“The moment you start thinking that you’re good or that you accept praises is when you’ll stop creating good things.” – Hazlett
Within minutes of speaking with the Australian singer-songwriter, Hazlett, I realized I was speaking with one of the most genuine and humble musicians. For someone so talented and driven, Hazlett spoke as if the music he releases is ordinary — so much as that he told me a story of how a publisher got mad at him for not telling him that he could sing. His response? “I can’t.” Hazlett shared story after story as if it had just happened the day prior; he reminisced of how he’s gained his newfound confidence of performing, his strong bond with his producer, and the importance of not looking for overnight success.
You can read the full interview below. Hazlett has a clear focus on his bright career ahead and you’re here to witness his success.
The Press Release: How’s recording going? What are you up to?
Hazlett: It’s weird. I’ve got so much stuff recorded that I’m just waiting to put out. But now, I keep doing new stuff. So, it’s this constant stream. I’ve still got things to put out but I’ve already started going down this road musically. It’s a really weird cycle that I get stuck in.
How long have you been writing for?
I’ve been writing since I was fifteen. It started just playing covers and things like that. It’s one of those cliché, “girls like guys who play guitar”. [Laughs] It then started being like, there’s a battle of the bands at school where you can play your own songs. That’s when it started.
On Instagram, you talked about how you decided to pursue music full time. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Basically, the main professional side started when I was 18. I made a mate, joined a band, he was like, “We’ve got this gig coming up, you should come play.” I was like, “Oh yeah but I can’t. I’ve got work tomorrow.” He said, “We need a bass player” (cause that’s usually the last position left in a band [laughs] ) I was like “Man, I really can’t. I’ve got work tomorrow.” He was like, “That’s all good. We’ll go ask our other mate.” Then it was just one of those weird moments where I hung up the phone. I thought, “Nah, I need to call in sick to work tomorrow.” So I called in sick, went and played this one gig, started practicing and rehearsing with them, dropped out of university. We started touring over seas and doing more work playing as a band.
“I hate singing in public; it’s a massive fear for me.”
It’s weird when you can pinpoint the moment when the decision happened. I did that for about five or six years and then the band sort of broke up; the lead singer went solo. I came back to Australia — I was living over in Germany at the time. I came back to Australia and was like, “Oh that’s right, I dropped out of university! So I don’t have anything to fall back on.” I hate singing in public; it’s a massive fear for me. [I thought] the only thing I can really do is maybe sing a song and play chords and guitar. Can you make a living off that? People play in pubs and bars all the time. So I booked a random gig and then just played in pubs for two years — getting over my fear of singing in public. I’m still not over it! Then I met a girl, and she was like, “Hey, music isn’t very stable. Maybe you should get another job.” So, I quit doing music, me and this girl broke up, I went back into music, and it’s been an up and down thing for me.
Was that the point that you became more confident and able to sing in public?
I feel like I still can’t. [Laughs] It definitely helped. I don’t necessarily get the throwing-up feeling but it’s still like, “Am I really doing this? Do I really have to do this?” After a while you zone out. It’s always that first song that’s the worst experience. You’re like, “Oh man, is everything plugged in? Does the sound guy got everything turned up? Is my string broken? Did I accidentally tune my guitar to drop D? What can possibly go wrong?”
I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. He was asking how my gig in Stockholm went. I said, “It was fine. There were sound issues but there are always sound issues.” We kind of just realized that we’ve never played a gig without something going wrong. It could be minor. But there’s always at least something. It’s kind of comforting that at least one thing will go wrong. You’re never safe.
What happened at the Stockholm gig?
I sort of split it up in two sets; I did the first EP first just by myself, then the second set I had my friend Freddy up to play the piano and sing backups. The sound guy was like, “There are some people complaining that the guitar is too loud. Do you mind if I turn it down onstage?” cause my amp was pointing directly to them. I said, “Yeah that’s fine, do that.” He said, “I’ll just turn on the piano and the other microphone,” and it just threw all the sound out.
But it was a good time?
It was really good. It was nice cause it was in this hotel lobby that I used to walk past. I got talking to the owner one day and [he said] we do live music. I was like, “I’m putting out a song next week and I would love to come and play the song stripped down.” Which is kind of cool, because that’s how everything gets written — just guitar and piano or just guitar. It’s kind of cool doing it how it was intentionally written. It feels very romantic in a sense.
