Photo: Lissyelle

Torrential Joy: A Q&A with Hatchie

Earlier this summer I found myself ambling around in Nashville’s State Capitol, and I stumbled upon the following stone engravement. “The main stem of the Hatchie, which has not been dammed or channelized, is the largest unaltered river in Tennessee.” Though the moniker of Harriette Pilbeam had a different origin story, comparing Hatchie’s current artistic phase to this huge, unchanneled river seems pretty darn apt.

Pilbeam’s second LP Giving The World Away feels like a coalescence of the epic open-the-floodgates variety. In the 90s, imagining the perfectly engineered amalgam of Kylie Minogue and Swervedriver would certainly draw a scoff. But with Hatchie, well, somehow we’ve arrived at exactly that place. This album screams ‘all-embracing’ in all caps, tractor beaming the inherently introverted traits of shoegaze and dream pop to mainstream walhalla. And yeah, the result is pretty damn glorious. We sat down with Pilbeam to find out more.

You described your music on Twitter like ‘heart hits the ceiling-gaze’ which made me laugh because it’s kind of a subversion to the whole shoegaze thing. How did you come up with that? 

It’s a lyric in my song “Lights On” and I think it really aptly describes my music. Especially In the early days I was trying to focus on making very euphoric sounds. This one I wanted to make very melancholy, melodramatic, super emotional sounds that were pegged carefully with the lyrics. That kind of overwhelming feeling of hearts hitting the ceiling encapsulates all of that, hopefully. 

People commonly associate shoegaze with introversion or maybe introspection. Your previous album Keepsake still upheld some of those characteristics, but Giving The World Away indeed seems to go fully into stargazing mode.

Going into this record I knew immediately I wanted it to sound huge and I wanted it to hit you really hard and fast. I didn’t want to mess around, and sing songs that were essentially acoustic ballads. I did that a bit with my previous releases, so I changed the game for myself. But with the lockdown happening in the middle of it, I ended up meeting in the middle – still writing those songs wearing my heart on my sleeve but pairing them with that bigger sonic sound to kind of tick off both boxes. I think that makes it so much more interesting for myself and the audience attending the show. 

You talked about not being tied to your instrument as much, being more a free performer. It reminds me a bit of Mitski too, who also started on bass before she started acting out the songs more. Have you figured out how to kind of approach the songs as a physical performer, not just as a musician? 

Yeah, it was definitely a process. It’s funny you say that about Mitski, she’s so physical during her performances. I can’t even imagine her playing bass now. I definitely felt a little bit trapped behind the bass a couple of times. I couldn’t really get fully into it and communicate with the crowd. Playing these last few shows without bass has really opened my eyes on what can be done.

For me personally, I think there’s a good sweet spot between really out there jumping around and dancing, and also just letting the song speak for itself. It took me a few shows to kind of get the groove of it. I really enjoyed not playing bass. I’m going back to playing bass for this next tour, for logistical and budget reasons. It’ll be interesting getting behind the bass and see if it’s any different now. Now that I have had a taste of the other side, maybe I’ll find it easier to connect with the audience. 

Is “Quicksand” a direct response to “Sure” lyrically? Or was it more of an accidental overlap of thoughts?

Yeah, it kind of sounds like it, right, with those lyrics? It is a bit of an easter egg; I definitely feel like I stumbled into that as I was writing it. But I honestly didn’t think of it in a really clever way. I didn’t notice it when I was recording it, but I’m glad you picked up on that. I started writing it in late 2019, it was a super simple pop demo. I was just writing for the sake of writing, I didn’t have anything specific in mind for Hatchie at that stage, because I was still in the middle of touring. My debut album feels like it didn’t come out all that long ago, I was still touring that. So it was very early days for this record. 

I had a few demos bouncing around, the lyrics didn’t mean anything to me – they didn’t mean anything at all, but I really wanted to push myself for Giving The World Away and write lyrics that were more important and spoke more for how I’m truly feeling rather than for the sake of a song story. I was feeling very dissatisfied with a lot of elements of my life at that stage. Not just being tired and exhausted from touring, but also other elements, such as my social life and other things going on I wasn’t really happy about.

Even though it seems on the surface everything was going well, it wasn’t feeling like that all the time. Even if you are successful and achieving all your goals, ticking things off of your list, sometimes it still feels like it’s never enough. If everything is technically going right, and yet I’m still unhappy with it. I messed around with some demos but the song didn’t have a direction. Joe (Agius) helped me restructure it and changed the lyrics to be a little more meaningful. Then we went on a writing trip to LA in February 2022, we were meeting up with Dan Nigro, who would be the perfect guy to work on the song with us. So we finished it there. 

The Dan Nigro thing must have been wild though from your perspective. You were standing on the sidelines with this album as he was taking off with Olivia Rodrigo. Like ‘that’s my guy!’.

Totally, because he’s worked with so many pop artists before. He was already so amazing to me, “Driver’s License” came out almost a full year after we’ve worked with him. It’s crazy seeing him at the Grammys and stuff now. 

“Take My Hand” was inspired by an entry of Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files. He answered how ‘the written word can put to rest so many imagined demons’. I wonder, did you also take up journalling or get something to concisely transcribe your feelings?

Yeah, I’ve gone through phases when I’ve journaled. During the lockdown definitely. It has helped me to understand my own feelings and figure out how to process them. I think I’ve gotten really good at identifying where my feelings come from – if I’m angry or upset or even jealous of someone, I can figure out why I’m feeling that way. I can trace it back to why it’s a feeling I shouldn’t be feeling. It has helped me exponentially with any area of my life. When I’m touring or traveling, it’s sometimes hard to keep it up, but I’m trying to get back into it now. 

Do actual song ideas manifest out of these journals, or is it like a separate thing to filter out things?

It’s kind of separate. It helps me figure out what I care about the most, what’s really plaguing my thoughts. Feelings of low self esteem, restlessness, it helped me figure out those things take up a lot of space In my head. That’s why I wanted to write a song about it, because it was such a big part of my life: looking in the mirror and not understanding or liking who I am. Especially who I was as a teenager. That’s why that Nick Cave letter really spoke to me and triggered that. 

He has found a really useful way to engage with fans through those entries. So how are you channeling your relationship with fandom?

It was a weird adjustment at first. I’m not very big or properly famous. I don’t have millions of messages popping up in my inbox or anything. I mostly get nice messages, but every now and then I get a mean comment or something. I don’t read comments on YouTube, because if I read one bad comment it can ruin my day. So I try to stay clear of that. But I have a Patreon where I communicate with some of my biggest fans so it’s been really nice to have that level of communication during the lockdown. It helped me more than I even realized it would. I feel really good about my connection with fans. Haven’t had anything weird happen as of yet.

The cover art shows you wearing angel wings. One of your contemporaries, Nilüfer Yanya, also used the imagery of wings. It evokes both a grounded element and a longing for transcendence, and it’s interesting to see two different artists use it in such close conjunction.

I guess there’s a few different elements to it. To begin, we kind of stumbled into that, because it was in the video for “This Enchanted”. Joe directed it, he was trying to introduce another visual element into my outfit to make it more interesting. It was partly inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Fiona Apple has worn angel wings on stage as well, there are so amazing photos of her from that moment. It definitely feeds into the idea of feeling like an outsider in a dark cityscape. The concept of the album is me figuring out my place in the world, but mostly, I hope the audience take their own meaning from it. 

That’s also a cool element of videos and songs, you don’t always have to depict your authentic self. It depicts a duality between writing close to your heart and more surrealistic imagery.

I definitely wanted to illustrate all the different sides of myself. Something I struggle with is feeling I can be a different version of yourself around certain people or certain situations. I’ve always found that kind of a hinderance. I’m trying to figure out how to use that as a strength. For example, on a song like “The Rhythm”, I’m super confident and the best version of myself. And I put myself on that pedestal.

That’s a different side, but just as worthy as the other side of me, which can be really depressed, anxious and difficult in day-to-day life, which I express through songs like Til We Run Out Of Air, The Key or Giving the World Away. It was important to be as truthful and honest as possible, but also to show there are different sides to me, depending on the day and what I’m going through.

“The Rhythm” is definitely this projectile of pure maximalist euphoria. Hearing it, it’s easy to picture the glee in the studio. “Hey, let’s toss more crap into this vortex of a song”, and realizing it just gets more awesome. It feels almost like it doesn’t matter what ingredients you could have tossed at this thing.

I wanted it to sound like everything all at once. I think a tornado is a good way to describe it, because on your first listen you never know what will be introduced next. There’s a chopped-up siren. There was a spoken word part that was scrapped and replaced with the orchestral hits. We wanted to make it super 90s as well, or like a video game soundtrack. I wanted it to be the extreme of where Hatchie could go – at least at this point of time.

Indeed we kept throwing things in as we thought of them. It kept getting bigger and better! We then added those Primal Scream piano-parts. Towards the end I was wondering, maybe it’s a bit too much? But then it was like ‘no, this is the one song we shouldn’t hold anything back on.’ We just went crazy with it. 

You have a major in studying the entertainment industry. Did that help you maintain a hands-on approach in your career?

I studied that because I actually had no idea what I wanted to do. I was really in denial of wanting to be a performer. I found the process and the idea of being an artist so daunting – that was kind of my roundabout way to get close to playing this role. But also being in denial about it. Through that degree, I kind of floated with the idea of not understanding where my place was and not really knowing what I wanted to do. I’m sure there are a lot of elements I have subconsciously applied to my music career – I had only been in a band for five years and I honestly found it a bit contradictory to my own experience of being in a band. 

So I found it really interesting how they told you how record labels work, how record deals work and things like that. I didn’t necessarily think that to be true. It reminded me how the experience is so different for everyone. There is not one part of it that suits everyone. Every artist is going to have a slightly different journey. But totally, it taught me to do what you’re super comfortable with, not let people tell you what to do or rip you off. There are definitely people like that out there. It taught me to be super-independent and smart about my decisions. 

Giving The World Away is out now via Secretly Canadian. Visit Hatchie’s website  for the latest news and tour dates.

Follow her on BandcampFacebookTwitter and Instagram.