Hatchie, aka songwriter Harriette Pilbeam, released her debut album Keepsake‘ on Heavenly recordings last week. A step on from her sublime run of shimmering pop songs that culminated in the release of her gorgeous debut EP ‘Sugar & Spice‘, that captured our hearts last year, it was recorded in a home studio in Melbourne with her trusted producer John Castle. With Keepsake she carves her heart into a cavernous pop universe, one that’s more textured, comprises more shades, and encapsulates more moods.
“It’s like moving on” the Brisbane songwriter tells us on the phone from Manchester at the tail end of a brief run of UK dates “I really wanted it to be something new and a step forward, not necessarily a step away but moving on from the EP.” I was initially surprised none of her previous singles had made the album, but Pilbeam was determined to not look back. “Especially because I wrote those songs so long ago and because those songs had done so much better than I ever expected them to.”she explains “they had already kind of played their roles in the Hatchie story, I wanted to just set up a whole new tone really.”
Keepsake does that and more so, inhabiting a space between crystalline synth pop and the dream pop sounds that she’s become synonymous with, it’s an album that offers greater rewards and emotional depths with each listen. The first single ‘Without a Blush’ is a snapshot of her shifting direction, its punctuated synths, sighing loops and percussive plunges are garnished with her effortlessly bittersweet melodies, her quivering tone pulling you into its attempt to recapture a moment of love. “There is no strict genre that it all falls under or that I was going for, which is what I wanted really. I didn’t have all the songs finished when I started to record but I did know that I didn’t want it to be as strictly cohesive as the EP was. That really worked for the EP, but I didn’t want it to get stuck in one sound for my own sake. I wanted to open up the doors to a few new sounds. I wanted to experiment with industrial sounds and kind of acoustic laid sounds, and some really washed out reverb songs.”
Wary of being tied to one pigeonhole, Pilbeam demoed the tracks on a computer at home, stripping the songs down to their bare bones, allowing her voice and the swathes of textures to shine. “I wanted to make my own mixture of sounds, I love that mix of shoegaze guitars with the more pop angle, and synths. There’s plenty of artists who just stick to one sound or thing and it really works well for them, but for me it wouldn’t work well. it keeps it a lot more fresh for me to mix everything, it keeps it a lot more interesting for me as the artist and the listener.”
Hatchie’s career in music started in her teen years and her path is one familiar to many musicians who join a band, yet it was at the point she struck out on her own that she found her own artistic voice. “I had just turned 18 and I was playing in other people’s bands and I’d written a few songs for those bands but it was nothing really serious, it was just casual and fun. But in like 2016 I started writing songs that I was a lot more happy with and taking it more seriously and I was really considering the production for the first time. That’s how Hatchie was born; I decided those songs deserved their own project which was probably like three years ago. I’d kind of been thrown into these other bands that had a particular sound that didn’t really suit my writing.”
With a glorious run of singles throughout 2017 and 2018 (Try, Sure, Sleep, Bad Guy, Sugar & Spice) that culminated in the release of her EP ‘Sugar & Spice’, Hatchie had produced a host of swoonsome bittersweet melodies, distilled the giddy ups and downs of love, into a shimmering pop soundtrack that has echoes of The Sundays, Cocteau Twins and early Cranberries. Yet retained an individuality infused with Pilbeam’s entrancing vocal tone and poetic diary of lyrics. So, Hatchie’s songs don’t just have brilliant hooks – they possess that rare ability to speak to you personally yet be universal at the same time.
“I was just writing by myself, and my friend Joe, who is in my band, helped me flesh out some of those demos. He helped me with the bridges and the structures and everything with those demos. Then I showed the demos to a couple of my friends and they suggested we hit up Joe Castle as they’d worked with him before and it had worked really well for them. They thought we would get along well and he would understand what we were going for. So Joe and I went down to the studio in Melbourne and recorded them properly with Joe, then another year later I released them and that was all of the songs on the ‘Sugar & Spice’ EP. We did two more with someone else but then we sent them to him to mix, so like ‘Sleep’ and ‘Bad guy’, we added on.”
Hatchie stole my heart with her second single ‘Sure’ in late 2017, before she even had a UK label. A gorgeous pop earworm carved out of gleaming glass was what hooked us in – her gorgeously wistful melody cascading across a backdrop of shimmering widescreen riffs and shivering synths that sound like rainfall from Heaven, is a diamond cut of pop. “So you wanna do it over? But is it really ever over?” sings Pilbeam on an impossibly catchy see-sawing chorus melody that has echoes of the melodies of The Sundays or the gazey guitars of Chapterhouse, her effortless tone and vocal performance capturing the bittersweet essence of what it’s like to fall in and out of love.
The first thing that struck me on first hearing her debut album was that the guitars weren’t as prominent on Keepsake as they had been on her EP. Opening track the heart on its sleeve ‘Not That Kind’ rustles with percussive shifts, glistening synths and embers of guitars, that give her refrains the chance to shine, her lyrics expressing in poetic detail what it’s like to be played with – a chance to unfurl over you.
The production is subtler, more sparse, more modern and pop, particularly compared to previous songs like ‘Sugar & Spice’ and ‘Sure’. “Maybe because I wrote so much of it at home demoing it.” She ponders “I was just getting a way of writing at a computer and I was getting way more interested in that as a way of writing an album and that was the most straightforward way of demoing them and getting my point across in a demo and then I guess it just stayed that way. Although I’m still super happy with it, I felt the songs on the EP were so overloaded with so many parts, but I wanted to pull back a bit for the album. Also, it’s really hard to recreate live when you have like 20 guitars like you have on ‘Sure’, so it makes it easier to recreate live too!”
The album title Keepsake comes from the idea of holding on to things she cherishes but it’s also a reminder of a moment in her life. “I first came up with the idea because there was a lyric in the song ‘Kiss the Stars’ “you can keep the heart from the heartbreak/I don’t need to sleep with a keepsake.” She recalls “I am still trying to figure out if I am a super nostalgic person or not. This album is a keepsake for me of this time in my life, so if I listen back in five or ten years time I will remember where I am now. I keep a lot of keepsakes too, I have a lot of old jewellery I keep and train tickets from when I travelled overseas when I was younger and tickets for shows, so the name made sense for a lot of different reasons.”
Her recent single ‘Obsessed’ bubbles and skitters with in step with keyboards and percolating beats, threaded with Pilbeam’s giddy singing, it possesses the perky charm of latter New Order careering into millenial pop. It celebrates the highs and lows of your friendships. “There aren’t enough songs about friends.” She points out “I really wanted to write a song about friendship because there aren’t enough songs about that. People always assume all of my songs are about a love interest, but I feel just as emotional about my platonic friends as I do any romantic ones. It’s about being with your friends and like becoming super close, then pulling away because I don’t feel good enough. Which happened when I was a teenager and I’d end up growing to hate myself.”
‘Stay With Me,‘ is another standout, a dreamy yet longing song that signalled a new beginning for Hatchie as she stepped out from her ‘dream pop’ idol tag. The swirling dancey synth stabs and beat dappled undercurrents, are redolent of Underworld or Chromatics, yet given the Hatchie spin. “It was written as a writing exercise in an effort to step away from my usual style into something more fun and dancey.”
“It was one of the last ones that ended up on the album, we didn’t plan that all! It was kind of written for fun, Joe started writing that song and I helped him finish it. We originally wrote it with someone else in mind but realized it was the perfect fit for my album as I wanted to expand into a different sound. It became one of my favourite songs on the record because I’m a sucker for crying-in-the-club tracks.” She reveals “I didn’t know if it would go on the album but I wanted the album to have lots of different songs and that one helped stretch it out even more. So yeah, it just kind of was half planned and half casual which I was really happy with.”
‘Her Own Heart‘, with its laid back jangle and yearning lovelorn tale, slides across glacial synth parts; it sees Pilbeam inhabit the experiences of the breakups she’s witnessed around her. Meditating upon how someone finds an inner strength post-heartbreak, with one of her most infectious melodies yet. “I started writing it from my own perspective but it was easier to just open it up from the perspective of someone else. I wrote it from the point of view of a girl who winds up on her own and embraces having to figure out who she is, who doesn’t let her life get turned upside-down like that.” She explains “I haven’t been through heartbreak, so much, so it was easier to look at it from the perspective of my friends and what they were going through. I didn’t want it to be purely factual or autobiographical because then I wouldn’t have much to write about.”
With so many different sounds in the melting pot, Keepsake is drawn from different influences and reflective of Pilbeam’s ever shifting playlist “I wrote it for over three years, so I have been listening to heaps of different things and you can probably hear what I’ve been listening to.” She notes “I mean the Horrors are one of my favourite bands and you can hear that on a few tracks, maybe ‘Unwanted Guest’. I was also listening to a lot of Curve and Depeche Mode, but also I am always listening to straight-up pop music like Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepson, also I love Beach House and Alvvays. And probably a bit more and around the time of the EP, I was listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins and The Sundays. Robin Guthrie did a remix of ‘Sure’. You can hear the different phases of what I am listening to through the music, I don’t have any shame in saying that I have a lot of influences, I’m not trying to pretend I’m super original or anything. I love New Order too. Even later New Order from one of the newer albums. They are one of my favourite bands, they are one of those bands who have stayed good and people don’t always realise that.”
‘Secret’ drips with subtle suites of synths and Pilbeam’s sighing voice; it eventually envelops the listener with its tides of majestic melody and tumbling percussion. It’s a song with a deeper message about sharing issues. “It was one that I wasn’t planning to put on the album. It initially felt a lot like my old single ‘Adored’ and I was like honestly, I don’t need to put it on the album, we’ve already done that. But when we got to the end of my session with John he asked me if I had any other songs and we started to work on it, he works super fast and played with it for like half an hour. I said you have to give me your suggestions for the structure because I’m just stuck, he made it build and grow I had it going at a really high tempo, but he brought it into being its own special thing and I kind of just slotted in the lyrics after that as I didn’t have any lyrics. I wanted to write a song about talking about mental health and talking to a friend and really opening up and letting them in.”
Hatchie and her band have recently finished a tour with Girlpool across America. “It was really cool, it was really full on!” She enthuses “It was like six weeks. Lots of driving – some a couple of really long scary drives – but it was worth it.” She also recently played a set at Primavera featival, in Barcelona. “It was just beautiful, there were sunsets every night, you feel the difference between festivals overseas. Australian festivals are awesome and definitely have their own culture but it’s so much more of a younger person’s game, they are usually 18-25 and go wild and get super drunk. But Primavera has a wider demographic maybe older which I really love, like a serious music lover demographic, and you feel like people are there because they love music.”
With festivals like Primavera working towards more of a 50/50 gender split in headlining artists, Pilbeam hopes the balance is being redressed on festival stages. “It’s a shame that they have to be ‘working towards’ but it’s cool that’s happening. Although it’s happening slowly, and it should never have needed to happen.” But has she experienced any sexism? “I am really lucky that I haven’t had too many in-person really obvious bad experiences but I know many people who have, particularly in Australia. But I think there is definitely more awareness now in Australia, though currently there’s plenty of festivals where they have only like three female artists headlining, which is bad.”
But what music is Pilbeam loving from Australia? “I really love Clea from Brisbane, she started off folkier like Laura Marling but her new record opens up to whole new worlds and I recommend it to anyone who asks me about music in Australia. I really like Emma Louise, who put out a really good album last year. I’m friends with Cub Sport too, who have been putting out some really great music.”
Hatchie’s Keepsake is a record to be treasured in 2019.