AM’s Greg Phillips chats to two emerging, talented singer songwriters Eliza Hull and Hayden Calnin.
Both Eliza Hull and Hayden Calnin have a great sense of space in their music. Knowing when to pause and how to maximise silence is as much of an art as the playing. Individually, they create soulful, atmospheric, reverb-laden electro-moodscapes, the kind of music which makes you ponder. To date, they have released two solo EPs each; ‘Dawn’ and ‘Ghosts You Never Catch’ from Eliza, and Hayden has delivered ‘City’ and ‘Oh Hunter’. Eliza is in the midst of taking the next big step in her career, recording her debut album. Hayden is producing. While they have found themselves at similar musical destinations, their starting points were quite different.
“For me,” explains Eliza, “it came from wanting to combine organic instruments like guitar and piano with an electronic sound. I started in the band Describe Eliza where I did that. I liked both and that band was a combination of it. Then for some reason I leaned toward doing more down-tempo songs, especially because I write on the piano.” For Hayden, it began playing in an acoustic rock band. “Then I got into electronica and it just kind of developed naturally,” he says. “Plus the music I listened to shaped it too… more than anything. I wanted to keep the lyrical thing going but venture into the electronic, soundscapey world. It naturally progressed into this.”
A few of the artists who have had a great effect on Hayden’s sound are S. Carey, Low and James Blake. Eliza blames 90s artists such as Lamb, Moloko, Sneaker Pimps and Portishead for her musical direction. However, having covered the ethereal thing for two EPs, Hull is keen to further develop her sound and is changing things up for the new album.
“I am doing a lot of co-writes with this one,” she explains. “I’m writing with Spender, Texture Like Sun, Japanese Wallpaper, Gossling, Ainslie Wills, Bertie Blackman, lots of little co-writes. I’m doing those as I go. The sound is quite different, a little bit more 80s inspired. The tempo is definitely faster. I am already planning film clips in my head where I think I might even dance, which will be a bit strange. I really want to push that. This is my year this year, I really want to give it a go.”
Hayden sees his production role in Hull’s album as “Piecing it all together. Whether that’s instrumentation or helping with structure or whatever. She’ll bring me something and I’ll try to make it work. The beats are fun. I am involved in a lot of it which is really nice. Unlike other artists I have worked with, I tend to do a lot more with Eliza … a lot more decision making. I think we work well together.”
Eliza is not only putting her heart and soul into the debut album, but also much of her finances. This one’s important to her. Consequently, she has acquired some sweet new gear. “I just bought some new keyboards,” she says. “I bought a new Roland Juno-G and also a Prophet, which is unbelievable. James Blake uses one on stage. I still have my old Micro Korg too. I wrote the whole last EP on that. Even though it only has a couple of sounds, it’s pretty good. Some of the bass in that is almost as good as the Juno but I am just tired of having giant fingers on this little thing. I’m not sure what I will do live yet, maybe I’ll use all three.”
For the guitar parts on Eliza’s album, Hayden is using a Dot guitar. “It’s a jazz guitar,” he explains. “I have used that for the last seven years. I run it through an Epiphone tube, which is pretty much designed for the guitar I bought. It’s real simple, real clean. I can just run all my effects through pedals. For my music I tend to use the Blue Sky pedal, which is a reverb pedal but also has some great modulation effects and a great pitch shifter. It kind of collects all the harmonics and trails off. Sounds like an organ or an orchestra on your guitar. I have started to run that through a few synths. I didn’t realise how good that would sound.”
Reverb is a massive part of both Hayden and Eliza’s individual sound but how does an artist know how much echo is too much echo? “A good sound guy,” laughs Hayden. “Actually, I use a TC Helicon VoiceLive which is a vocal processor with some great verbs on it. I take my preset verbs that I create, plug my mic in and it’s in my control rather than the sound guy. Kimbra uses one but she uses the Touch version which is controlled by the hands rather than the feet. Oliver Tank uses one too but he uses it more for effects, like the auto tune and correction and stuff like that. It’s a great little piece of gear.”
For couple of independent artists, yet to break through in a major way, Hull and Calnin have both had their fare share of amazing experiences along their musical journeys. For instance, they both had one of their songs used in the very same episode of hip American MTV show Awkward. “That was this weird coincidence,” reflects Eliza. “Even though Hayden and I have different publishers, our songs ended up in the same episode of the same show. I think my song was slightly more prominent than Hayden’s,” laughs Eliza. Hayden however, also had one of his songs used in the even greater rating American drama, ‘Suits’. Yet neither would claim their television win as their greatest achievement to date.
“I did enjoy my Zoo Twilight show that I did with Missy Higgins,” says Hayden, thinking back on his career for an answer. “I thought that was amazing. I love Missy Higgins so it was nice to play a show with her but just the response from that was fantastic. And it was at the zoo so you could hear the lions roaring in the background. That would be my favourite show but I don’t know about greatest achievement.”
After careful consideration, Eliza is more definitive in her response. “I think for me, going to New York working with the producer Pat Dillet (They Might be Giants, David Byrne & St Vincent). I emailed him Echoes, one of my songs. He wrote back saying yes, I’ll work with you and then I got a grant from the Australia Council to go. They paid for it all. Then I went to Berklee as well and I got to work with James Taylor which was huge and it really changed me I think. James taught me about audience mainly. It was him and his brother Livingston Taylor. I guess it was just about how important the audience is. He was telling us stories how he goes into a venue even now, which I find very hard to believe given how famous he is … so he goes to a venue, walks around and makes sure that the venue is clean and that the toilets are clean because he doesn’t want his audience to come into a dirty venue. He cares about his audience and he says if you care about your audience, it should never be a selfish thing to be on stage. If it isn’t a selfish thing then you shouldn’t get nervous. I was pretty nervous. He got me to do some pretty strange things on stage. I had to stand on stage and do stamping in four/four, then put your hands out and look out into the audience’s eyes and give. Then start singing and see what it felt like. It was a strange process. But I feel it helped. I want to look at the audience now and I care about them and I want to feel what kind of mood they are in and go with that and not feel so internal and nervous.”
For now, Eliza and Hayden are enjoying the creative process but are mindful that their business hats need to be at arms reach too. “I think that has come more and more with us now,” says Eliza. “We’ve been more business-like. You have to keep your business mind on. It’s hard thinking about social media and everything else as well as the creative process. You get little wins which keep you going. You get music on a TV show or you get to go to New York, or get to perform with artists that inspire you. They keep reaffirming that you are on the right path.”
The first single from Eliza’s new album is out in July and the album has a late 2014 release. Hayden has just released his Oh Hunter EP and is looking to release his debut by the end of the year, early 2015 latest.