[Laughs] I was trying to explain the songs on the EP [the other day]. I realized they all started out as a funny story you tell a friend. For some reason, I take them really deep. I’ll take the story away and be like, “Oh, I can find a deeper meaning in this.”
Why do you think we’ve become so out of touch with human interaction and why do we find it weird to speak with strangers?
This is the hard thing about the meaning of that song: I don’t have an answer. [Laughs] It’s a problem in itself. I don’t know why this happens but maybe, just maybe, if you get to know people, then there’s less confusion. People are scared by confusion.
Are you more comfortable talking to random people versus singing onstage?
100% — Especially when you’re outside of your comfort zone. I guess because I travel a lot, I’m always by myself. If I don’t talk to someone, I’m probably going to spend the rest of the day not talking to anyone. I can’t go call my friend and go hangout with him or go visit mom and dad. You’re kind of thrown into the deep end [while travelling]. If I don’t talk, I guess I’ll be alone with my thoughts for the rest of the day.
With writing, what’s your process? Do you go into a “hibernation” mode?
Yeah, pretty much. What I did with the first EP and most of the second one: I went up to [Stockholm] Sweden in the middle of the winter — I’ve never experienced a proper winter before. Every day I would go out to Fredrik [Häggstam]’s, the guy who recorded everything with me. I would go out to his studio. It was an hour and a half trip each way. It was two trains, a bus, and a walk to get to the studio each day. It’s good in the sense out there in winter—it’s like hibernation. You’re not going to go outside and get some sunshine real quick cause you can’t.
When I went out there, it was right after a break up. It’s almost like, [pauses], a hyperbolic time chamber. You’re forced to process things a lot sooner than you would if you had distractions like going and seeing your friends and things like that — which is all well and good and it helps you get over things. But when you’re forced to sit there and confront everything, everything gets smoothed out quicker. Maybe that’s just the way I work. There’s some logic to it, I swear.
“So, Hayden, [the publisher], became like, the rebound guy.”
What’s the significance of going to Stockholm, Sweden to write and record?
When I was playing in a band, we got signed to a publisher that was based in Stockholm — he was the guy hounding me when I quit music. I was working in an advertising agency. He heard a YouTube clip I put up during my pub days when I was playing gigs. He was hounding me like, “I didn’t know you could sing, you never told me you could sing.” I said, “Well, I can’t really.” He said, “No, you liar”— first he rang me and got really angry. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or joking. He was like, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you could sing.” I said, “Are you okay, man?” He said, “My wife showed me a YouTube clip of you. I’m really upset and hurt.” He was trying to get me up to Sweden to work with some his producers and do some writing. I said, “I’ve stopped doing that. I just got a job at an advertising agency. I can’t really go away or anything. I guess music is sort of done for me – that chapter has closed.”
“The first phone call I made afterwards was to him and I asked, ‘You still want me to come out to Sweden?’”
He called me maybe a month or two later and was like, “I’ve still been listening to that song. You need to come up.” I told him I was really sorry. A month or two passed again and at that stage, I think me and my ex-girlfriend had just broken up. The first phone call I made afterwards was to him and I asked, “You still want me to come out to Sweden?” So, Hayden, [the publisher], became like, the rebound guy. [Laughs]. I’m like, “Man, get me on a plane ticket out of here.” I bought a ticket and went up there and dove head-first into everything.
I never recorded any of my own solo stuff before. The first guy he paired me with, Freddy, we hit it off straight away. It’s ridiculous — I don’t do anything without him now. It’s this weird relationship. He’ll say, “Maybe you should record with other people,” and I’m like, “I don’t want to record with other people! I want to record with you!” [Laughs] He’s great. Him and his girlfriend, I stay at their house when I’m there. It just works. It just clicks. But, we came from two different worlds. I’ve grown up listening to Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Crowded House, and things like that. His whole professional career has been real pop stuff. [Freddy] has done a lot of cuts everywhere from Asia to the US. He just got a massive song with The Chainsmokers — he wrote “Paris” with them. I’m like, “Hey man! Remember me? You can’t forget your good old buddy Hazlett!” [Laughs] I try to do everything like that where it’s two different worlds that clash. Whether it’s artwork, videos, or music, you get different results when you don’t do the normal thing. I remember we were talking about the awkward press photos that you have to do. I was talking to some people and [they told me], we’ve got this guy who’s done so-and-so’s band and this musician. I said, “Well, what about this fashion guy?” All he does is fashion photography and usually females for magazines. They said, “but it’s not really his thing”. I said, “Well, you’re going to get a different result than what people are used to seeing by doing that.” Just little things like that.
Was the first EP the first experimentation you did with Fredrik?
Have you ever seen the John Mayer “Where The Light Is” live show? It’s kind of really wanky but awesome at the same time. He opens for himself twice. So, he’s the two support acts. He comes out with just an acoustic guitar, his other guitarist, and David Ryan Harris, plays that Tom Petty cover and some of his chilled out acoustic songs. Then he goes backstage, comes back out as the John Mayer Trio — does all the blues stuff. Then, he goes back stage then comes out again and plays all the bangers with the full band.
That’s how I started seeing this. I was like, it’d be really good to not open for myself twice, but, if you come and watch [my live] show, it’s a progression. This set would start out with the first EP stuff that’s very low-key and atmospheric. Then it moves into the second EP which introduces a few more programmed drums and other instruments. Then it moves into the third EP, which is full band. Then you’d have this thing where you’d watch it evolve in front of your eyes instead of just chopping and changing all the time. I thought it’d be a cool idea so I’ve started to execute that.
Is everything written and recorded for the second and third EP at this point?
Yeah, they’re just sitting on a hard drive to my left. [Laughs] That’s the annoying thing, though. I listen to so much stuff each and every day that I want to change everything [on the EPs]. It’s Freddy who’s the one who’s like, “Don’t listen to it, ever, until it’s ready to master. Then we’ll master it and we’ll put it out. Otherwise you’re going to want to change so many things.”
Is it driving you crazy?
I sneakily go and listen to the rest of the EP sometimes. It’s going to come out later this year and I’m like, “we need to re-record this song that’s coming out in a few weeks.” Freddy says, “you’re ridiculous. Please, just stop changing things.”
When was the EP recorded?
It was recorded last year .
This makes sense! I was listening to “First World Problems” and remember thinking how cool it was that you were adding more electronic elements to the tracks.
I’m obsessed with little details like that. For instance, on the first EP, there’s a reason why the last song, “Couldn’t Be Done” is the last. It introduces that massive synth at the end which you’re not expecting when you listen to the rest of the EP. It’s like, “Ah, what’s this gigantic synth doing here? That doesn’t fit here.” The next EP will explain things. It’s like a musical cliffhanger.
Even strategically, that’s an amazing idea to guide listeners.
I don’t know if it’s strategic or I just have too much time to overthink everything [Laughs]. I have to keep busy — I’ll plan something!
In addition to your solo work, are you still ghostwriting?
When I was over in Sweden recently, I was doing a lot of writing for other people and getting into sessions and things like that. It’s so good to do that. I used to hate it because I didn’t want to write anything that’s not me. It’s such a nice outlet writing for someone else. When you’re writing for someone else, you don’t think, “Would I actually say that?” You write good songs because they’re good songs — not because of anything else. It’s helped with my writing as well. It feels a lot [more] freeing because I have so many outlets. I don’t have to overthink things as much — or I’m trying not to overthink things as much.
“I have a thing with people trying to put the word ‘radio’ into songs.”
Is there a line you won’t cross when writing for other people or yourself?
I have a thing with people trying to put the word ‘radio” into songs. I don’t know! [Laughs] Anytime I’m writing with someone and they bring up, “We could sing, ‘and then I heard it on my radio’” and I’ll [respond] like “No…no, please don’t.” But, then I hear someone do it well and I think, do I have to reassess my rule on that?
Your music has been gaining popularity.
It’s been really good. There have been a lot of blogs picking it up which is great. I’ve never really had blog callouts or things like that so it’s very weird.
On Spotify, your bio talks about how you shy away from attention. Why is that?
A lot of times, I’m always the support role. I love being the support role especially being a bass player. You watch bands and the bass player is going ridiculous — overplaying things. I think it’s really good especially when you’re working in teams to know your role and be really good at your role.
“The moment you start thinking that you’re good or that you accept praises is when you’ll stop creating good things.” – Hazlett
In that sense, I played in a band where the lead singer, the attention is on him. That’s not a bad thing, it’s actually a really good thing — it gives people a focus point. I also get really uncomfortable with compliments and things like that. If someone was like, “That was really good what you did,” I say, “No, no, no, please don’t tell me that was good.” I shy away from that stuff because it’s easier to stay focused. There’s an old musician that said a quote about it. Something like, the moment you start thinking that you’re good or that you accept praises is when you’ll stop creating good things. It keeps you hungry if you don’t bask in it too much. Obviously enjoy the wins along the way which I’m slowly learning to do — once again because Freddy has told me to enjoy those things. It came from a place that I didn’t really need that attention in my life, nor do I need it now. It’s just more I want music to be heard by as many people as possible. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have any photos of me. In a dream world, it would be like, listen to this music because it’s good music. But nowadays, it’s like, hey, the story about you is also essential. But really, do people really want to hear about this?
