Hazel English on Cults, Moving to California, and Her Debut Album ‘Wake UP!’ [Q&A]

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Australian songstress Hazel English made waves in 2017 with the release of her double EP Just Give In / Never Going Home. ​Produced by Jackson Phillips of Day Wave, the extended play embodied the thrill and blissful naiveté of English's spontaneous move to Oakland. English's breakout single, "Never Going Home," was a soaring testament to the singer's unexplored future in California. ​Just Give In / Never Going Home​ raked in over 25 million streams and landed her on Stereogum's coveted "Artists To Watch" list.

Three years later, English is back to share her long-awaited debut album. On ​Wake UP!​, she turns her gaze inward, posing self-reflective questions about happiness and purpose. With biting honesty and clarity, English explores everything from the downfalls of capitalism to the seesaw of power in relationships.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Hazel English via email to talk about her debut album, her move to California, and cults.

Ones to Watch: You released ​Just Give In / Never Going Home ​back in 2017. How do you look back on it now when you listen to it? 

Hazel English: It feels pretty nostalgic for me because it represents a specific time in my life when I was pretty carefree and just enjoying living in America. Every week I would bike up to my friend Jackson's place and we would record a song and that was what I looked forward to. Those are some of my fondest memories.

What was it about San Francisco that made you realize you wanted to stay after studying abroad?

I just fell instantly in love with the city, there was this pull that I couldn't deny and I just knew I was meant to stay. I can't really explain it other than something was calling me. It sounds cheesy but it's true. That was before I started putting out music, so I didn't have a definite plan or a reason to stay but I knew things would fall into place if I trusted my gut.

You've mentioned that you love thrifting. What are some of your favorite spots in the SF/Oakland area?

Yes I love it, I've been thrifting and buying vintage for over almost 15 years now. Some of my favourite vintage shops in the Bay are Minds Eye Vintage, Mercy Vintage, and Vacation.

You cite Margo Guryan as an inspiration in a recent Instagram post. Has Margo's experience in the music industry shaped how you view it?

Yes, I think about her experience a lot and to be honest I identify with it often. When you're an artist there are a lot of things that you are expected to do and when you say no, you are often met with a lot of resistance. It's difficult for those of us who like to do things our own way and don't enjoy being told what to do all the time. I think it's so badass that Margo basically said screw you to the entire music industry and walked away because she was not prepared to conform to the system. But at the same time I find it so sad that her music was basically buried by her label because of that. I find the music industry to be very rigid in that way. But I'm hopeful that things are starting to change for artists.

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Judging from the poster you shared on social media, the "Shaking" cult sounds amazing. What are some of your criteria for joining the cult, and where can we apply? Asking for a friend.

If I had a cult *wink wink* it would basically just be a place where people could come together and do creative things and express themselves however they want and feel free to be completely themselves. The only criteria would be 100% authenticity; leave your ego at the door.

The "Off My Mind" video feels like a '60s fever dream. Can you talk a little about where the idea for the video came from and what inspired it?

I knew I wanted to make a video from archival footage that would juxtapose scenes of mundane and repetitive activities with moments of pure joy and spontaneity to show the value of creating authentic experiences in our own lives. The song is about feeling stuck, so I used that theme a lot in the video, sometimes literally editing it to feel like the video was glitching or playing back in reverse.

What do you hope ​Wake UP! w​ill do for listeners in this unprecedented time? Any themes you think are particularly relevant right now?

For me, when people listen to the album, my hope is that they will be inspired to confront difficult questions such as: am I happy? Do I like the direction I'm going in this life? Do I feel connected to others? Am I actively engaging in life or just "going through the motions?" Also, and I feel this is possibly the most important one: how can we do better as a society? This pandemic is really showing all the flaws in our system and I feel like it's now time to start thinking about how we can rebuild our future.

Who are your Ones To Watch?

Lila Drew and ​Frys​.

Listen to Wake Up! below:

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