Hazel Mei has been, for quite some time now, one of my favourite local acts. I have always felt inspired and enraptured by her songwriting. Every performance I have caught of her life, her stage persona has developed. And, at the very core, her joy and love of music and songwriting always shines through. I have loved her music from her first release with Put That Bottle Down all the way to last years’ debut EP ‘Lost and Found’.
One of the things I love the most about her music is how she uses her songwriting as a means of self-exploration. And her latest offering The Funniest Thing is no excepting. The song begins with a gentle piano melody. Her voice enters, heavily reverberated with a vintage sound, reminiscent of Lana Del Rey’s later works. The song feels like sitting light night at a piano bar, reminiscing about your life and searching within yourself. A gentle drum-beat carries below the song as the saxophones echo the melody back. The chord and note choices are very clearly influenced by jazz and neo-soul music, like an Amy Winehouse ballad combined with anything by Norah Jones.
While busy preparing for an upcoming tour, I was lucky enough to slot myself in to Hazel’s schedule to learn everything I could about her, her songwriting and her incredible latest single.
You’ve just released your new single ‘The Funniest Thing’. Can you take us through what the song is about?
I have! I wrote the song laughing at my tendency to be polite instead of assertive in certain situations. Everyone everywhere has an opinion of who you are and what you should be doing, even when sometimes the only point of view that truly matters is yours. Recently, I was confronted with someone else’s opinion on how I should live my life, and instead of steering the conversation I just stood there and nodded as if it was okay? Afterwards I was shocked at myself. Shock turned to frustration, which turned to laughter at how uncomfortable I felt, which then became a song.
The production is definitely a fair bit different than your previous releases. What were some songs/ artists that inspired this?
It is very different. Part of this was inspired by the fact the demo was created during a lockdown. I was trying to be so quiet and considerate because everyone else was home so a more delicate piece just made sense. I was listening to a lot of Norah Jones’ jazzier records like ‘Day Breaks’ at the time too, which has definitely influenced the production choices.
How did the production experience differ while recording from home? Were there any limitations or was it an overall cathartic experience?
It was definitely a cathartic experience, but also nostalgic. At the beginning of my music career, I spent almost all of my time in the studio at university producing music (mostly for other people). As the Hazel Mei project has developed, I’ve had to step back to make more time for the songwriting, performing and management sides of things, but having the ability to record at home where there was so much flexibility has made it feel like the uni days again. I got to work with friends from back then too; Trevor Gee on drums (as always), Jacob Smith on bass and Dave Boniwell assisted with engineering and mixing. We worked with new friends too; David Gaylard on electric guitar and Joshua Appletree on tenor and alto saxophone!! I’m so lucky to have so many great friends who are willing to share their time and expertise.
As this was written over the April lockdown period, were there any lessons you took away from this experience, either musically or personally?
Musically, the fact that we can record something high quality from home was awesome to discover and actualise. It was a great lesson in trusting my instinct and just going for it creatively, instead of dwelling on what could go wrong within the process, as I so easily could have.
Personally, writing the song was a reminder that whilst I’m striving to grow and improve all the time, that it’s not a linear process. I may be more confident than yesterday, but it’s natural to have moments where you feel timid again, and that doesn’t mean that you’re failing. It’s just a part of the process.
The song is as beautiful as it is introspective. Do you use songwriting as a tool to learn more about yourself? And, continuing from this, is it ever strange to release such vulnerable and confessional music to a public audience?
Thank you so much! Absolutely. When I started writing frequently, that was one of the things I loved the most about it. I have a hard time listening to my intuition so, particularly when I was younger, my songs were usually my way of finding out how I feel about things. It does feel really vulnerable and scary sometimes. In saying that, I personally have found so much comfort from relating to other artists’ experiences through song, so sharing this way just feels so natural. I hope someone else can find comfort in my experiences the way I’ve found the same with so many artists before!
This song carries a lot of beautiful little melodies and themes. Did the concept, music or melody come first when writing The Funniest Thing?
I’ve just listened back to my voice memo because I couldn’t quite remember! Turns out, I was originally writing a completely different song – much more upbeat and jaunty but then I got completely lost in thought… There’s like 15 minutes of complete silence! Then the piano melody just sort of happened. After playing variations of this, as if it’s written for a ‘Peaceful Piano’ playlist for a while, I start to sing the first iteration of the verse melody. Songwriting is such a cool experience, that was so nice to reflect on again!
What are the top 3 albums who you feel have shaped your taste in music?
Oh, this question is hard! I don’t think I have an ‘of all time’ answer so these are the three most recent albums I’ve discovered and loved. ‘Daddy’s Home’ by St. Vincent, it’s eclectic and sassy and the production is just so exciting! Brilliant album. ‘SOUR’ by Olivia Rodrigo – this one is so nostalgic because it feels like what I was trying to write when I was 16 so listening to it was almost as cathartic as songwriting was as an angsty teeneager. Lastly but not least, Laufey’s EP ‘Typical of Me’. There’s no hiding my love for jazz and the way it paints life through a rose tinted lens. Her songwriting brings this dreamscape into the modern world and I am here for every moment. In true me style, they’re all very different from each other, but they have all inspired my music taste and writing!
With everything going on right now, it’s really important to support our local musical community. Who are the top 3 local acts who you are inspired by right now?
Yes this is SO important, I love this question. The Letter Elle is an absolutely powerhouse artist, producer and all around wonderful human. She’s got a new single out on the 16th July and it’s so good! Gorgeous Pipin has just released her debut EP and is just pure magic. The lovely Athena Joy has just released a new single too and her songwriting is forever inspiring to me. Brisbane is full of gems.
With live music being affected yet again, what would you consider the best live show you’ve ever played?
Last year when I released my debut EP ‘Lost & Found’ we had an incredible sold out EP Launch at Black Bear Lodge! We played two shows in the same evening which was so invigorating after playing so few shows throughout the year. The second set of the evening was the best. The room was buzzing, full of anticipation and the excitement of live music and when we played, it felt like we had bottled pure joy. I wish every room was filled with as much love as that room was. It was a truly beautiful experience.
And finally, what’s next on the cards for Hazel Mei?
We’re going on tour this month!! Lockdown is ending just in time for our Brisbane show at Black Bear Lodge on release day! Then next is the Gold Coast at Burleigh Bazaar on 16th July supporting Heavy Wax alongside Wootton Major. Then on the 17th July we’re in Toowoomba at Bar Wunder with support from Meg Beth. After that, there will be more music to come before the end of the year. We’re exploring the boundaries of the Hazel Mei sound right now, so expect the unexpected!
The Funniest Thing is available now on all streaming platforms.
Hazel Mei The Funniest Thing Tour
Saturday 17th July – Bar Wunder
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