Artist To Watch: Hatchie

Alex Wall

Artist To Watch: Hatchie

Alex Wall

Like many of us, Harriette Pilbeam loves Carly Rae Jepsen. She cites her as an influence, admiring her talent for writing smart pop music. Under the moniker Hatchie, Pilbeam makes a cosmic concoction of dream-pop and shoegaze injected with the DNA of a Top 40 melody. While it’s easy to compare her music to that of the Cocteau Twins or the Sundays or Alvvays — all of which are important influences to the (newly) 25-year-old — pop music is inherently significant to Pilbeam and her origins.

“People don’t need to hate it as much as they seem to. I don’t think it needs to be a guilty pleasure or whatever,” Pilbeam says over Skype from her home in Brisbane. “There is a lot of smartly written pop music. There’s a lot of awful pop music, I am not denying that, but it’s not all bad. I’ve always been really into pop music. I think that is my strength, but I wanted to make shoegaze-y dream-pop music.”

Although it seems like Hatchie descended from Cloud 9 out of nowhere, she’s been making music with other groups for the past seven years. Her first serious band was the rock-centric Babaganoüj — a project of which she is still a part — but she later decided to start a new chapter of her own to experiment with her pop proclivity. And even then, Hatchie has been in the making for some time: In 2015 she began with writing “Try,” a song that made quite a lot of ripples last summer. Three of her most recent singles — “Sure,” “Sugar & Spice,” and “Sleep” — were also written that same year. (The latter two each ranked amongst our favorite songs of their respective weeks.) Writing “Sure” was a natural progression, with ethereal vocals and tinny guitar riffs that drape over each other like layers of Technicolor chiffon.

Pilbeam has traveled an incredible path after years of voice lessons and starting in bands at 18. With Hatchie, she has been able to reconcile, even rebel against the expectations of a pop ringleader, of someone like Kylie Minogue and Gwen Stefani. She says she’s always visualized herself an artist, but didn’t think it was realistic. “I didn’t think I was in that category,” she says. “I didn’t think an average person from Brisbane would do that. I was like, ‘Ah, Australians don’t really do that,’ or, ‘People who aren’t incredibly beautiful, petite, and blonde wouldn’t do that,’ so I never thought it was something that I would do.”

Following her breadcrumb trail of singles, Pilbeam is releasing a debut EP called Sugar & Spice at the end of this month, and it may find her getting the pop experimentations out of her system. “I think as pop as the EP is now is as pop as I’ll ever be,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever get more pop than ‘Sleep.’ To me ‘Sleep’ is the most poppy and it is as pop as I’ll ever go. I won’t go further than that. I think the music that I am writing now is a lot more — a bit darker and a bit more sparse and bit more shoegaze-y.”

Pilbeam isn’t interested in being a pop star, which is why she took the time with the rollout of her music. She was calculating, perfecting a way to keep her talent and love of melody while incorporating her darker and eerier quirks. She wanted her project to be a band effort, even though she is at the core of it, writing the songs and producing alongside her boyfriend Joe Agius. When I ask her if she sees Hatchie as an opportunity for an alternative persona, she rejects the idea. The name “Hatchie,” which comes from a nickname only used by her parents, would be an outlet for more confidence if anything, but not an attempt at personality performance.

From talking with Pilbeam, I can tell that she is composed, patient, and likes to be exact with her words and intentions — although not in a way that is closed off, but rather just someone who strives for preciseness. She takes this precision to the studio: “I like having a strong idea when I go to do the final recording. For me that makes me a bit anxious not knowing what I am going to do. I feel like I would just waste time. I go into the studio and it’s like ready to go, but I definitely get help along the way.”

Sugar & Spice contains five tracks that impeccably strike the alternative-pop balance Pilbeam desired. (From the title to the cover art, it makes me joyously think of the The Powerpuff Girls. Although there is no connection, she laughs and beams at the parallel.) At first glance, Sugar & Spice is lavish with dizzying synth melodies and opalescent guitar plucks, harnessing the giddiness of butterflies trapped in one’s stomach. But further inspection reveals the EP’s malaise and unease.

“That’s really funny looking back on it, they are definitely all like that. It wasn’t intentional but I guess that kind of sums up the last couple of years, especially falling in love for the first time. I am still in that relationship,” Pilbeam explains. “I picked songs that illustrate how you can be so in love with someone but you can also have all of these negative thoughts or all of these — not exactly problems, but things constantly getting in the way. It’s not as simple as loving someone or not loving them.”

Bits and pieces of her work have autobiographical truth to it: “It starts off true and then turns into its own story,” as she puts it. As Pilbeam’s music becomes more realized she’ll tweak things to her liking and then it turns more fictional — like on the EP’s closer “Bad Guy.” “The ‘Bad Guy’ part is something that I actually thought of and had actually written down about having the same fight with someone over and over again,” she says. “And you are constantly looking for someone to blame and it doesn’t matter who the bad guy is in this situation, we need to fix it. It turned into a song almost about a breakup and that’s not what ended up happening with that situation. We solved the problem in real life, but it made more sense for the song for it to be a bit open-ended.”

Pilbeam has been in her current relationship with Agius for the last four and half years. They met when he filmed a music video for the band she was in; they started dating, and two years later she started Hatchie. Agius has since been her go-to visual creator and collaborative partner. She confides in him when she can’t figure out a kink in a song — for example, Agius helped her with the bridge on “Try.” “Most of the time I write about 80% or I’ve written the whole song, but the production is a bit off,” she explains. “I’m not really sure what I want to do with it so I take it to Joe.” When it comes to visuals, he captures Hatchie’s surreal and playful tone with an abundance of bright colors and cool effects. “He knows exactly what I want and what I like so it works really well. So we do collaborate to some extent, but for the most part he’ll say something where I’m like, ‘Yes, perfect, let’s do it.’ There’s no need for it to be really back and forth.”

Although she is still a part of the band Babaganoüj, venturing on to her own project has birthed more confidence in Pilbeam’s songwriting, as well as in her personal life. “I think my writing has gotten a lot stronger and my production and ability to kind of stick with my own choices. I used to definitely be a pushover not that that was ever … ” she pauses. “There were never fights or disagreements in my other bands, but just in general. I have always been the kind of person who’s like, ‘Oh no, that’s fine, do whatever you want. That’s fine!’ and then cry about it later.”

“Not actually cry,” she adds, laughing. “But I think I am a lot stronger and more confident when it comes to choices, both with Hatchie and in my personal life.”

Following Sugar & Spice, Pilbeam wants this year to be filled with as much writing sessions as possible. She wishes to cover more lyrical territory and, although her first official release concerns the matters of the heart, she wishes to expand on things that aren’t entirely personal. “It’s hard to explain, stuff that I am angry about that’s not just a relationship,” she begins. “I’m not a two-dimensional girl who’s just obsessed with her boyfriend or something. I think it’s really important, for women especially, to write about lots of different topics and not just love, because there is a lot more to us than that. That’s really important to me.”

Sugar & Spice is out 5/25 via Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.

more from Band To Watch