At a time when so many young artists are trying to out-Kanye one another on Instagram, Hazlett’s open about being innately human. An Australian singer/songwriter and self-proclaimed over-thinker who releases his music into the world gently, so as not to ‘disturb people’s lives’ — but add to them. You can vibe with his tracks because you can vibe with him as a human being and that’s precisely the beauty in what he does. He orchestrates an ethereal, synthesized vortex for our ears, but can still come down to Earth and show his insecurities. Here, he celebrates his individual triumphs, welcomes adversity and proves to be something even more underrated than a great musician — and that’s a really nice guy.
I read that you worked at an advertising agency which surprised me. What had made you delineate from music?
I did music from when I was like 15, but I started doing it professionally when I turned 18. I was in a band and we lived in Germany and then the band broke up and I came back to Australia and thought “Welp, I don’t really have a university degree or anything to help, what can I do? I guess I can play guitar!” But I hate singing in public so I started doing these pub gigs and then along came this girl that I met. She was like, “Oh you’re a musician that’s cool.” We dated for a bit and eventually she started [inferring] “….maybe you should get a serious job.” I was like, “Oh, yeah you’re right.” So I found the most creative job I could, which was at an advertising agency where I stayed for a year and a bit. Then the whole time I was there my publisher [who had] signed our band in Sweden heard this YouTube video that I’d put up a while ago and reached out again. “You should come out to Sweden and write and record with some of my producers.” And I said, “No, no I’m growing up now. I have a serious job! I’m becoming a big boy and getting proper pants.” Couple months later he’d make the same call asking me to come to Sweden and again, I’d say, “Can’t buddy, I’m sorry we’re in that really intense third quarter in the advertising world.” Eventually me and the girlfriend I was with broke up and he was like the first person I called. I was like, “Hey, uh, do you still want me to come up to Sweden because I’d love to get back into music. So the advertising was a brief foray out of music because I felt pressured to get out of music and also I didn’t know where I really wanted to go. So it was a weird time in my life. It was fun, but it was weird. Yeah, I secretly think my mum never liked her —
Ya know, she doesn’t sound like she was the one.
She wasn’t the one. It sounds like really wanky to say but I really love making other people happy so I get in this weird cycle of being like, “Oh, what can I do to make this person happy?” And I sort of forget about myself a lot of the time which is what I’m trying to get better at. My mom encouraged me to do something for myself for once because I don’t, usually. She was like, “An opportunity is there, take it.” So, I was like you know what, mom? I will. Thanks Mom!
Was it difficult focusing on your music and your emotions when you have that tendency to put others first and prioritize theirs ahead of yours?
No, I think it was this weird thing where…when I got back into it was the middle of winter ,so in Sweden…in the middle of winter…outside isn’t a very nice place to be. Unless its really sunny, then it’s beautiful, but it just gets really difficult to get around. So, I’m just like stuck in the studio the whole time. You’re in this weird environment where everything gets processed so much quicker, you know? You have to process it. Back home you usually have your friends to call up or you can go out with your family. For me, I was in a foreign country – as much as they speak English, it was just me and my thoughts, basically. Everything got processed a lot quicker because there was nothing to distract me from doing it. It was weird. It was good, though. I guess the process of getting over things and being with your friends is fine but this was just an extreme version of that – kind of like, let’s fast forward everything and get it all done in these few months while I’m recording.
How long were you in Sweden for?
I was there for 3 months at the time, which was so nice.
I read that you’re consumed by tiny little details that often go unnoticed, like those little nuances or uses of ambient tones in your music.
Yep…that’s me! (laughter)
Obsessive! Party of 1!
Was that something that came to fruition once you really focused on your music for those three months or have you always had that tendency to focus on minutiae like that?
