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Feature Intro:After having won the Musician of the Year award at this year’s Folk Awards and playing with almost everyone from Jon Boden and Eliza Carthy to Hannah Ja

 

Feature Interviewer SF: Question

Feature Interviwee BH: answer

 

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Sam Sweeney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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White Horse Whisperers

Hattie Briggs: ‘It’s quite hard to write a sad song on a ukulele’

 

Following on from her BBC Young Folk award nomination, Hattie Briggs has released two albums in quick succession. Last year’s Red & Gold established her on the scene, but her new album, Young Runaway, sees her branching out into new territory. Shire Folk caught up with her on the eve of the album’s release.

 

SF: You were studying Russian at Oxford, how did you get into the folk music scene?

HB: I started writing songs when I was 17 and kind of fell into by accident really, then got really obsessed by it. So I was doing that for a couple of years quite casually and eventually recorded an EP at the end of 2013, and around the same time I was a Young Folk Award nominee, so I guess that was the starting point. That was what gave me some momentum.

SF: Was it the success of Shepherd’s Hut that persuaded you that this could be more than just a sideline while you were doing your studies?

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Hattie Briggs

HB: I think it was a combination of things. It was the reaction I was getting for that record, it was the nomination and also just the fact that I was so distracted by music that I honestly just couldn’t concentrate on anything at uni – it really just took over everything. It meant that I stopped enjoying the other things I was doing. I just didn’t want to be there any more. I knew that music was what I wanted to do at that stage. It kind of seemed like a good time.

SF: Oxford not to your tastes then?

HB: Well, I loved my first year, don’t get me wrong. If it wasn’t for having the music calling me I’m sure I would have stayed. I just lost interest in my course because I was so into the whole music thing. In my second year I just wasn’t interested any more.

SF: Who were your musical heroes when you starting out?

HB: I grew up listening to a load of singer-songwriters, mainly my mum and dad’s record collection, so people like James Taylor, Eva Cassidy, Elton John, kd lang, more recently Joni Mitchell, although I didn’t grow up listening to her. My parents were Beatles fans, so mainly singer-songwriters … it’s so eclectic … soul artists like Bill Withers, Louis Armstrong, that kind of thing as well. Really broad.

SF: One of the things that struck me about the new album is that it’s much more in a singer-songwriter vein.

HB: Definitely. To be honest, before the whole Folk Awards nomination thing I’d never classed myself as a folk artist anyway. So it’s much more that I have my feet in very different genre puddles, if that’s a thing (which I’ve just made up!) I prefer not to pigeon-hole myself. I think singer-songwriter is probably the best way to put it because I write all this stuff myself and it does cross over into so many genres. My influences are so broad – I think it’s nice to have a lot of variation on an album. Some to be a bit more Americana, some to be folk and some to be pop, you know. I really like that – it keeps it interesting.

SF: There’s a real soul feel to ‘Castle on the Sand’ and ‘Talk to Me’, so you’re getting into that area as well.

HB: Yeah soul has definitely influenced me as a songwriter, I think you’re right.

SF: This album comes quite quickly after the first one. Did you have the songs stockpiled or are these all new ones?

HB: This is fairly new stuff, to be honest. With the first album it was much more songs that I had for quite a few years; since I started writing. ‘Share Your Heart’ is the first of the songs on the album and it’s probably the seventh song that I ever wrote, then it just built up from there. For this album, the first song I wrote was ‘Lift Me Up’ and I wrote that just towards the end of the campaign for Red & Gold, so it’s probably the beginning of 2015. I had quite a prolific phase and just bashed them out really.

SF: It’s a very positive album. Did you have an over-arching theme to it?

HB: It’s funny you should say that, the debut album was definitely pensive and there were some quite sad songs on there or at least deep, emotional songs, and with this album I did feel like, especially from where I was writing the songs, doing what I wanted to be doing, I was in a more positive mindset when I wrote them. I also had in the back of my mind that it would be nice to do something a bit different to the first album – you don’t want to be writing the same songs all the time. That definitely had an effect. There was also the fact that this time I was playing the ukulele, which I didn’t do on the first album, I only picked up the ukulele quite recently. The nature of the instrument is that I was writing really upbeat and happy songs, which I hadn’t previously been able to do. That also helped to give it that positive vibe. It’s quite hard to write a sad song on a ukulele!

SF: ‘Digging to Australia’ seems like quite a ‘conservative’ song (with a small ‘c’) and it fits in with that whole positive vibe.

HB: With that one it was more just a bit of fun. There wasn’t a situation or anything that inspired it, I just went for a walk one day last summer – I did a lot walking last summer because I had an injured back – I was listening to a lot of new albums, looking for inspiration and because it’s a nice thing to do. During a walk I had that line for the chorus just come into my head and then I came back and wrote that song in an afternoon. So mainly it’s just a bit of fun – a summery tune. The underlying message I guess is that hard work and determination can get you where you want to go, but saying it in a very playful way. My guitarist Henry is from Sydney, Australia so that’s why I had the Bondi Beach thing in my head because he’s always going on about how beautiful it is and how we’ve got to go and tour out there. I’m taking the mick out of myself a bit as well for not being that rebellious.

SF: Did you never want to crank the amps up to 11 and get out the Flying V guitar?

HB: No I’m a very controlled and calm sort of person website, so the chilled vibe is more my sort of thing.

Hattie Briggs’s latest album Young Runaway is out now on Wise Dog Records

Jonathan Roscoe