There’s this huge push towards different musical projects starting off without photos of the artist which speaks to this idea that people should listen to the music for what it is as opposed to who’s behind it.
Yeah and it’s really hard to get that kind of stuff through to people. Flick through Instagram. There are countless people who do things off of social media impressions, or like, look at this awesome look they’ve put together, or look at this awesome backstory I’ve made up about myself. That’s all well and good, but, do you want to put one song out that gets attention for it not being a good song but for being a gimmick? What are your intentions with music? Mine is to be like the people I grew up listening to like Bruce Springsteen and be around for a long time. I want to make music for a long time and have people listen to it way after I’m gone. I’d rather that than a flash in the pan quick success.
“I was like the complete anti-musician!”
Speaking of made up stories— just kidding— I read you played karaoke with a celebrity, is that right?
Yeah. That was a fun night! That was [with] my best friend — he was in town playing [a late night television show]. He was like, “let’s go have a quiet dinner. We’ll keep it low key.” We went down to Little Italy and he got a text message on his phone. He was like, “Do you want to go do karaoke — I won’t say the name in case it gets me into trouble — with this famous person?” I was like, “Um sure, that’s really random but okay let’s do that.” So we went to go pick her and her sister up. It was really weird — in the back of a big black Escalade — going to karaoke in China town. It was just a really random night. In one of the songs on the upcoming EP, I wrote it as a very blunt lyric. I just wrote it as it happened, because there’s no other way to explain this. I cued up Dancing In The Dark [Bruce Springsteen], she literally came over and snatched the microphone out of [my hand]. She said, “No, you can’t sing that. That’s my song.” I was like, “Oh, hell no, are you serious?”
“I cued up Dancing In The Dark [Bruce Springsteen], she literally came over and snatched the microphone out of [my hand].”
It was way too weird for me. I was like, “Come on man, let’s go home. You’re wasted and you got to fly in the morning.” Half an hour turns into an hour, turns into two hours, by this stage it’s 2am. We got in a taxi, he was feeling sick, so, we got out of the taxi cause the taxi was like, “I can’t take you any further.” I was like, “He’s fine! Don’t worry about it.” We got into the next taxi and he was laying on my lap and throws up between my feet on the floor of the taxi. We got out of the taxi, I take him upstairs, set his alarm on his phone, plug his phone in, tuck him into bed. I get a text from him in the morning just saying, “Thanks.” — full stop. [Laughs] Poor guy!
The song “Karaoke” [off the upcoming EP] was written about that night. I’ve always had this weird motherly-instinct with my friends — especially in the band. I would act like the mother; make sure everyone was fed, everyone got to their flights on-time, everyone was eating well, had a good night’s sleep, made sure people went for a run and went to the gym, and were healthy. I was like the complete anti-musician!
What sort of music do you listen to?
I listen to everything. I know it’s one of those really cliché answers, but if you go through a playlist of mine on Spotify — which I have a really unhealthy obsession with making playlists — I’ll listen to anything from old Django Reinhardt to Willow Smith. It’s so random!
When I went to Sweden and was writing with people, I was joking cause I recently discovered groove for the first time in my life. I’ve been deprived of groove my whole life! Now I’m obsessed with trying to write stuff with good groove — it’s been really fun.
What sparked that interest?
I think it started when I met Ludwig Göransson — he’s this awesome producer/guitarist I met in 2012. At the time, he was moving to LA to do some composing. One of the first jobs he got was on the TV show, Community. He met Donald Glover and now he produces all of Childish Gambino’s stuff with him — he’s like his right-hand man. I saw the Genius video of him putting “Redbone” together and just all the funkadelic soul samples and playing around with different things— that whole Childish Gambino record is so good. It’s such a switch-up to what he does and I love he’s like, “I don’t care!” His label is good enough to let him do it. I started listening to that and a bunch of other stuff on my playlist. It’s in there somewhere. It’s slowly seeping into all my curated playlists.
Hopefully that [influence] might come out at a later date in an album that I start putting together.