Artist To Watch: Hazel English
Like any flailing twenty-something, Oakland-based Australian Hazel English feels an anxiety-inducing lack of control. The kind you feel when relocating over 12,000 miles across the globe, knowing all but no one in your new home. The “out of control” that exists when building a music career in foreign territory, relying on musicians you meet at local shows to help get your footing. You can put your best self forward and hope for the best, but the universe will ultimately decide if what you want becomes reality. (As someone who recently moved far away from home for the first time, I know this firsthand). On her upcoming debut EP Never Going Home, produced by Day Wave’s Jackson Phillips, English croons softly over hazy guitars and synths about accepting life’s uncertainty and the powerlessness we feel over the way it plays out.
English, 25, studied abroad in the Bay Area, then moved permanently after realizing it felt like home. From Sydney originally, she studied creative writing in Melbourne before hunkering down in the states, which she wrote about in title track “Never Going Home.” “Don’t wait up for me/ I’m not leaving,” she sings at the end of each chorus, insisting to me that this doesn’t come from a dislike of Australia, but a deep sense of belonging in her new digs.
“When I wrote the song I was thinking about how I was likening California to a crush,” English says. “The feeling of excitement and nervousness you get is almost the same thing.”
Though English comes clean about her struggles on the EP, she documents her learning as well. “It’s Not Real” sees her analyzing her perfectionist ways, trying to counteract them with advice to herself. “I try to recreate the image/ In my head it’s all I see/ But the flaws are all that’s left.” English says the song is a reminder that perfection isn’t real. It’s just another pointless mode of trying to control everything. “All our lives/ We just keep searching/ For what does not exist/ When will I be willing to finally admit/ It’s not real.”
On “Make It Better” — the video for which we’re premiering today — she grapples with wanting two different things at the same time. “I want to be seen/ Yet I want to be invisible/ I want everything/ Yet I want nothing at all.” It’s the time-old tale of not really knowing what you want, but now, English has accepted this discomfort with poise.
“I’m starting to realize that life is not that binary and that there’s a lot more grey area. Life isn’t just black and white,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s okay to be unsure. You don’t have to take a path and stick to it. You can deviate. You can try something and realize it’s not for you.”
There’s a striking contrast between English’s lyrical subject matter and her musical style. I associate stress and confusion with chaos, but for the most part, Never Going Home feels like a day at the beach. It’s breezy, comforting, and sun-kissed — save for the truth-repressing “I’m Fine,” which sounds like a page right out of Waxahatchee’s melancholy book, plus some synth. Never Going Home is far from chaotic, and English isn’t whining — she’s glowing with every note.
It’s a musical triumph to capture two opposite feelings in one release, especially your first. What English has accomplished here feels like a musical representation of her epiphany that life isn’t so one-or-the-other. A listener can choose to tune out the lyrics and vibe out (don’t act like you don’t do this), feeling only English’s calming voice, or give a closer listen and read into her deepest worries. A third option is to tune into both worlds — the most realistic way of experiencing both music and life. Rarely are we blissed out on only the good or exclusively dragged down by the bad. Most days, we experience both sides of the spectrum simultaneously, an exhausting phenomenon that’s Never Going Home to a tee. It’s out of her control, and ours.
English’s desire for control isn’t without growth, though. In her turmoil, she’s realized the beauty of improvisation and going with the flow. In the process of writing and recording Never Going Home, she would occasionally write lyrics on the spot or discover a favorable guitar part by playing a wrong note on accident. “It made me feel a little out of control, but it was really liberating,” she says. It’s the artist moving past their fears, conquering the same things they wrote about loathing.
“Make It Better” and “Control” are out today via Canvasclub in North America. The Never Going Home EP is out on vinyl in the UK via Marathon/House Anxiety.