songs that we did with Jorge Elbrecht: This Enchanted and Lights On – those were two really important songs to me; I knew they belonged on the record and they really dictated how the rest of the record ended up sounding. So it was a really great trip and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t go back and continue working on the album with Jorge [in person] as we intended to, because of the pandemic, but he ended up producing the whole record over the internet. And we’ve since gone back over and done more writing with him, so it’s been a really good collaborative relationship.”

Giving The World Away’s lead single This Enchanted (released in September, 2021), boasts uplifting, anthemic keys – a nod to piano house – and calls to mind Saint Etienne to this pair of ears. When this early-‘90s UK indie-dance outfit is mentioned during our chat, Pilbeam beams broadly, “Yep, totally. Saint Etienne was exactly who we were talking about when we did This Enchanted, so I’m really glad that you’re picking it up.”

This Enchanted’s accompanying film clip stars Pilbeam sporting white feathered angel wings not dissimilar to those worn by Claire Danes as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. This homage was “kind of accidental”, however: “The wings were a last-minute addition to the This Enchanted video shoot. We were shooting that night and Joe – who directed the video as well – decided that it needed another element to add a bit of interest and a bit more depth, I guess, to the story. ‘Cause it makes you think a bit more about where the character is walking to and from – you know, has she come from a party or something like that? I like that I’m looking out into the cityscape and I think someone from my record label, when we sent it to them, remarked about how it looked like I was a fallen angel from the sky who was trying to figure out where to go next. So I like that it kind of creates a bit of mystery.” A still from this music video also graces Giving The World Away’s album cover. 

Pilbeam felt inspired to write another of the songs on Giving The World Away, Take My Hand, after reading one of Nick Cave’s poetic responses to a question – submitted by a 16-year-old girl who was struggling with body image issues – on his website, The Red Hand Files (excerpt: “I often wonder how much accumulated misery a hotel mirror contains as it reflects back at us what appears to be our essential self”). 

“I had started writing [Take My Hand] – I had the demo going – but I didn’t really have a direction in mind and I wasn’t sure where to take it,” Pilbeam recalls of this particular song’s genesis. “I think I had some basic lyrics in there that weren’t really specific to any experience, and didn’t really tell you much about myself personally, and I really wanted to explore something a bit more important to me. And I don’t remember how I came across it, because I’m not like a regular reader of that series [The Red Hand Files], but I was reading that particular message that he’d written to a young girl who was struggling with her body image and it really spoke to me. Because that’s something that I have struggled with a lot, particularly when I was younger.

“And it was something that I’d never really spoken about in my music, but it’s such a big part of my life so it felt odd to not address it. So I really wanted to explore that theme. And [Cave’s response] was kind of a kicking off point for it, because he had some really lovely advice for her... Someone like Nick Cave, who I would never guess could relate to that feeling a teenage girl was experiencing – you would never think that those two people had such a shared experience. But it can be really comforting to know that someone like him could at least somewhat understand what she’s going through.”

While writing this song, Pilbeam also happened to be reading a collection of essays, Trick Mirror: Reflections On Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino, which contained “some really personal moments of self-reflection” from the author. Pilbeam then explains how this work informed her own lyric writing: “Just how personally she went with it really encouraged me to dig a bit deeper and not really spare any detail when it came to emotionally exploring my past, I guess.” 

The second single to be lifted from Giving The World Away, Quicksand features a bleak, almost gothic bassline during the verses. But as soon as the immediately catchy, upbeat chorus enters, you’ll wanna make a beeline for the nearest dancefloor. Within this song, a couple of autobiographical phrases – “I used to think that this was something I could die for/ I hate admitting to myself that I was never sure,” and, “It's all I know and I'm taking it back” – perfectly illustrate Pilbeam’s commitment to opening up and revealing more of her authentic self via lyrical content. 

Pilbeam reflects on writing Quicksand: “There were elements of me feeling really unsure about what I wanted for so long, whether or not it had panned out exactly how I wanted it to and, if it had, whether it was what I still wanted, and, yeah! It definitely applies to my music career as well, but – at least at that point in time –  it really applied to every element of my life, whether it was my romantic relationship or my friendship or, you know, things that I was going through personally. 

“It really was like every element of my life was just seemingly perfect and what I had always wanted, but I wasn’t sure if it was still what I wanted. Whether it was, yeah, really big life things or really little things, it was just this overwhelming feeling that I had to really process.

“And whether it’s, like, some sort of positive progression that I had with my mental health, or a friendship that I’ve managed to improve, or something to do with my music achievements – or anything, really – I think I forget that good things that are happening to me that might seem normal now, didn’t even seem possible a few years ago. So I really need to sit and reflect on my present more, because I was really focusing on my past – and my future – way too much and getting really anxious and overwhelmed and disappointed, and I didn’t realise how good I have it.”

So it sounds like Pilbeam’s enforced break from touring actually strengthened her resolve. “It definitely reminded me how badly I want it and how hard I’m willing to work for it,” she agrees. “I hope that I’ll never complain about touring again, ‘cause I definitely miss it a lot more than I thought I would. So I’m promising myself that I’m not gonna take touring for granted ever again, because it’s been really hard not having it.”

At the time of our Zoom chat, Pilbeam and her hubby were packing up their house: “We’re going over [to the States] for shows and I think we’re gonna be moving around a little bit, but our home base is gonna be LA for at least a few months in between tours.” 

Aside from LA’s outstanding Mexican restaurants, what else does Pilbeam rate about The City Of Angels? “Oh, Mexican restaurants is definitely the one,” she concurs, before adding, “I think the fact that you can go to the dingiest bar and they’ll make you a margarita – it’s just standard over there – whereas here people are like, ‘Um, no, you can have a vodka, lime and soda’,” she laughs.

“Also, I think it’s such an incredible creative hub; not just for songwriters and musicians, but for everyone in the arts industry. We went over for a few months at the end of last year and met so many people that we really wanna work with. And made a lot of new friends as well, because everyone’s kind of there for similar reasons. So it’s a really vibrant, fast-paced place, but it’s also got a few similarities to Brisbane in terms of the weather and the fact that it’s just sprawling suburbs and less like a city.”

So is Pilbeam a frozen or classic margarita gal? “I go for both. I like a spicy margarita as well, but I don’t discriminate when it comes to margaritas. I think a frozen mango margarita is a bit of a game changer as well, so I highly recommend that.”







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