I think it’s always been a bit of thing. No matter what I do I always look for weird things and think, “Oh, if we do it like this then this is going to be a subtle reference to this idea or subject matter.” I’d do that a lot in advertising, as well. Maybe it’s an overthinking thing…where I just constantly think, “Oh, someone might pick this up so let’s do it like that!” There are always little things, for instance at the end of the first EP I put a big massive synth to be completely different to the rest of the songs in the first EP. That was to try and make people think…”Why is this here?” because it doesn’t fit ,whereas now that we’re moving into the second EP, it all makes sense. There’s more of that synth and that tone rings throughout so, yes, little things like that where people can connect the dots or make their own interpretation through little details.
You’ve obviously focused a lot on streaming as a way of getting your music to people around the world – it might be an unpopular opinion but every time a band or artist tells me they need to make a full album to be taken seriously, I can’t help but disagree. Nowadays there is no real correlation between the two, you can be a big star and create great music without a full album. Back in the day – albums were of the times and the times have changed. Singles are added to playlists and people can creative a vibe with a lot of different artists and celebrate them in new ways.
Those musicians you mentioned are wrong and you can tell them that (laughter). It’s stupid. People start thinking that you’re trying to be super modern and go after streams. But I’m like, “Mate, what do you think The Beatles did back in the day?” If anything it’s a throwback to what people used to do.
It’s adapting to the new climate! Attention spans are not what they used to be…
That’s the whole reason that I did it the way that I did. When I wrote it in the three months, I’d be pairing off songs stylistically and seeing which packaged well together because I really liked all the songs that I did. Me, personally, and probably you – I listen to a whole album and I usually go to track 10 or some of the deeper songs because I know how people put albums together so I try to listen to those first. Or I try to listen to them in full, which is probably my worst habit. I thought if I put out ten songs – I’m a nobody – if anyone did listen to my songs they’d go, “Ah, right. Which is the most popular?” and just listen to that, they’d be done with it. If that doesn’t click with them, then its finished. Why do that and waste songs when I can put it in little 4/5/6 song EPs and that’s 20/25 minutes, so it’s your trip to work or someone’s gym session. People have that kind of time. It’s a bit presumptuous to think that you can take 45/50 minutes of someone’s time.
And to be fair, it allows a lot more artists to gain exposure and to have a shot when one of their tracks can be consumed so easily on a playlist or highlighted at the drop of a hat.
Yeah it will hopefully get better and better for artists moving forward, as well. I like streaming and being able to share music so quickly and broadly.
Did you watch any Skavlan while you lived in Sweden?
Skavlan’s like their ‘Ellen’ and he asked a question to Tove Lo that I really liked. I know that a lot of who you are is poured into your music and unless you make it an active choice not to – you’re divulging your perspective, thoughts on love, heartbreak and these very human experiences in your art. So, the question is: what would someone who enjoys your music be surprised to find on your personality test?
Hmm… I don’t have a good way of describing this but I have this very different maternal instinct about me. When I was in the band, we used to joke around that I was the mother of the band. I’d like made sure everyone was fed, to their flats on time, made sure they went to the gym a couple of times a week; just making sure that everyone is okay – this weird anti-musician. I’m up super early doing washing and making sure everyone else is okay. That’s probably one of the weirder about me but I don’t know how that would show up on a personality test. Maybe it would come across in a situational question: what would you do in this situation: would you keep drinking or make sure everyone gets home safe and tuck them into bed? I never realized I was like this until I started doing solo stuff and I wrote a couple of songs about it. It’ll be weird for my friends to hear since I don’t think I told them about those…but you’ll like it – it’s about karaoke in NY.
Nothin’ like karaoke in NY…
There’s even a celebrity involved…is that what we call a teaser in the business?
That it is!
My friend was doing Jimmy Fallon so instead of getting drinks we went and got a nice dinner. Italian food. We’re just sitting there and he gets a text from [someone] and I was like are you sure you want to go out? You’ve got a big day tomorrow. But we went, picked [the person] up and headed to karaoke. Super weird night and some of the lyrics are just super blunt about it just because there was no poetic way of saying them. I’d cued up Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and the intro starts and [the person] came up and snatched the mic and just went, “No, you can’t play this song, this is my song.” I was like, “WHAT? Are you serious? I was just so amped to sing in public in front of people.”
But the point of that story is that it was getting pretty late and I was checking in with my friend since he had such a big day the next day. He kept being like, “No, no I’m cool. One more hour.” That turns into two hours. We leave and I’ve got him under my arm on the side of the street because we got kicked out of an uber….we got to the hotel, put him into bed, got his phone on charge, tucked him into bed, said good night.
You know what your personality test would say?
I think when I got my personality test back with all those letters, it said that I shared traits with Nelson Mandela and I was like, “Whoa, whoa!”
I charged a guy’s phone, I’m no Nelson!
(Laughter) Don’t put me on that pedestal, come on now!
That can be the next title of your EP – just those letters and it could be you going in depth about the parts of your personality that no one sees and why we hide certain parts of ourselves.
See why do I need anyone else when I have you to curate my entire artistic direction?Don’t get a job in NY, just be an art director for me!
I can do both!
It doesn’t pay very well, I have to let you know.
I’m not getting paid well now so that’s cool.
Speaking of splitting your time – if you could split your stage time with one other musician or group, who would you choose?
How could you do this to me?
Pick a fun one!
Well it’s going to happen so it has to be the exact person I want. On one hand I want to do something super left of center to get a totally different vibe, but on the other hand it’d just be fun doing something with someone who does the same thing. For instance, doing something on stage with the guys in War on Drugs would be, like, amazing. Ryan Adams. But, then I’d also love to do something on stage with Donald Glover or Frank Ocean or someone like that – even Kanye. I love Kanye and I hate the bad wrap he gets from people.
I love Kanye West.
He’s the epitome of a polarizing character. You’ll walk down the street and it’d be a 50% no and a 50% yes. He’s awesome, he’s just so smart.
If you could curate your dream festival (with you headlining) – what five other artists would you want on the bill?
Oh, shit. Can I take me off?
What?! No, you’re the main attraction. We’re thinkin’ big time here.
Can I take me off and pick a 6th?
Sure, why not.
I think I’m gonna cheat on this question. I’d take the Watch the Throne crew so I could get Kanye and Jay-Z at the same time. I would get Phoenix because I need some upbeat vibes in there. I would get Gang of Youths because I need some emotional rock ‘n roll to get me through. I’d choose between Father John Misty and Ryan Adams which is funny because they hate each other. I’d choose — ugh, now I’m just reverting back to the people; what will the people want?! I think we’ll get some Anderson Paak in there. I’m gonna throw in a massive headliner that no one is expecting, so I’d reach out and see if either Hall and Oates (the kids need to learn about Hall and Oates) or Bruce Springsteen would play. I think this will be a very expensive festival.
Where would you want to host the festival?
It’d probably have to be some place in Australia because we have so many great places for it. But if we took money out of the equation…
Money has to be out of the equation.
It would be pretty amazing to have something in Central Park. The imagery of that, like being able to pack out a section of that park in autumn. Enough of these summer festivals where the bands are dripping with sweat and smelly. It’d have to be the fall.
For someone just learning about your music today, is there anything you’d like them to know?
Not really, I’d much rather everyone interpret the music for themselves. It’s funny, I was talking to my manger in Syndey the other day about press photos and I’d much rather not have any of that. I’d rather people just have the music but obviously the idea is that people like putting a face to a name or a body of work. At the crux of it is my yearning to put out as much music as I can – when I wrote ‘First World Problems‘ it was just me commenting on what I saw and something that was bigger than me. People’s tendency to ignore one another and not talk to each other anymore.
In a weird way, I guess I’m similar. I don’t film my interviews or post photos with bands or anything because that’s not why I interview them. I do it so someone can stumble on the site and find something of value to them – that definition of value being very subjective, obviously.
So you and me are in this vicious cycle where we’re stuck going, “It’s not about me, it’s about the music!” and it just keeps going around and around.
You can follow Hazlett on Spotify, Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud.